By Gene Wilkey
My wife, Kathy, and I traveled to Nashville on Friday to see the AE10 concert. As it turned out, Friday’s entertainment was almost as good as Saturday’s. I will touch on that later, but first I would like to tell you about the big show. I will call this more of a report on the event than a review of the singers.
I recall some of the reviews from last year’s tour reporting as few as 5,000 people in attendance at some of the performances. We left our hotel 2 1/2 hours before the show, arriving at the entrance plaza of the coliseum at least two hours before the 7:00 show time and there were more than 5,000 people milling around in front of the venue. All of the local restaurants from completely skanky, to 5 star restaurants, were packed and had waiting list of an hour and a half or more. The signs were good that the turnout would be huge. The arena was set up in it’s maximum capacity configuration. It has triple deck fixed seating and the floor was filled with temporary folding chairs, with the stage in one end. Our seats were on the floor, right in the center, less than 100 feet from the stage. I would be surprised if there were 50 empty seats in the building. Reports of American Idol’s demised seem to be premature, if this is any indication.
The preshow consisted of videos of past Idols playing on the side screens of the stage. There were still people taking their seats at show time, so the start was delayed for maybe 10 minutes, but once underway we were in store for a very professional, seamlessly produced and executed show from beginning to end. All eleven performers gave excellent performance backed by a very tight five piece band. I don’t know if it is customary or not, but there were no backup vocalist. All of the backing vocals were provided by the Idols themselves with the exception of Scotty’s single where it sounded like tracks were used for the backing vocals. Haley, Stefano, and Pia performed backup duties more than anyone else, and they did an outstanding job. This year’s show utilized the talents of the contestants to create the overall show with less emphasis on how they placed in the competition, rather than the mini concert format, that counts down from tenth place to the winner, that I have read about from past years. As a Pia fan that moved on to support Haley after Pia was eliminated, I was very pleased with the outcome. Both girls had a lot of stage time. Some accounts of this are misleading because they don’t distinguish backup singing from any of the group formats; so for example, you may be left with the impression that Haley, Thia and Stefano were in a quartet with Lauren on “If I Die Young,” when actually they were sitting on stools at the rear of the stage singing backup.
The songs performed on the American Idol Season 10 Tour were:
The Girls – “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga”
This was a pretty typical group number. I don’t really care for this song, so it was just so-so for me, but it gets better.
Pia Toscano – “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys & Jay Z
Pia stayed behind after the group performance to perform this song alone. This method of moving from one song to the next by leaving a performer on stage from the previous number, or adding an additional singer to one or more that are on stage, created a fast paced flow throughout the concert. I recall a similar method was used for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert last year. It was apparent that a lot of time was spent in planning the flow and order of this show.
No surprises here; the lovely Pia doing what the lovely Pia does. She was in good voice, and even though her movements were very recognizable as Pia, she was a little freer and used more of the stage than what we have grown accustomed to. I think there were times where she was pushing her voice too hard, but it was a very nice performance overall.
Pia Toscano and Stefano Langone – “California King Bed” by Rihanna
Pia opened this number, singing the first verse and chorus alone. She was joined on stage by Stefano and the room began to heat up. The ladies in the audience cheered loudly, and it was on. Each sang their respective verses and then joined at the top of the high riser for a toe to toe shootout. They rejoined on the main stage for another shootout. Good stuff. Very dramatic. Both of them sang very well and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do a duet or two in the future.
You Tube video from the Oakland performance of this song can be seen here:
Paul McDonald – “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
If you never quite got Paul McDonald, You needed to see this performance. He was in his element here. The greeting he gave the audience, “what’s up Nashville” was met with the loudest cheer of the night; so far anyway. He offered a very good rendition of the Rod Stewart classic and didn’t look foolish on the big stage as he had on occasion during the Idol season. It was a more subdued Paul we saw on the tour stage than what we were accustom to seeing on TV. He even “sounded” good on this number that has become his go to song. He gave props to the band between verses and worked hard to get the crowd fired up before the finale chorus. He looked like a pro.
