Many noticeable empty seats at the Staples Center in Los Angeles may have been a sign of how unpopular season 9 of American Idol has been with the masses (And of an economically unwell summer concert season). But for those who were willing to fill a seat to catch the top ten finalists perform live on the annual summer tour, they were in for a real treat — simply a wonderful show filled with great music and ten very talented people who deserved to have their moments in the spotlight.
This year’s concert format was once again that of ten mini-concerts, with the tenth place winner opening the show and followed by other finalists in descending order in which they placed, along with a middle and closing group number. They spanned all genres from pop, rock, acoustic, R&B, country, and more. Each performer had a chance to showcase their true potential as an artist. So, how did they stack up?
THE CLASS SWEETHEART: Clad in cowboy boots and a sparkly top that complemented her long flowing blonde hair, Didi Benami opened the show with a mellow set – a beautiful song called “Lay it On Me” by Kyler England and broke out her acoustic guitar for her big Hollywood moment, “Terrified” by Katharine McPhee. Benami’s voice was once described as “Feist-y” but she also was reminiscent of Taylor Swift, with a much better voice though. She has a unique musicality and put heart and soul into her performances. Beautiful in every way possible.
THE CROWD PLEASER: YouTube star turned 9th place Idol finalist Andrew Garcia had lots of family and friends in the house from nearby Moreno Valley, but everyone in the crowd seemed to appreciate the spectacled acoustic singer. On the show, the judges never let him live down his rendition of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” – yet he performed a full-length version for this tour. However, no complaints about that – We all honestly dug it! He reprised his audition song, “Sunday Morning” from Maroon 5 for his second song and was very encouraging of the audience to sing and dance along. He sounded and played the best that he ever did for his short set, though a smaller stage is more fitting for his style of music.
THE POP PRINCESS: Recent high school graduate Katie Stevens took on a very contemporary and mainstream set with Demi Lovato’s “Here We Go Again” and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter.” While Ms. Stevens generally has good pipes and worked the stage well, the first choice should’ve been scrapped for another song that would’ve been better suited for her vocals. Worst song choice of the night, that Demi song. However, she proved that she could be one marketable pop artist.
THE HEARTTHROB: With his perfectly coiffed hair, million-dollar smile, and toned body, Tim Urban may be a pretty face, but he’s also got some sweet and sensitive musicianship. He reprised The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days” accompanied by his guitar and sang Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” sans his own instrument. Again, I wasn’t a fan of one song (The second one), but there was a really cool vibe to his set that made him an impressive one to watch.
THE ROCK STAR: While I wasn’t her biggest fan during her Idol run, Siobhan Magnus was in a completely different league from many of the performers. Dressed in a corset, Harajuku-esque skirt, fishnets, and thigh-high boots and with a fog and wind machine blowing in full-force, Magnus seemed to have the most fun on stage and projected that energy into the audience. She held possibly the longest note ever on the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” (Eat your heart out, Adam Lambert!), jumped around on No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs,” and headbanged through Muse’s “Stockholm Syndrome.” As a consummate performer with spectacular stage presence, this rock chick is more than ready to sell out theaters!
MOST IMPROVED: I was also not the biggest fan of high school student Aaron Kelly while he was on the show, but the kid found his niche in country music — and he totally deserves to have a career in it. He sounded fantastic and worked the stage on some smart song choices: “Somebody Like You” by Keith Urban, “Walkin’ in Memphis” by Marc Cohn, and “Fast Cars and Freedom” by Rascal Flatts. He’s surely gained much more confidence singing songs in this genre. While Magnus impressed by bringing on the full-on rock show, Mr. Kelly personally impressed me the most in how much he has improved from his run during the competition.
BEST VOCALIST: Michael ‘Big Mike’ Lynche had the most unmistakable vocal chops on the show and during the concert as he showcased his deep silky voice, falsettos, and even rapped for his R&B set that consisted of Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work,” India Arie’s “Ready for Love,” and Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” While I’m still a huge fan of Big Mike and loved his performances of “This Woman’s Work” and “Ready for Love” on the show, I wish he just chose one or the other to perform in his live set or at least opened with the up-tempo song. I wasn’t a fan of how slowed-down his set felt.
BEST GUITAR SOLOIST: Cougar magnet Casey James did not have my favorite set either, but it was made up for with one of my favorite performances of his from the show, “Don’t” by Shania Twain, as well as bringing back Mr. Lynche on stage for their “Have You Really Ever Loved a Woman” duet. He was able to show off some mad guitar skills on The Black Keys’ “I Got Mine” and The Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now” to wonderful reception.
THE FOLK ROCK QUEEN: Runner-up Crystal Bowersox could really hold down a show of her own. Using a wireless mic, she accompanied herself on guitar on 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” (Perfect for her voice and style!) and Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” brought in a harmonica for Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window,” and went sans instruments for her debut single, a cover of “Up to the Mountain.” The only qualm I had was that last song felt out of place, even though she sounded amazing. With Bowersox’s folksy style and soulful vocals, I can see her possibly playing Lillith Fair one day. But again, she is more than capable of shining on her own.
THE MVP: The season 9 winner, the Chicago rocker with soul Lee DeWyze brought back and revamped his greatest moments on the show, including U2’s “Beautiful Day,” “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley, and “Treat Her Like a Lady.” Also in the mix was a mash up of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” plus the Kings of Leon superhit “Use Somebody.” DeWyze proved to be a true musician and a real crowd pleaser with his set — many people stood up for the fan favorite.
WAIT, ARE THEY ON GLEE?: Before intermission, the bottom six finalists–Benami, Garcia, Stevens, Urban, Magnus, and Kelly–sang Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb.” While the idea initially didn’t sound good on paper (or type), the song was a great choice for Magnus and Stevens to show off their chops, another opportunity for Kelly to show why he belongs in Nashville, and for Benami, Garcia, and Urban to lend their guitar-playing and soulful vocals. The closing number consisted of the men singing Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” and the ladies singing Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You,” with the guys joining them for the grand finale. It was a pretty underwhelming ending to the show (And broke the pattern for closing group numbers using songs that started with “Don’t”), but for all the great music and talent that was seen for the past couple of hours, it’s a small complaint.
My personal favorites of the night were Lee, Crystal, Aaron, Siobhan, Andrew, and Didi, but each one of them put forth their best efforts to create their own mini-show to become part of one fun spectacular. Despite the poor viewership and fan and media criticism this past season, the stars of American Idol season 9 showed that they have potential to be bigger and win you over. So don’t write them off just yet.