Monday, July 18, 2011

Idols Live Tour - Southern California Recap

Both of the Idols Live shows in Southern California were sold out this weekend. And if it weren't for some sweet luck in scoring some free tickets, I would have missed out on what may be the best Idols Live tour in the 10 seasons of the show's existence. From top to bottom, the song selections were strong and current, and the performances were entertaining and well-sung.

This year's show adopted the format of Season 6, ignoring boot order and going the ensemble route by intermixing solo performances with group numbers. Also, instead of using actual backup singers for certain songs, some of the performers sang backup for each other. While some people adamantly hate this (especially people whose favorites only have one or two solos), I like the fact that they focused on putting on a SHOW as opposed to "being fair". Granted, it helps that I didn't have a favorite and was thus more interested in seeing the ensemble.

The first half of the show was mostly about the bottom half of the Top 11, with a sprinkling of the top two girls. It started out with a girls' performance of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way", which went over about as well as it did at the finale (meaning it was met with a general meh, as no one got out of their seats for this upbeat number either time).

No one got up for the next song either, Pia Toscano doing Alicia Keys's "Empire State of Mind Part II", but at least it understandable because it's a slow song. I think everyone's just sick to death of/never liked "Born This Way". ANYWAY, back to Pia, she sounded amazing on the song and even better on her next, a duet with Stefano Langone on Rihanna's "California King Bed". I knew Pia would sound good, but I never would have guessed Stefano would have sounded so good as well, and the two blended beautifully on the harmonies. Both of them went well into their upper registers and brought it home on the money notes. After listening to them sing it, I can't listen to Rihanna's much inferior version. It just sounds like shit (then again, it IS Rihanna ...)

Paul McDonald followed with one of his very few appearances on the night (I'm sure he cares about as much as I do, which is not a lot), singing "Maggie May". In LA, it took him nine "come on, yo!" or "come on, yo, stand up!" commands to finally get the crowd to stand up en masse. NINE. In Ontario, it only took two "come on yo"s to get most of the floor up, but that didn't stop him from saying it 10 more times. Oy. Paul had the drunk uncle moves mostly under control, although he did trip and almost fall in LA as he bounced about the stage by the musicians.

And just as he got the crowd up, they sat right back down for Thia Megia's much less spaztic "Who Says". It could be that the crowd just isn't familiar with music from the Disney set (Selena Gomez. I think ...), but they at least screamed upon her command. It's a catchy little number, I suppose, considering I had never heard it before until Friday and then had it firmly in my head by Sunday morning. JFC. Thia was wearing a dress with a long-ass train in the back, kind of like Lauren Alaina's dress that Steven Tyler said she could only afford half of. After Thia's solo, she took that train off her dress to perform Janelle Monae's "Tightrope" with Pia, Naima, and Haley. I really did not like this performance in LA, probably because I couldn't hear them singing, but in Ontario, where the volume was cranked to an 11, I enjoyed it. Either way, Naima saved the song for the girls. It was pretty ill-fitting for the rest, although Haley had a nice moment at the very end.

Stefano returned for two solos, doing Bruno Mars' "Grenade" behind the keyboard for half the song (and on his knees for about an overwrought eighth of it) and then hilarious dancing and stripping his way through Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love". Let me first say that Stefano sounded good on these songs. His annoying staccato stylings were mostly gone, and he brought a good energy to the show in everything he did. But I cannot let his dance breakdown go without snarky comment because that thing is hilariously cheesy and not even really dancey, to be honest. It looks more like something you would do in a step aerobics class but without a step. And at the end of the song, he just takes his shirt off sometimes (he did this in LA but not in Ontario). All I could think about was "future Chippendale's guest performer Stefano Langone"!

The guys (minus Scotty) came on next to do Neon Trees' ubiquitous "Animal", Glee-style. I am sick to death of this song, so I kind of tuned out on this. It was fine. It didn't offend me any more than the song already does, so I guess that's a win.

Jennifer Lopez made a cameo on screen leading into Naima Adedapo's cover of her song "On The Floor", and then Naima proceeded to outsing and possibly outdance J.Lo, throwing in some wildly entertaining African dance during a real dance breakdown (please take notes, Stefano). She even did a one-armed cartwheel right into a split "on the floor".

Pia returned to sing her debut single, "This Time". Yes, Pia could stand to improve her stage presence, but reports of her being a total air-sucking performer were greatly exaggerated. She moved around more than I expected, and she sang passionately, if not a little too angrily for an empowerment song.

Pia, Lauren and Thia did a rather shaky "Firework" in LA, during which Thia, and at times Lauren, could not be heard in their lower registers. Again, the sound was louder in Ontario, so you could actually hear them (not that it was always a good thing).