Thia Megia – “Who Says” by Selena Gomez
Thia finally found her comfort zone. She looked good on stage, very confidant and relaxed, and her movements had a smooth professional flow about them. Her voice was strong and clear with her characteristic tone and inflections, and she seemed to enjoy herself. She has a tendency to look more like Edy Gourmet than a teenage girl sometimes, but I think with time, she will develop her own style.
Pia, Thia, Haley & Naima – “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae
All of the girls worked well on this fast paced tongue twister. Each girl sang a portion of the lead vocals as they stood in a line across the stage dancing. Yes, Pia was dancing too! I’m giving the “Shake your booty” award to Haley, though Niama was a strong contender. Thia sang a little more of the lead than the others and seemed young and contemporary. She sounded very good and sometimes it was hard to tell if it was her or Pia singing. The handoffs from one lead singer to another and the switch up from lead to backing vocals was seamless and excellent. Niama brought a little bit of her island girl flavor (Stanton Island?) to her fist lead vocal but sounded more traditional R&B later in the song. The harmonies these four girls put together were outstanding. Their “woops” were very powerful and there is part of the song where the lyric is “high or low, high or low” where they reminded me of the harmony style of Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 or the Fifth Dimension. They had a great blend; very smooth. Haley wrapped it up with a very soulful last line. The girls should be extremely proud of this performance. It was top drawer and as professionally done as any group of singers could have done it.
Here is a video of this song on You Tube from the Philadelphia performance.
Stefano Langone – “Grenade” by Bruno Mars
Stefano opened the song at his keyboard where he remained through the first verse. His vocal was good; in fact, he could have been singing his own song. Stefano, like Paul, benefited from this live performance, big stage environment as compared to the fishbowl of TV. If he looked like he would explode any second, as he had on TV, you couldn’t tell it and his intensity didn’t overpower the room or the crowd like it seemed to on TV. It was a very good performance from Stefano. I recall Pia gave one of the best performances of Hollywood week when she and her group performed this song. I think it could make a nice duet for Pia and Stefano at some future date.
Stefano Langone and the Girls –“DJ Got Us Falling In Love.” by Usher
This was the same quartet of girls from the previous song; in fact, all of the girls except Lauren. They were performing backup duties here, but they did move around the stage using hand mics, which made them a bit more than traditional backup singers. Spoiler alert: If you have tickets for a future show you may want to skip the rest of this review. Poor Stefano was having wardrobe problems. I think it started when he pulled up his shirt tail a little to get some air. For some reason there was a high pitched roar in the room. Then he pulled it up again to wipe sweat off of his face and the same high pitched squeal filled the room. (Come to think of it, that sounded a lot like my wife that time) Poor boy must have been getting pretty hot trying to sing while swimming in a pool of estrogen and the next thing you know there was even more bare flesh “accidentally” revealed than at a Janet Jackson concert. My ears were suffering for it. For the ladies who missed it, Stefano looked like a Ken doll strutting around without his shirt.
Guys w/o Scotty- “Animal” by Neon Trees
The five guys got a big crowd reaction as each of them appeared from the steps at center stage and sang a few lines of the song. Stefano found a functional shirt for this number. Jacob didn’t get the love that the other four received, but a respectable crowd reaction none the less. This is another song that I didn’t like too much, but I can’t fault the guys for that.
Naima Adedapo – “On The Floor” by Jennifer Lopez
I was very impressed with Niama’s rendition of J Lo’s current hit. I think she was better than “Ms Lo” actually. She did all of her familiar dance moves while singing and remaining on key. She managed to keep her breathing under control to support her vocal. It was very well done. Even though I’m probably not the target market for her current style, I still think there is a star in this girl trying to get out. She looked like a real pro every time she appeared on the stage throughout the show. Time will tell.
