The Top 11 Are Kinda Awesome Live

July 15th, 2011. 7:00 PM. Los Angeles, CA.
On the 405. Carmageddon looms. It’s rush hour. Thick layers of smog fill the air. Droves of people are on the verge of hysterics as they hurry frantically to their final destination. A gray-haired man stands up and… is wearing a t-shirt with Stefano Langone’s face on it? Wait, this isn’t the 405. This is the Season 10 American Idol tour.

So yes, because of the ever-wonderful (and ever-concert-going) @h2oconvo, I was able to see the Idols’ Live Tour at the Nokia Theater in all its immaculately choreographed glory. This was my first American Idol Tour experience ever, so, not gonna lie, I was super excited, although ultimately disappointed by the lack of puffy paint t-shirts and signage. (I saw more signs in the trash can at the security line in the venue than I did in the actual theater. It was disappointing. They weren’t even interesting signs, either. Where’s the hot pink, rhinestone-encrusted “Lusting 4 Lusk” sign? Where’s the “I ♥ U, SCOTTY” neon green puffy-paint t-shirt? Idol fans, your sanity is underwhelming and your appropriateness is overplayed.)

In case it wasn’t clear from the overly lengthy parenthetical above, I was surprised by the crowd. Not nearly as tween-leaning as I imagined. Not nearly as female as I imagined. I’m not going to give you the demographic rundown (I seem to have misplaced my census results), but it was an eclectic mix of cool, calm and collected (the two early thirty-something guys sitting behind me) and overly-enthusiastic, obnoxious and embarrassing (me) for a fun, healthily-contained concert vibe. There was energy without there being Bieber-fans-maul-plain-clothes-cop energy.

I had relatively little knowledge of the show beforehand. I had seen the setlist once, but remembered almost nothing from it. I’d watched two videos (Pia’s single and Pia/Stefano on “California King Bed”) and that was about it. So I entered the Nokia with fairly fresh eyes. (Well, that’s probably misleading. I don’t suppose I can watch anything Idol-related with fresh eyes.) As someone who is a fan of music and a fan of Idol, I was pleasantly surprised that the two were, for once, not at odds with each other. It was a delicate balancing act between well-sung, musically interesting and variety show entertainment that mostly succeeded. All the Idols delivered on some level and, most importantly, the show never once felt like it was dragging its feet.

… Okay, that was a far longer introduction than I had planned. (What? Taks going on for paragraphs and paragraphs without saying anything and overusing parentheses, hyphenated adjectives and superlatives? Simply unheard of!) I will do my best to be brief going over the actual performances now, though I do intend to touch on every single one. By memory. If I miss something, it clearly did not leave an impression. So in case my Twitter-spam live blogging wasn’t quite enough, here are my non-140-character-constrained thoughts in (mostly) full sentences.

You know what I kept saying about Idol during the season? That it needed more Lady Gaga. At least the “Born This Way” opener performed by the girls gave me an excuse to laugh out loud at the sweet happenstance that was Lady Gaga’s Youtube channel getting shut down for “copyright infringement.” (In case you care, it was not for ripping off “Express Yourself” but for posting videos from a venue which didn’t not give her permission to, well, express herself.) It was a high-energy opener and Naima Adedapo proved to be a goddess who has mastered the art of owning a stage and singrapping about being beige, but it was still “Born This Way.” One highlight was the Lakers’ colored stage lighting. (Thanks to our good old pal Mr. Lockout that might be the last time I see purple-and-yellow for a while.) Thia’s super frilly dress was the other highlight. Really, though, that’s not a dig at the performance. The dress was just that spectacular.

Jumping from Gaga to my favorite song from Alicia Keys’ latest album is just about as large a jump you could make up the scale of my musical preferences. As such, Pia on “Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down” (there’s a mouthful of a title) was a welcomed reprieve. Pia can sing like no one’s business and was pretty much brilliant tackling one of my favorite artists ever. (This came as no surprise to me; Pia’s Hollywood week rendition of Keys’ “Doesn’t Mean Anything” was equally enjoyable.) Although, my ooh-look-shiny instincts kicked in and I was mesmerized by her super sparkly dress that the overhead lights did great justice. Only on the Idol tour can you get someone singing a great song really well and then also be treated to a super literal backdrop of the New York skyline complete with awful 32-bit rendering of the Statue of Liberty. Cheesy entertainment + Strong vocals = Good times. This was the formula that most of the night would profit off of.

