Katharine, Kellie & Co., Not Quite as Seen on TV

By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 30, 2006

The annual "American Idol" postseason roadshows are ostensibly concert tours. But the music -- 10 amateurs taking turns at tunes made very famous by other people -- isn't what lured 20,000 or so people on Friday to Verizon Center, where Taylor and the other first-name-only finalists from the 2006 season appeared. It's probable that most of the fans who, for example, cheered on Bucky as he butchered "Superstition" wouldn't pay the same money to see Stevie Wonder sing the song as it was meant to be sung.

There's no easy explanation for the TV show's ratings or the sold-out tour. But both phenomena surely have something to do with a format that lets viewers think they have a hand in launching plain folks from obscurity to the big stage just by voting in weekly telephonic elections. These fans also show up probably because they think they know the performers, either from hearing pathetic backstory (Kellie's mom abandoned her!) after pathetic backstory (Kellie's dad was in prison!), or reading about a finalist's flaw (Katharine's got an eating disorder!) in the tabloids. On this night, no surnames were used to introduce the singers, which made sense, because by the end of each season, fans are on a first-name-only relationship with the talent.

To be fair, some of the talent does have some talent. During her 10-minute set, Kellie (Pickler, for those who care) put forth on the show as a dumb blonde who would flirt with a mannequin, flaunted the sort of sassy charm that can't be taught. Prancing around in jeans tighter than a freelancer's budget, she roared through Melissa Etheridge's "The Only One" and Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." She could carry a sitcom or sit on a stool next to Regis. Though still a teenager, Lisa (Tucker), who sat behind an electric piano and crooned Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and "Your Song," already has a middle-of-the-road voice with enough agility for Broadway.

And reigning champion Taylor (Hicks) kept flashing a smile special enough to make everybody forgive him for all the non-spontaneous spasms and cheesy song selection ("Hollywood Nights," among others).

If everything falls into place, someday he might open for Kelly Clarkson.

But the concert provoked some questions, too. Namely: Bucky (Covington)? Somehow, nobody in the house seemed offended as the shaggy dirtball in this year's cast not only savaged Stevie but also brutalized Dobie Gray's "Drift Away," and earned a C-minus in chemistry with Kellie during a duet on "You're the One That I Want" (from "Grease").

And: McPheever? Second-placer Katharine (McPhee) made her debut performance on the tour after missing all previous dates amid tales of bulimia and laryngitis and canceled flights. For all the buildup, there was precious little shock and awe in Katharine's entrance. After opening with a wan version of KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," McPhee stood at the front of the stage and teared up like a beauty queen while milking the stuffing out of an ovation that wasn't louder than that given any other Idol. (Elliott's mom, in fact, got as much applause just for being spotted walking to her seat on the arena floor during an intermission.) At the risk of triggering a latent disorder, it must be pointed out that Katharine's act was hampered by a white gown so long and loose she couldn't walk in it. Citing doctor's orders, she left after just one more song -- "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" -- which also failed to bring down the house. Perhaps fans smelled a diva.

"She was better on television," said Lynn Schnitzer -- who brought her 13-year-old son from Lutherville, Md. -- as Katharine left the stage.

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