Pia Toscano – “This Time” *****
Well here it is; the much discussed single from Pia. I said before that I’m not crazy about this song but I have to say that it too benefited from the live performance. Pia must have felt like this could be a make or break performance for her and she delivered this song with all of the love and caring of a woman delivering her first child; without the pain or screams of course. You could see the seriousness of the expression on her face and the intensity of her delivery. It sounded better to me than the recorded version and was very good despite the flawed lyrics and dated style of the song. Pia’s trademark squat, wiggle and wave looks pretty good in person and I believe she is close to breaking the extreme chin lift habit that she had during the show. She did it occasionally, but not as much as before. Pia did her best with this song and I enjoyed her performance.
Lauren, Pia and Thia – “Firework”
Lauren began this song alone on the stage and was joined by Pia who sang a few lines, then Thia doing the same with Lauren completing the verse and taking them all into the chorus. This song was a little sleepy and none of the girls were carrying the song very well. You had to struggle at times to her them. It finally picked up in the final chorus but it was too late to change my overall impression of it.
Casey Abrams – “Smooth” by Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana
Casey was good on this up beat song, and his growling seemed appropriate for the number. The song started off very subdued with just Casey at the top of the stair under a spotlight playing his upright bass and singing. After the first verse, the tempo picked up with the other instruments coming in. He gave a very energetic stage performance and was well received by the audience. The highlight was the excellent guitarist from the Idol tour band coving the famous Carlos Santana’s guitar licks. He was very good.
Casey Abrams and Haley Reinhart – “Moanin” Art Blakey
I really enjoied hearing this great jazz classic again. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t present as well in this environment as it had on TV. The sound system and the acoustics of the large coliseum weren’t right for the intimate jazz number. It was hard to pick up the nuance of some of the lyrics, or hear them at all in some instances. There was no special dress or hairdo to set the mood for the song as there had been on TV. All that aside, it was one of my favorite songs of the night as well as for the whole Idol season.
Casey Abrams – Harder to Breath by Maroon 5
This song was pretty much like the TV performance.
Group Number – Minus Scotty – “Forget You”
The group did a great job of this off color pop hit by Cee Lo Green. I have seen the practice sessions for it on You Tube and hoped they would have performed it live in the same way. In practice, the group members were all close together and took turns with the lead vocals, swapping off in a very smooth and naturally flowing way. It was more of a jam session than a performance and you could see that they were having a lot of fun with it. In the stage version they all stood individually across the entire width of the stage behind mic stands. The performance didn’t seem to draw you in like the practice session had. Never the less it was very well done and an enjoyable lead into the intermission.
There was a brief intermission at this point. I went to the concession stand for drinks and saw one of my all time favorite Idols, Melinda Doolittle, who was sitting with the sound and camera guys in a roped off area behind us. If you have never seen her in person, I can tell you that she has the face of a star that stands out in a crowd. I had to go over and at least shake her hand and say hello. When I returned to my seat I said to my wife “oh yeah, I saw Melinda Doolittle while I was up.” She looked at me in disbelief so I sa
id, “Yeah, right back there.” As we were leaving after the show, I saw her again through a crowd of about 500 people and pointed her out to Kathy. She said we should go over and speak to her. Melinda was very gracious and posed with me for a picture. Her half of the picture looks good!
The show resumed with Lauren after the intermission. I think it was a wise move to have the second half bookended by Lauren, at the beginning, and Scotty, at the end, to split up the country artist and also to help define them as individuals.
Lauren Alaina – “Flat on the Floor” by Carrie Underwood
Lauren opened with this recent hit from season four winner, Carrie Underwood. She does a pretty good cover of Carrie, but her enthusiasm in delivering the song began to take it’s toll before the song had ended. She began to sound hoarse and strained by the last chorus.
Lauren Alaina – “Like My Mother Does” *****
This, of course, is Lauren’s single that we all heard during the finale. She was not in good voice but delivered her song as best she could. Lauren pushed her voice way too hard on the first song and sounded raspy after that. A rough wheeze could be heard over the microphone when she took the first breath for her second song. I hope she wises up before it’s too late.