Then Pia launched into Rihanna’s newest not-so-smash single “California King Bed” and was joined by a dapper looking Stefano. Here’s a song I manage to enjoy despite myself. (It’s really not a very compelling or well-written song, but it hooks me, okay?) It’s got a big chorus and Rihanna cannot sing it. You know who can sing it? Pia. You know who else can sing it? Stefano, surprisingly. Stefano was surprising all night, but nothing more so than his ability to stay toe-to-toe with Pia vocally on this song. They had some sweet harmonies and belt-fests that probably would’ve been overwrought in 90 seconds on TV, but worked after a 3-minute build in a concert. Minor melody tweaks and what not. I don’t even know. Stefano wants his California king. Backdrop update: reddish gold satin-esque cloth waving in the air. Basically Rihanna’s CKB music video without people. Or Rihanna’s hair.

Up until now, the audience had been seated. You know why? Because standing is hard work. I was loving the concert and I was seated. There was energy. It was just firmly planted to nice cushions. This was all ruined when Paul McDonald came around to do his only solo of the night, “Maggie May”, and yelled at the audience to stand up just about as often as he sang lyrics to the song. I’ve sipped my fair share of haterade with regards to Paul, but he delivers that drunken stupor with a nonchalant sincerity that works. Like, this is Paul McDonald. Yeah, so what if he sounds and looks vaguely like Gollum? Certainly not Paul. He’s just gonna have fun. It was entertaining. I wish I was drunk for it, because as fun as it was sober, I imagine it would’ve been a blast tipsy. He skipped it out. He skipped it out like. a. boss.

Thia was truly the queen of wardrobe changes. After her show-stealing white frilly uber-poof, she managed a shimmering half-dress thing with a ridiculous tail. I don’t know what it was. I don’t speak dresses. It was fantastic, though. I referred to “Who Says” as a Demi Lovato song all night. It is, in fact, a Selena Gomez song. Is there a difference? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe now I will be accosted by flocks of enraged teen girls extolling the virtues of their queen Selena Lovato as opposed to that horrid witch Demi Moore. Or something. I’m just going to guess that Thia sounded better than either Disney-manufactured dark-haired song-and-dancestress would or does or has sounded. She was twirling and glittering and I enjoyed it. I still have the song stuck in my head, actually. Although I don’t know the lyrics so my head is repeating, “who says who says you’re allergic” and I’m pretty sure those aren’t the words.

Next up came the first real musical low-point of the concert, but it was such good Idol entertainment that I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t like Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope.” I just don’t. It’s not appealing to me. It is also very stylized. Pia and Haley sounded like certified trainwrecks on the song. Thia’s oft-affected vocal quirks actually helped her out a tad. Naima was, again, the saving grace. She could hit the attitude and the delivery in a way that none of the other girls could match. The hilarious choreography which included hula dancing and wacky-wavy-inflatable-arm-man gestures kept things moving, though. Have I mentioned that I love Naima, yet? Because I do. Naaiiiiimmmmaaa!!!

Stefano came back for an ultra-current back-to-back set of Bruno Mars and Usher in the form of “Grenade” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love”, the latter with support from the girls as backup singers. He started on the keyboard for “Grenade” and I was a little disappointed that he didn’t mimic the music video and then continue to drag the keyboard along behind him for the rest of the performance. It would’ve been so much more special to hear Stefano sing about a bullet going straight through his brain while lugging a Roland over his shoulder. He brought himself to his knees and prowled the stage like any decent egomaniac knows how to do. I wasn’t really paying attention though. They had these shiny stars bouncing up and down on his backdrop and they were the most distracting things ever. I just kept following them as they enchanted me with their magical shimmers. “DJ” was infinitely improved, complete with a dance solo and shirt-lift tease that had all them gray-haired fifty-somethings in Stefano Langone t-shirts yearning for more. His tour-de-force came at the very end when he took of his t-shirt and just stood there like, “yeah, that’s right. You know you want this.” I was clapping and cheering in between my fits of maniacal laughter. (Really, though. I was doubled over in laughter. It was quite a moment.)