Casey Abrams was one of the most well-received performers in Ontario, which is fairly close to his hometown of Idyllwild, and at the end of his first song, "Smooth", he got a HUGE ovation. The first half of that song was my favorite of his, as he did a jazzy version of it on the upright bass. And then he stopped playing it and went into his usual grunts and scary faces and made guitar noises, and he lost me. Haley came out to do a duet of "Moanin'" with him. It seems like they're just improvising the scatting part now. It was different in each show. In LA, Casey threw in some scatting to the Witch Doctor song, and in Ontario, he and Haley were like chasing after each other (Casey was more serial-killer, while Haley was more playful). I think this is going to be the fun performance to watch from city-to-city as the tour progresses.

After Casey closed his solo set with Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe", the Top 11 (minus Scotty) came out in hideous red suits and black shirts to sing Cee-Lo's "Forget You" with corny choreography before intermission.

Lauren Alaina's set kicked off the second half of the show. In LA, she sounded a bit hoarse, but in Ontario, her voice was much stronger and she had a lot more energy than she did in LA. She opened with Carrie Underwood's "Flat on the Floor", then went into her single "Like My Mother Does", which, considering how crappy of a song it is, surprisingly received a standing ovation from parts of the audience. I think that says a lot for Lauren's vocals and general likeability. She closed with "If I Die Young", with Haley, Stefano & Thia on backup vocals.

James Durbin got the crowd all revved up with his two solos, wading through the audience to sing a very good version of "Sweet Child O' Mine". In Ontario, he really was the only person to get the people in the back, not just the people on the floor up, and he did it without telling anyone to, which was the only reason most people were standing up during the shows. His second song, Muse's "Uprising", was a hot mess both nights and flat in Ontario. He started the song in a higher key, and then went lower in the chorus, which makes for a really backwards build. And then in the last part of the song, he went into that really ear-splitting higher register, and I was literally doing this:

(for background, this was Nathaniel Marshall's reaction to Tatiana del Toro making the Top 36 in Season 8 of Idol).

After James' hysteria-inducing set (this is both good and bad hysteria), Jacob came out with his smooth R&B stylings, singing Luther Vandross's "Never Too Much". Jacob did his best to keep the crowd up on their feet, but eventually people started to sit down until Jacob commanded us to stand again. During the transition to his second song, "You're All I Need To Get By", the audience sat down again, but as the song went on and Jacob stepped out from behind the mic, a really cool thing happened: people started to really get into it and stood on their own to groove along to the song. Jacob was amazing on this, and I would say that it was one of my top 2 favorite performances of the night. He's the kind of live performer that makes you happy when you're watching. I wasn't a big fan of his on the show, but I loved him on tour.

Haley Reinhart was the only one of the Top 11 who was confined to songs done on the show. I guess that's the perils of being the only contestant to truly have a moment (or three or four) on the show. Her "House of the Rising Sun" was glorious. I wasn't as enthralled with "Bennie and the Jets" this time around, but I think that's more a product of that song only being good for 90 seconds. Any longer than that and it gets boring, to be honest.

Finally, our Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery made his first appearance in the show, performing an enjoyable five-song set. After a winners' montage, he came out singing Josh Turner's "Your Man", aka Baby Lock Them Doors. Scotty was doing some suggestive eyebrow raising and at one point in his set shouted out to "my ladies", but despite that and despite the subject matter, it somehow didn't come across as creepy. I guess it's hard to be creepy when you look as wholesome as he does. For his second song, he grabbed his acoustic guitar for "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not", followed by "I Love You This Big". In LA, he name-checked the local country radio station while introducing the song (well-played, kid!), and in Ontario, he brought out the mic stand towards the end of the song so he could do the double-armed this big gesture. I guess he loved the Ontario crowd more. Heh. Lauren joined him for a duet of "When You Say Nothing At All". Apparently, this duet has been the subject of much debate on whether or not McLaina is real. Oh lawd. For what it's worth, I didn't witness much chemistry between them either show. But I'm sure no matter what I say, people who think they are together are going to think they're together, so interpret that observation however you want. Scotty closed with my favorite of his, "Gone", with Lauren, Haley, Pia and Thia providing vampy backup.

The show closed with a big cheesy medley. James and Lauren started with a too-short "Here I Go Again", followed by a too-long "Faithfully" by Paul, Haley and Casey. Those three did not do that awesome song justice. Paul was singing at a whisper, and in Ontario, his timing was a half-second off with the music. Stefano, Thia, Naima and Jacob did a super-fun "Walk This Way", complete with the most ridiculous dancing ever from Jacob. Then the whole crew came out for a mashup of "Any Way You Want It" and "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'" with even more ridiculous dancing. It was a good, fun way to end the show.

LA Medley:

Ontario Medley:

And if this wasn't tl;dr enough for you (omg how can it NOT be too tl;dr for you?!) or not descriptive enough (seriously, I lost steam about halfway through writing this), go check out my concert companion Taks' blog for the hilarious and extremely detailed write-up of the LA show on Friday.

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