American Idol show in Baltimore
I have never been a fan of karaoke. I steer clear of such nights at my favorite dive in town. So sitting through the American Idols Live! last night was almost insuffarable. Let's keep it real, OK? The tour and the TV show are high-powered karaoke. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. But if you want just a little something beyond the flash, neither the Idol show nor the tour will satisfy.
It is wholesome entertainment, you know. Although the Idol finalists on the tour are more or less good vocalists (save for maybe two: the camera-ready but pitch-challenged Sanjaya Malakar and the beat-boxing Blake Lewis), they could do little to offset the cheesiness of the show.
Ever mindful of the audience (made up mostly of screaming prepubescent girls and their accomodating parents), the show features Disney-friendly versions of songs by the Beatles, Christina Aguilera, Maroon 5, Gnarls Barkley and others. The vocalists are backed by a seven-piece band whose sound is so faceless that prerecorded tracks would have been just fine, too.
The show opened with a stagy version of the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get It Started," featuring all 10 finalists, including Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks and Fort Meade resident Lakisha Jones. Afterward, Melinda Doolittle and Jones performed a Motown medley in matching silver-blue fishtail gowns. It was lame. Then, Jones disappeared and Malakar joined Doolittle for an underwhelming version of "Proud Mary."
I will say this about pretty-boy Sanjaya: He has undeniable stage presence and seems very comfortable in the spotlight. He couldn't carry a note in a brown paper bag, as the saying goes. But he can work the stage better than the other guys on the show. And he certainly moved better than the stiff Doolittle during "Proud Mary." (Later in the show, she redeemed herself with a charged version of Aretha's "Natural Woman.")
Phil Stacey, the bald guy, is clearly the best male vocalist on the tour with a soulful style slightly reminscent of James Ingram, while Lewis is mildly annoying. He beatboxed whenever he appeared onstage, and the novelty got old really fast. His version of Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" was forced, and his whiny voice was so off-pitch.
Jones gave the most rousing performance of the night with a roof-raising version of "I Will Always Love You." The song grates my nerves now because I've heard it 10 million times since Whitney Houston scored a smash with it in 1992, but Jones owned it.
The show ended with a mini-set by Sparks, who pulled songs from various style bags, including folk-pop (Jewel's "You Were Meant For Me," during which she accompanied herself on acoustic guitar) and stately pop-soul (a slightly overwrought version of Ben E. King's "I Who Have Nothing"). She has a big, clear voice, but there's virtually no emotional resonace in her style.
But none of that matters when you're in an overblown karaoke show.