Honestly, I could talk about the guys (minus McCreery) doing Neon Trees’ “Animal” but I’m pretty sure I said all there is to say in my tweet. Casey Abrams singing Neon Trees. It’s like I’ve died and gone to a place worse than hell. Like a Casey Abrams and/or Neon Trees concert. (Okay, okay. I have one more thing to say: between this and the Zombies Ford Music Video, we heard “Animal” three times last night. I never needed to hear that song once. Three times made me want to murder helpless shelter puppies.)

Naima Adedapo is a goddess. She’s divinity on two feet. She’s my lord and savior. I don’t know why exactly, but she’s the most entertaining person ever. “On The Floor” was pretty much the perfect song for her. She got to dance and throw in her Naima flair. She sounded good (certainly better than Ms. Lopez would if she were to sing live) and looked even better. Her crazy dance breakdowns and all-around high energy stage presence were impressive. If you don’t have fun watching Naima perform “On The Floor” then you have no soul. Heck, you have less than no soul, because I am most definitely soulless but still love Naima’s insanity. I don’t know what less than no soul is, maybe you have a black hole in your chest. Maybe you hate happiness. I don’t know. But there’s something wrong with you. I’m just sad Naima was eliminated 11th and only got one solo. I would go to a Naima concert and while there I would scream my head off like only crazed Idol fans can.

Coming down from my Naima-induced high was difficult and it was hard to concentrate on Pia tackling her new single “This Time”, but I managed. First off, there were two guys a couple rows in front of me who were clearly Pia fans and refused to sit down though the rest of the crowd did. That’s dedication, yo. Withstanding all that peer pressure and dagger-eyes from forty-somethings to sit down like all the cool kids, they were modern day heroes. Live, “This Time” is innocuously catchy and Pia is superb at pulling off lines like “I’m mad as hell.” She certainly looked mad as hell. There were no annoyingly noisy acoustic guitars to ruin the otherwise R&B-infused melody. Pia Toscano, saving the world one aggressive stomp at a time.

Lauren Alaina apparently had some accident at one of the earlier shows and as a result she is now saddled with an awesome boot-cast that, although fashionable, probably hinders her movement a tad. So when she had to walk down stairs at the beginning of “Firework” all by her lonesome I was a little worried for her. (I might have fist-pumped and yelled when she made it to the bottom. Might have.) Aside from that, the Katy Perry sparklers-from-breast anthem was just alright under the control of Pia, Lauren and Thia. Fireworks exploding in the background can only aid a performance so much, you know? The monochromatic dresses (with matching shiny accessories!) would’ve been better had they been red, white and blue to really amp up the over-the-top staging, but I guess red, black and blue was a passable alternative.

Casey Abrams singing “Smooth” by Santana ft. Rob Thomas was actually a pretty deft choice. There aren’t a whole lot of songs written in the last fifteen years that I could imagine fitting Casey’s style well, but that is definitely one of them. The beginning started out really quite nice, I’ll say. You know, it was Casey bringing the upright bass to mainstream music! Or whatever nonsense Randy Jackson dribbled about during his Idol tenure. But then, like, he tried to stretch his voice and it was a How I Met Your Mother glass shattering moment. Everything just fell apart. The illusion was over. Casey Abrams’s I’m-going-to-kill-someone face was on all four big screens and he started grunting and oop-doop faux-scatting and I just wanted it all to be over. I wanted that sharp knife of a short life to come down on me. It was too much. In fact, it was so much that not even Haley Reinhart’s jazzy-stylings and R2D2-inspired scatting could save me from the horror on “Moanin'”. (Though, Casey does get points for scatting the “Witch Doctor” song.) He finished his three-song set with a “Harder To Breathe” as belabored as the Idol version, though greatly improved with spins and low kicks across the stage. I imagine the kicks were in fact supposed to be high kicks, but dude gets about as much air as my great aunt Tilda. (Do I actually have a great aunt named Tilda? The world may never know.)

