Music Review: 'American Idol Live'

By Ruth McCann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009

"He's the New Age Elvis!" gushed Marie Burgess of Bowie, after she and her mother saw the gyrating, lip-curling Adam Lambert perform Tuesday night when the American Idol Live tour made a stop at Verizon Center.

Sure, Lambert, 27, lost the "Idol" title to the clean-cut Kris Allen, 24, but that hardly deterred the moms, daughters, tweens and everyone else who shrieked with dog-whistle-pitched delight when Lambert emerged onstage. In a ruffly, studded, knee-length blue tailcoat (later cast off to reveal a rhinestone-studded vest over a bare chest -- the man loves a good costume change or three), Lambert looked like the spiky-haired, black-nail-polished love child of Eddie Izzard and Prince.

After eight of Idol's top 10 finalists had done their thing on Verizon Center's stage, Lambert appeared (cue shrieks) to open his mesmerizing set with Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," an ace in the hole, given that the crowd was liberally peppered with Adam Lambert T-shirts and signs that declared: "Adam is my winner," "I {heart} Adam Lambert," etc. So a song in which Lambert promises "I'm gonna give you my love" was unsurprisingly successful.

"He said in an interview that he likes men," Burgess said, "but I could be that 'lucky girl'! I am married, though." Burgess's mother smiled, still clutching her own homemade Lambert sign. (Their tickets, incidentally, were a wedding present from Burgess's husband).

But if one isn't in the audience simply to bask in Lambert's admittedly electric stage presence, what does the "American Idol Live" tour have to offer?

Well, at least it's better than the TV show.

Although 10,000 "AI" fans showed up, Verizon Center seemed a wee bit dead, at least for the first hour or so of this Lord-of-the-Rings-length performance. Maybe the fans are just accustomed to watching these "Idols" on TV. They stayed in their seats and pretty much ignored 10th-place Idol Michael Sarver's attempts to get people clapping along. Or maybe fans in the building were just mopey after hearing rumors (later confirmed) that Paula Abdul won't be judging the upcoming ninth "Idol" season.

Starting from this season's 10th-place finisher and working their way up to winner Kris Allen, the Idols each had individual stage-time. The first few performers were allotted two songs, while later Idols got to belt out four tunes. Each had the benefit of a full band and two backup singers, who also chimed in on some ensemble numbers.

By the time fourth-place Idol Allison Iraheta took the stage, the audience was a bit more receptive. And Iraheta certainly earned the response as she hopped around the stage, her bright red hair trailing behind her. Though only 17, she was prodigiously confident and dynamic, tearing through impassioned renditions of Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby" and Pink's "So What."

Though the stick-to-the-script-ness feel made the overall concert a bit blah, 24-year-old Scott MacIntyre (the show's first blind contestant) and former lounge singer Matt Giraud, 24, ramped things up when they appeared, seated at pianos, on a platform that ascended from below the stage and launched into a spirited duet.

When winner Allen finally arrived to wrap things up with a few understated ditties, the audience happily chimed in on "Hey Jude" and cheered for Allen's Obama shout-out (Tuesday was the president's birthday). The iconic Beatles song was followed by a house-pleasing rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," for which all Idols were on deck.

Of course, American Idol Live (D.C. was the 21st show on the 52-stop tour) is much like the TV formula -- without the judging: Nonconfrontational persons sing nonconfrontational songs that were written and made famous by other people. The Idols wear clothes other people chose and (it seems) repeat pre-approved choreography and patter. Plus, there are lots of corporate spots (the massive screens surrounding the stage broadcast an extended car commercial pre-performance, featuring footage of all 10 finalists). Ugh.

But at least the Idols sound much better in person than they do on TV. If you've ever shaken your fist at the "Idol" screen and vowed you could do better, the Live tour might assuage your hissy fits. And some of the Idols managed to break through into a semblance of live-ness, including Iraheta, Lambert and Giraud, who mercifully indulged in some entertaining patter.

Pre-concert, five of the Idols gathered backstage to spend some time with the press and dish. Since the tour began on July 5, the Idols have been traveling together in a single bus. During a rare day off in Washington on Monday, Lambert (who's rushing to co-write and record an album by November) got a facial and went shopping, donning a trucker hat and sunglasses (his incognito look). Giraud went to the Natural History Museum, where, he says, he hummed the "Night at the Museum" theme song and "geeked out for hours." Megan Joy, Lil Rounds and Iraheta went shopping with their hairdresser.

None of the Idols who spoke to the press were aware that Abdul's absence from the upcoming ninth season had been confirmed.

"I haven't heard that," Giraud said. "I gotta call her!"

Second runner-up Danny Gokey, 29, called the notion of Abdul's departure "awful" and "a mistake" before cautiously adding that it probably wasn't any of his business. But, he said, Abdul was the judge who cared most about the contestants themselves.

"Paula," Gokey said, "brought heart to the show."

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