Lauren, Haley, Thia, and Stefano – “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry
I think this was Lauren’s best song of the night because, not only do I like it better than the others, but it is less vocally demanding than the first two. She was also buoyed by the backing vocals of Haley, Thia and Stefano. The three performing duties as backup singers worked very well together on this song, particularly Haley and Stefano.
The crowd loved Lauren and cheered for her at about the same level as for the boys. This was also true for Haley, but less so for the other girls.
James Durbin – “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns and Roses
James started his presentation from the rear of the main floor bringing the crowd to its feet with a continuous roar. I could have touched him as he passed very close to our seats. He had hit the “guy liner” extra hard for the show and had something hanging about knee length in the rear. I’m not sure if it was a tail or scarf. Add a toboggan pulled down to his eyes and an old flannel shirt and he was good to go. The girls really have to work much harder to prepare for these shows. Once on stage, no one is better at hamming for the crowd and aging on the cheers than James. I suppose he was in good voice; it was pretty hard to tell with the crowd noise and the type of songs he was singing. James was very well received by the crowd.
James Durbin – “Uprising” by Muse
One of James’ popular songs from the competition was brought out again for the tour. He did a good job with the vocals but James sounded better to me singing some of the pop songs in the group numbers where you could actually hear his voice. The crowd showed their love for James again and he was gone.
Jacob Lusk – “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross
Jacob received a polite but unenthusiastic reception from the crowd. He was another performer who benefited from the big stage. His movements and facial expressions seemed more to scale in this setting than on TV. He delivered this song well and in a reasonably restrained manner.
Jacob Lusk with Pia, and Stefano – Or- “Jacob Lusk and the Pips” “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gay and Tami Terrell
I actually enjoyed this R&B classic from Jacob quite a bit. This song builds to a crescendo toward the end and is a perfect vehicle for Jacob’s “enthusiasm.” Jacob did a good job with the lead vocals, working well with his backup singers, and was very entertaining on this song. What caught my attention, and what I enjoyed the most, was the excellent “Piping” from the Italian connection backing him up. Pia and Stefano were almost as good with their choreography and hand gestures, combined with backing vocals, as the Temps, Tops, Pips or Supremes. They were serious about it and not clowning around like young people often do when mimicking the classic R&B style of backup singing. I don’t know if Stefano has previous experience with this sort of thing, but Pia has done a lot of it with her band. Excellent job.
Haley Reinhart – “House of the Rising Sun”
I can’t get enough of this old blues standard, and rock classic, that became a big hit for Eric Burdon and The Animals in the early sixties. Like Eric and Siobhan Magnus before her, Haley made this song her own. This was the best song of the night for me, but I’m biased.
I am glad to hear that Haley has signed with Sony Interscope records. There were rumors for a few weeks but now it is official. She will be unique in this recording house that is predominantly hip hop. I hope they know what to do with her to reach her remarkable potential. That makes four so far from this season to get a record deal.
Haley Reinhart – “Bennie and the Jets”
Combined with her rendition of HOTRS, this was the best set, although “Moanin’” would come in second for me as a standalone performance. Neither “Bennie…” nor “Moanin’” were set up as well as they were on TV. “The Fabulous Baker Boys” start from the piano top that she used for “Bennie…” boosted the appeal of the TV performance, but she merely started off leaning on the short stairs in the live version.
At this point the band plays a big fanfare and a video presentation begins to roll on the main screen above the stage. It’s the familiar scene where Ryan Seacrest announced Kelly Clarkson had won the first season of American Idol. The video continued through the announcement of each year’s winner, culminating in Lauren and Scotty standing with Ryan, waiting in anticipation of this year’s results. When he said “the winner of American Idol 2011 IS,” Giant letters on the screen spelled out S-C-O-T-T-Y and it was time to lock ‘em doors and turn the light down low.
Scotty McCreery – “Your Man” by Josh Turner
As you might expect, the crowd roared with enthusiasm for the season 10 American Idol. The all American boy delivered Josh Turner’s modern classic with ease, wearing his old blue jeans and a tee shirt. He said he had been watching the show from the wings and thought he would never get out there.