The first half was then closed with the entire cast (minus the divalicious Scotty McCreery who refused to be seen with such low-class non-winners) on what is probably the best song ever, “Forget You.” If it’s not the best song ever, it’s at least the song that lends itself best to be covered. Pretty sure it’s physically impossible to create a bad cover of the song. Like, I think that was one of Newton’s Laws of Physics. Don’t believe me? Google that shit. (But um, don’t really Google that shit.) Casey Abrams tackled that guttural moanfest of a bridge like a seasoned grunting pro. Pia and Haley managed to look hot in some unflattering red and black suits. There was a bright disco-infused background, even! It was all just so beautiful. I wanted to cry.

See, normally I’d want to recap things that happened that weren’t the performances. Such as the ridiculousness of the audience or the creepy New Orleans advertisements that they kept playing on the big screens, but because this is one of the most exhaustingly lengthy things I have ever written, I will have to omit such pertinent gems.

First up to bat to start the third quarter was quarterback Lauren Alaina. Her “Flat On The Floor” was perhaps a little more cautious than either of her Idol renditions, but I’ll chalk that up to the anchor attached to her left foot. She sounded great and without the ambitious stage movements, she managed to avoid losing her breath during the trickier portions. Lauren was one of a few Idols to mention coming back to the Nokia Theater (for those who perhaps don’t know, don’t care or are wondering what happened to the Kodak Theater, the Nokia is where the Idol finale was held) and was adorable in her ramblings. No, I don’t remember what she said and I don’t doubt it was rehearsed ad nauseum, but it still came off as natural. “Like My Mother Does” is still one of the worst songs ever written, and it is even less palatable without Mama Alaina’s hair there to ease the pain. That said, Lauren belts the hell out of that thing and the audience actually seemed to get really into it. I don’t know. Maybe they were all just really excited that it was over, but there seemed to be some escalated noise-level when Lauren was bringing her would-be coronation song home. My favorite Lauren performance on Idol was most definitely “If I Die Young” (and, um, I’ve since grown far too fond of the actual song itself), so I was happy to hear her do it live. I’m not sure the Haley, Thia, Stefano trio added a whole lot to that song, but Lauren rocks it. To be honest, I missed the drama that the botched key change infused in her first performance of it, but I guess asking for her to screw up her job every night would be a bit much, yeah? That’s a job much more suited to the likes of Kara DioGuardi. (rimshot!)

I knew James was going to do something flashy for his set, but I didn’t quite know what that would be. So the stage lights were dimmed and all I could see was the silhouette of a dude holding a guitar. When I heard James’ voice, I was kinda confused as to why the stage lights were still dimmed and was like, “yo yo yo, stage peepz, I can’t see the Durbs. This is gon’ be a problem because then I won’t be able to tell if he’s got a tail or not.” (For the record, he did have a tail. And a backwards hat. And two charcoal paint looking lines under his left eye. And super ugly pants. It was kind of glorious. I mean, it was beyond the point of a trainwreck.) Anyway, James ended up not being on stage and entered through the back of the venue. I spent a good thirty seconds attempting to find him as he walked down the aisle half a row away from me singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Super energetic stuff. We got the Durbin back bends and prancing and all the wonderful give-metal-a-chance-even-though-I’m-not-singing-metal bells and whistles. I got hyped when his next performance began with two very overactive fog machines. It was like they rented a pair of hydrothermal vents. All that hype died down when I realized “Uprising” was the next song. I mean, the song is super intent on beating me down with its staid, plodding drones. The performances started too high and ended too high and everything in between sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks imitating dog whistles. Without Nick Cannon’s drumline, the performance really doesn’t work. It was really the only time the entire night where I felt aurally assaulted. It was a horrible, no good, very bad song.

