The 2010 American Idol tour made one of its final stops in its national tour with a very clear message: what happens on the series isn't always reflected when the show is translated onto the big stage. For some like Andrew Garcia or Big Mike Lynche, this leads to significant disappointments, but for Casey James, Tim Urban and Aaron Kelly it was a tremendous opportunity to show what kind of artists they really are.
The 2010 American Idol series has often been criticized as a weaker season than many of its predecessors. The truth is the Adam Lambert v. Kris Allen battle is a tremendously tough act to follow. But as a whole, this year's American Idol Tour was actually stronger than last year's, with better production values and some great surprises from some of the underdog performers.
The evening started out pretty well with Didi Benami, who did a solid job with ”Lay It On Me” by The Rescues. It was much stronger than other performers who've made it into the top 10 right on the cusp. Her rendition of “Terrified” by Katharine McPhee was simply fantastic. For a moment Didi really showed the talent that got her into the top 10 and made a strong argument that she probably should have finished higher. "Terrified" was one of the real great moments of the show.
Perhaps the evening's biggest disappointment was Andrew Garcia, whose creative arrangement of “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul secured hin a spot on the show, but proved to be more of a fluke than a real moment of inspiration. On stage Garcia's "Straight Up" felt forced and lifeless, devoid of any magic it may have had. His rendition of “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 felt like an opening act as Garcia failed to create much stage presence. For a fairly big guy, Garcia seemed awfully small on stage and clearly out of his league.
Also out of her element, Katie Stevens had a really uneven set. Singing “Here We Go Again” by Demi Lovato, Katie Stevens seemed like she was trying to play teenage pop star (right down to the lace finger gloves). Her rendition of “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera was signficantly better as she seems to really thrive when she's singing in a fuller and deeper register. As I watched her perform, it struck me that perhaps Katie Stevens would have had a better route to performing as a backup singer for one of the major touring acts. She's got a great voice and some charisma but seems to really need to grow into it. Getting some experience with some heavy hitters may do her good, but as a Top 10 American Idol finalist it's hard to imagine her doing backup.
Tim Urban seemed to have a fair share of detractors during the run of the show. He certainly wasn't a judge favorite, but on stage he showed that he has what it takes to really stand out. His first song, “Better Days” by Goo Goo Dolls, was extremely solid and showed off Tim Urban's magnetism. Urban effortlessly connected with the audience and seemed right at home on stage. His second song, "Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, didn't go as well. Urban wanted to turn the song into a sing-along, but it wasn't the right song for the crowd to sing along. This lead to a real disconnect and seemed to leave Urban kind of lost in the song.
Siobhan Magnus made one of the biggest entrances of the night. Sporting a faux-hawk, corset and boots, she looked the most 'rock star' of the bunch. Unfortunately Siobhan's set was extremely choppy. She bounced between vocal styles and almost always landed on her patented scream, but the pieces never really fit together. Sure, it was great to hear her hit the high note at the end of "Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones, but the journey to get there was a pretty rough ride. “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt was even more of a stylistic train wreck. Every time it seemed like she settled into the song, she'd switch her vocal style and the proverbial wheels would come off the tracks. The one song I really enjoyed was her rendition of “Stockholm Syndrome” by Muse; unfortunately, the real star of that song was the backup band, who absolutely let loose on the song. I enjoy Siobhan's quirkiness and love hearing her hit that high note, but she doesn't seem to have a real musical home or style that works. Perhaps she'd do well in a metal band using mostly her high register (something akin to Evanescence).
While I'm not a huge fan of Aaron Kelly, he had one of the more solid sets of the evening. From the first note to the last, Kelly clearly declared "I am a country boy!". Much more confident than during the TV series, Kelly did a fantastic job with “Somebody Like You” by Keith Urban. Dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, Aaron both looked and sounded the part and his performance really seemed to resonate with the crowd. Kelly followed up with “Walking In Memphis” by Marc Cohn and then “Fast Cars and Freedom” by Rascal Flatts – all in all a solid set and convincing argument that he has what it takes to become a country music star.
Aaron Kelly was followed by a group number with the first five performers: Didi, Andrew, Katie, Tim, Siobhan, and Aaron, singing “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. It was refreshing to see a group number that wasn't lip-synched (which was one of my biggest gripes about the TV series). Katie seemed much stronger with the vocals of "The Climb" and Aaron took the lead and showed he really has what it takes to step out front.
