“The youth matters!” Usher declared during his aerobic opening set, twisting limbs clad in black leather, kicking high tops the shade of maraschino cherries. “Y’all make some noise!” (And they did.)
Those lucky whippersnappers. When we were their age, we had to walk to our inaugural balls uphill through 10 miles of snow.
Okay, so that isn’t actually true. In 2009, then-about-to-be-first-lady Michelle Obama hosted the first Kids’ Inaugural at Verizon Center, where an audience of 14,000 was treated to performances by Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Bow Wow and the Jonas Brothers.
On Saturday night, bigger names sang for a smaller crowd. The audience of about 5,000 — military families, D.C. public school students, Sasha and Malia Obama, oodles of media folk — reflected the first lady’s two biggest initiatives: her “Joining Forces” campaign to provide support to military families and her “Let’s Move!” crusade against childhood obesity.
The first lady and her co-host, Jill Biden, offered warm words of support to families struggling with military life in their remarks from the stage, which followed a night of between-song video messages from Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman and others.
If the message from the speakers was “Thank you,” the message from the musicians was “Dance, kiddos!”
Usher opened the show with a performance that doubled as a dance tutorial — and California boy band Mindless Behavior seemed to be paying attention. Putting a premium on physicality, the quartet pop-locked through two songs, sporting suits that made them look like tiny, teenage Secret Service agents.
Far East Movement was kinetic, too. The Los Angeles foursome skipped their chart-topper “Like a G6” to bounce across the stage to “Turn Up the Love” and “Live My Life,” two pop-rap confections in Black Eyed Peas mode.
Darren Criss and Naya Rivera of “Glee” dialed it back with a cover of “Valerie,” the Zutons ditty made famous by Amy Winehouse — and more famous by “Glee.” Fellow cast member Amber Riley followed up with a serviceable version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”
But the best cover of the night came from the Soul Children of Chicago, a youth choir whose gospel rendition of the Beatles’ “Come Together” would have stolen the show had Perry not closed out the night.
Clad in a star-spangled onesie, Perry was half 1940s pin-up, half 21st-century superhero — and she sang her brightest hits “Teenage Dream” and “Firework” with red-white-and-blue gusto.
But those songs and that outfit sent a message that transcended patriotism: Always be yourself.