When American Idol Season 9 came to a rocky close, experts, bloggers, and fans alike were incredibly skeptical whether or not the ratings giant had lost its luster. Then came the news of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler being added to the judge’s panel. People began talking. While this star-studded line up looked great on paper, many were still worried. However, once January 2011 came, all the doubt washed away as ratings only dipped, rather than plunging as many expected.
Not only were the judges bringing their A game, but the talent was as fresh and new as ever before. This year was familiarly reminiscent of Season 5, which spanned a wide range of musical tastes from country to pop to rock. When Scotty McCreery was crowned winner of Season 10, the only thing left to look forward to (besides upcoming album releases) was the American Idol Live! summer tour. One of those stops was Newark, New Jersey on August 14th (and 15th).
As the crowd took their seats in their “I <3 Scotty McCreery” T-shirts and gripped their “Fano” posters tightly in clenched fists, a thick cloud of energy and enthusiasm pervaded the arena. Even better still, as the faces of their favorite contestants flashed across the jumbo screen, cheers and jeers echoed from various seats. The screams built to a climax as the lights went out and a series of heavenly, but blinding, lights shot across the crowd. There was a moment of shock, surprise and realization as the audience was taken over with insanity and the fist-pumping instrumentals shot to deafening pitch for Pia Toscano, Lauren Alaina, and Haley Reinhart’s opening performance of “Born This Way.”
During the run of the show, the ladies showed glimpses of being incredibly contemporary and vocally stellar, but nothing compares to a live concert–especially when the pressure is off and everyone can relax and have fun. Toscano, Alaina, and Reinhart were the highlights of this number, as they proved their stage presence and charisma. That isn’t to say, though, that Naima Adedapo and Thia Megia did not bring something special as well, as you could tell that they felt right at home up on that stage.
At the conclusion of that number, the ladies scattered and Toscano, resident balladeer, was bathed in a soft pool of blue light. Decked out in sparkles–that was a common theme for all the women–Toscano’s vocals were as crisp and neat as one would expect from her. During her American Idol run, she produced many an impeccable ballad. With the energy from the previous performance surging through the crowd’s veins, the air in the room deflated, but they were still in awe of the beauty and talent before them. Everyone in the room held their breaths as she wailed and performed vocal acrobatics that would make any of the current pop divas run away terrified.
As she finished off “Empire State of Mind” with some sugary sweetness, she sequed into “California King Bed,” which is, perhaps, a perfect fit for her. Toscano could have benefited with a similar performance on the show, as she would not have been eliminated. After the first verse and chorus, she was joined by Stefano Langone, who proved he could hold his own next to the gorgeous former makeup artist. The chemistry these two possess is what great music is made of. As the two cooed and crooned back and forth, the music built and plateaued at just the right moments to overwhelming applause from the masses. As the music shifted with a climatic key change, the duo did not miss a beat and kept on trucking, leaving the audience wanting more.
Next up, Paul McDonald, indie-rocker to the core, took to the stage for a rousing performance of “Maggie May,” which he performed numerous times on the show. His quirky stage presence and performance style seemed out of place for live television, but in a concert setting, he fit like a glove. He moved around the stage like a seasoned pro and the audience simply ate him up as nearly everyone got back to their feet.
The crowd mostly stayed on their feet as 11th place finisher, Megia, took to the stage with “Who Says” by Selena Gomez. While on the show, she had the vocal chops but seemed robotic and old-fashioned, but tonight, all bets were off. She belted with the best of them as this song showcased her ability to interpret modern material.
“Tightrope,” originally by Janelle Monae, was then performed by Megia, Toscano, Adedapo, and Reinhart, all of whom shone on this song.
As the first half of the concert jammed on, Langone came back on stage to perform his set of “Grenade” and “DJ Got Us Falling in Love.” The crowd could simply not get enough of the Bruno Mars-esque performer. He flitted and flirted his way across the stage and subsequently removed his shirt–to screams from the girls (and some guys, I’m sure).
In case the crowd was eager for a guys group number, they were not disappointed as McDonald, Casey Abrams, James Durbin, and Jacob Lusk joined him on stage for some “Animal” action. The biggest crowd reaction was for Durbin, all decked out in his rocker garb.
To follow up that high energy performance, Adedapo broke out some “On the Floor” by Jennifer Lopez, and mixed the dance club track with some hot African dancing that Naima is so well-known for. Her performance was a mix of contemporary meets tribal ritual. Again, the audience was up and moving, mimicking her every dance step.
Despite having strong fan support, once Toscano made her way back to the stage, the air, once again, deflated with “This Time,” which could largely be due to the fact that most of the audience does not know the song very well. On Idol, Toscano certainly held her own on uptempo tracks (see “River Deep, Mountain High”), but she was always stiff and too perfect. This time, though, she was free and loose to work the stage and really get into the performance. Much like Carrie Underwood, she is learning to let go and develop some stage presence.