I’ve was never a fan of Jacob Lusk on the show. I liked a few things he did and wished he could stay around to spice up group performances, but that was about it. However, from the second he stepped on the stage to the instrumental of “Never Too Much” to when he released the last note of “You’re All I Need To Get By” I was rockin’ out like a crazy person. I mean, embarrassing dancing (both seated and standing) and clapping and yelling and singing along. Could not have been having more fun even if it was all covered in delicious pepper jack cheese. (Did that sentence really work? No. But I’m hungry and want some pepper jack cheese.) Jacob is such a ridiculous performer and he does everything so enthusiastically that I found it impossible to not get swept up in his ball of joy. He bounces and snaps and finger wags and hip thrusts with absurd conviction. It’s like he’s going to physically burst if he does not give you that head bob and twirl combination. It’s all so magnificent. Seriously though, it was all so good. So fun. So entertaining. I need more, damnit. I’m going through withdrawal just typing up this recap. I didn’t even know my life was missing something till I got a taste of the addictive live Jacob Lusk experience. Such a gem.

It’s a shame that Haley’s “House Of The Rising Sun” came immediately after Jacob. I was far too wired from spastic grooving to take in the subtle nuances of Haley’s soothing voice. She looked fantastic and sounded great and was captivating in all her Haleyness. Haley’s set is likely the one I would want to listen to the most, but between “House” and “Bennie And The Jets”, I sorta felt like I’d seen it all before. That’s partially a testament to how well she performed the songs on Idol, but I would have liked to see her perform a new song. She did walk up and down the stairs on the stage multiple times in heels without falling though, so at least she’s improved in that aspect. (I have probably just jinxed Haley horribly and await reports that she has tumbled up stairs and broken her nose at a future Idol tour stop.) Anyway, if you feel like I haven’t praised Haley’s performances enough, feel free to go back to any of my recaps of Season 10 and you can delight yourself with effusive praise there. She was still amazing, I just don’t have any new ways to describe her amazingness.

Finally we have arrived at the winner of Season 10, Scotty McCreery! Although Lauren and Haley and Jacob appeared intermittently throughout the first half, Scotty managed to stay completely hidden until his solos. It was probably for the best, as my ear drums would not have been able to handle the high-pitched banshee screams that erupted from behind me when he did finally set foot on stage. I was downright giddy when he started the Josh Turner Experience and sang babylockthemdoors “Your Man” in his soothing deep voice. Scotty has a surprising amount of charm on stage. I don’t know where it comes from, but it helps him pull off songs like “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” and even his total whiff of a winner’s single “I Love You This Big” without appearing overly hammy. Given that I found him to be a total ham-fest all season long, this surprised me. He clearly embraces his own inherent cheese, but it works for him and his cowboy wide stance and slanted grin. It’s like he really does love us this big. His duet with Lauren to “When You Say Nothing At All” was sickeningly sweet. It was a rehash of every duet they’d done on the show, polished around the edges so as not to offend anyone’s sensibilities in any possible way. They have the wholesome, platonic love country teen duet market cornered, that’s for sure. If you ever need two kids who can’t yet legally drink to croon a song about love and togetherness, the McLaina special with an extra large Coke should be your order. (And make sure to give me the Coke.) Then, just like that, Scotty was “Gone”. (Yeaaah, pun. But really, I only used the pun so I don’t have to come up with more things to say about another performance.)

The ending medley was awesome and not awesome and fun and dull and hilarious and entertaining and cheesy and well done. Lauren and James kicking off to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” was over far too soon, while Paul, Casey and Haley on “Faithfully” should have been over before it started. Naima, Thia and Stefano lit up the house with “Walk This Way” that I might need to go watch immediately following the completion of this sentence. I forgot until now how much I enjoyed all the randomness of it. It ended, as all good medleys do, with Journey. The entire cast on “Anyway You Want It” was fun and completely spastic and goofy and awfully choreographed while also joyously spontaneous. My favorite part of it all was just how lightly these contestants managed to take themselves while doing something as ridiculous as a Whitesnake-Journey-Aerosmith medley on a glorified variety show. They were having fun with it, so I was having fun with it. Isn’t that how all good concerts should end?

Overall, I enjoyed pretty much everything and everyone. Everyone sounded great. Naima and Jacob stood out as entertainers. Stefano was a stronger singer than I expected. Everyone else excelled at what they were supposed to excel at. The first half of the show which followed a less-constrained format and flowed more easily was definitely the stronger half. The mini-sets in the second half were good, but a little stale when compared to the insanely fast-paced (and more modern-feeling) vibe of the first half. I could not have had a better time.

Boom. Fiyah.


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