After an intermission (where we were bombarded with advertising), Michael (Big Mike) Lynche took the stage. Big Mike's rendition of “Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush was one of the show stoppers during the series but on stage it really lost its magic. Big Mike showed that the moment on the show couldn't be recreated, and like Andrew Garcia's "Straight Up", it was a one shot deal. Big Mike followed up with “Ready For Love” by India.arie, which was a much better performance that captured his true croning abilities. Unfortunately his closing song, "My Love" by Justin Timberlake, was an absolute disaster. Big Mike started out in falsetto (which simply didn't work), jumped into his normal register, and then tried to rap. It was absolutely painful to watch.
The highlight of the evening was Casey James, who stole the show out from under Crystal Bowersox and Lee Dewyze. His rendition of “I Got Mine” by the Black Keys was simply amazing, showing off extraordinary guitar skills. All I could think of during this first song was, "Damn, this boy can really play guitar". Casey James' "I Got Mine" was the real first exclamation point of the evening. This was followed by “Don’t” by Shania Twain, which was a great example of an artists making a song his own. It was at this point that it stopped feeling like an American Idol Tour and started feeling like the Casey James show.
Casey brought Big Mike back on stage for a nice rendition of “Have You Really Loved a Woman”. Mike's performance with Casey was stronger than any of his own three songs and it was nice to see the two of them sing together. The real highlight of Casey's set was “It’s All Over Now” by The Rolling Stones, the hands-down best performed song of the evening. Casey played a terrific slide guitar and made it clear that he is the best guitarist to have ever performed on American Idol. By the end of the song it was easy to forget that it wasn't an original song – a monstrous task considering its origin.
Crowd-favorite Crystal Bowersox had the impossible task of following Casey James, and although she sounded great, she was never quite able to surpass Casey's set. Dressed extremely casually, Bowersox seemed extremely comfortable on stage, almost too comfortable and informal. Although she has a great voice, there was always something missing from her performance. Her rendition of “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blonds felt passionless and uninspired. She warmed up a little with “Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, which sounded fantastic, but the follow-up song, “Up To The Mountain” by Patty Griffin, felt limp and weak. Bowersox seemed so laid back during her performance it seemed more like watching someone sing in a recording studio than on stage. It completely lacked any form of showmanship whatsoever. Bowersox closed with "Piece of My Heart" by Janis Joplin, which again sounded great but really lacked any pizzaz and certainly wasn't strong enough of a performance to argue that she should or could have won American Idol.
I had really hoped that Lee Dewyze would be able to step in and really pick things up, but his set felt almost as "also ran" as Bowersox. He's opening song, "Beautiful Day” by U2, never really came together and lacked any of the spark that was there when he performed it on the show. Appreciably better was Dewyze's rendition of “Rocket Man” by Elton John, an extremely solid rendition of the song which really breathed new life into it. Dewyze's high point was definitely “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. Dewyze seems to have really connected with the soul of Leonard Cohen's hauntingly beautiful song and he was able to replicate that for the big stage. Unfortunately this was followed up by “Treat Her Like a Lady” by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, which was just okay. Dewyze closed with "Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon, which came off a lot like "Kings of Leon Light". It just wasn't a strong enough to close on and it never really felt like Dewyze was able to make any form of declaration of being the champ. Lee Dewyze seems like a really great guy, he sings well and seems to genuinely enjoy being on stage, but he doesn't really offer enough to be a real headlining act. He reminds me a lot of David Cook and I think he'll have a similar career path.
The evening ended on a real low note with a very short medley of “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi sung by the men and “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson sung by the women with the men joining in at the end. Throughout the series, the group numbers were almost always lip-synched and it seems like there was a good reason to do that – the group's chemistry isn't quite there and the sum is much worse than its parts.
It's always exciting to see how American Idol translates from the bubble universe of the TV series onto the arena stage. This year's production had its highs and lows, but on balance was a better show than last year's show. With better production values, a much better back-up band, and a stronger flow, the 2010 American Idol Tour was quite enjoyable. The big high point of the evening was Casey James, who I'd absolutely go see in concert again.