The last contestant set before intermission belonged to jazz musician Abrams. This was clearly a much needed change of pace from the normal, machine-made, ready-to-drink pop music that bogged down most of the show. The audience energy shifted as Abrams began with “Smooth” with just his bass. He first broke out his bass during Hollywood Week on Idol and several times throughout his run. It was clear that the audience adored him, with many getting chills. He followed that track up with the highly anticipated duet with Reinhart on “Moanin’,” with which these two had a huge moment. The magic seeped from their pores as they effortlessly scatted and worked their natural jazz chops. Then, Abrams broke out “Harder to Breathe,” after making a joke about needing to drink some water because it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Speaking of harder to breathe, now that the atmosphere was thick, the Top 11–minus McCreery–moved and grooved to Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You.” While the song has been overexposed this past year on radio and television, the crowd sung along and seemed to enjoy it.
Before the crowd knew it, it was time for intermission. That meant only one thing: time to buy some Idol merchandise. The crowd clogged the hallways outside as screaming fans bought posters, T-shirts, and contestant headshots. A break also gave them the chance to recharge their batteries for an electric second half.
Lauren Alaina, American Idol runner-up, started us off with a rocking “Flat on the Floor”–which she performed twice on the show–by Underwood. This time, however, she made some creative and vocally safe melodic choices–especially during the glory notes towards the end. She’s recently been suffering from extreme bronchitis, and it is good to see she is taking care of her voice the best she can. Despite sickness, she overcame her vocal issues and gave a performance worth seeing. The rest of her set included an emotional “Like My Mother Does,” with her mother looking on from the side of the stage, and “If I Die Young,” with Reinhart, Thia, and Megia singing backup.
Here marks another profound shift in the concert. Durbin, metal rocker, began his set in the audience with “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” getting the entire arena to their feet. As he made his way through the center of the crowd, fans went wild taking pictures, flashing their signs, and looking around frantically. His fourth place finish came as a shock to most Idol fans as his high energy vocals and charisma were in perfect form. He then broke out some “Uprising” by Muse, which he exaggerated with his Adam Lambert-like screams and signature back bends.
The energy held steady when Lusk come out to perform his set of “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross and “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell. The crowd shifted again with many fans dancing in the aisles. Jacob’s vocal runs were impressive, although at times, he lacks a certain control over his pitch.
Going from gospel/r&b to soul, Reinhart, bluesy sweetheart, took “House of the Rising Sun” and “Benny and the Jets,” turned them on their heads, and spit them out. What the audience had come to expect from these performances (from the show) was completely irrelevant. The specific nuances of her voice were spiced, edgy, and like a cool rain in the desert. She was smooth in her staging and wooed the crowd with her personality. In any other season, she could have easily won; it would certainly have been interesting if she had appeared during the show’s eighth or ninth season, for example.
Each of these performances seemed to build upon the previous one, and as soon as the Idol winning moments video played, everyone knew who was about to take the stage. As most audience members were longtime American Idol fans, they clearly had opinions about each of the nine (now ten) winners. From Kelly Clarkson to Underwood to Lee DeWyze, cheers and boos peppered throughout the screaming fans.
The last winning moment, the crowning of McCreery, prodded the audience to their feet. The biggest plus to this concert was that each set was a breath of fresh air, and McCreery was no exception. A country boy at heart, he began his set with “Your Man” by Josh Turner, which has come to be McCreery’s staple song. From “Baby, lock them doors and turn the lights down low,” the crowd was overtaken with unbridled and explosive fandom. He followed this song up with “Are You Going to Kiss Me or Not” and his debut single, “I Love You This Big,” with hand gestures galore. It isn’t any wonder that he was crowned the winner. He has such charisma and effect on the audience that is reminiscent of the Beattles and Michael Jackson. Teen girls screamed, cried, jumped up and down, and belted the lyrics .
Another highly anticipated moment of the concert was the “When You Say Nothing at All,” a duet by McCreery and Alaina. It was unreal, as if the audience was stepping back in time and seeing a younger Underwood and Paisley up on stage. Their chemistry is unmatched by any of the other contestant pairings this year. There is word that a duet will appear on each of their respective albums. Let’s hope this is true.
To finish off the evening, McCreery began a group performance with Alaina, Reinhart, Megia, and Toscano of “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry. This was a bold move as none of the others, save for Alaina, have a single country fiber in their beings. That was just a wrongful conclusion. The girls clearly know how to interpret country music, and the crowd roared the entirety of the performance.
Lastly, there was a medley of “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, “Faithfully” by Journey, “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith, and “Any Way You Want It”/Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” by Journey.
Overall, the crowd was engaged and incredibly receptive to every Idol contestant during their sets. The production of each performance was simple, but the backdrops and vocals were enough to keep each audience member captivated and in awe. If you are looking for a rockin’ time, shelling out the money for an Idol ticket should be in your future plans.