Scotty McCreery – “Are You Going to Kiss Me Or Not” by Thompson Square
This was the second tune that Scotty had done to good reviews during the season that was offered to the concert audience. Scotty played his guitar and started the song seated in the dark. There were no surprises but maybe a few welcome changes to Scotty’s style are taking hold. I didn’t notice the exaggerated country accent that he had used through most of the season on the other songs but it was still present on this one. Also gone was the flute style side mic thing that he had become known for. He still snaps his head in the opposite direction now and then as if he is trying to catch a runner playing off base. I’m sure it will all smooth out over time.
Scotty McCreery – “I Love You This Big” *****
This is Scotty’s debut single that has done well on the country charts and has gotten good radio air play. I have seen a video for it as well. I’m not a big fan of this song. It seems a little silly to me, but compared to other coronation songs from past Idols, it’s not that bad. Scotty delivered it well and he was a big hit with the fans.
Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina – “When You Say Nothing at All” by Alison Krauss
Scotty and Lauren did a reasonably good job with this song. I think this song is too mature for them and I would much prefer Allison Krauss’ version or the original by the late, great Keith Whitley, but their rendition was a decent cover and received a good reaction from the crowd.
Scotty McCreery with Lauren, Thia, Pia and Haley – “Gone” by Montgomery Gentry
This was my favorite of the Scotty performances. He was backed by all of the girls except Niama on this song and they worked well together, Scotty opened the song from the platform at the top of the stairs and as he move forward toward the stairs the four girls appeared behind him. They followed him, moving as a group in a sultry slinky fashion, to several positions on the stage and finally to the front / center runway where they continued with the call and answer style of this high energy song. Scotty called and the girls answered in unison. It was a very good performance by all.
Entire Group: Medley “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, “Faithfully” by Journey, “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith, “Any Way You Want It” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin” by Journey.
James & Lauren – open with a few lines from” Here I Go Again.” Then Paul starts and is joined by Haley for the second line, then Casey comes on stage for the third line of the song “Faithfully” by Journey. It becomes a medley as Stefano & Naima join with “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith After that, the group is joined by Thia & Jacob and everyone sings “Any Way You Want It” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin” by Journey. It was a bit of a mixed bag. Of the bunch, James and Lauren were good and Paul, Haley and Casey did a very nice job. Steven Tyler’s gig seems to be secure though.
As you can see, the songs of the judges, and even one song by “The Voice” judge Cee Lo Green, were well covered during this concert. Hmmmm.
We had a great night of entertainment watching these young stars of tomorrow honing their chops on the big stage. It was good to see all of the families and mothers or fathers having a special night out with their daughters from about 8 to 15 years old. There were a lot of young adults and older folks as well. It was a well balanced and exceptionally well behaved audience that seemed to enjoy the show as much as we did. Buy your tickets early for next year’s show, and maybe we will see you there.
Concert pictures here:
When we go to Nashville we like to stop by a little country restaurant along the way called Marcy Jo’s Meal House for lunch. It’s a cool little place that is owned by country singer Joey Martin and her sister in law, Marcy Feek. You may have seen it a few years ago in an Overstocked.com Christmas commercial. Joey and her husband are the country duo Joey and Rory. They are real nice folks and the home cooking and fresh baked goods are out of this world.
We ate dinner Friday night at the lounge at our hotel. The guy performing in the lounge was a Nashville song writer / entertainer. Many of his friends had come out to celebrate his birthday. Among his group were five song writers, including him, and six professional country singers. Their combined credits included several number one records, one song on George Strait’s latest album and one of the song’s responsible for Faith Hill breaking into the big time, “Wild One.” All of the friend’s took turns joining the birthday boy on stage to sing or play guitar, piano or bass. Every one of them were good singers or musicians. They were very entertaining and it was a little bit of an education on how songs are written, in Nashville anyway.
Auditions for “The Voice” second season were being held in Nashville on both Friday and Saturday so many auditioners were staying at our hotel. Steve, the entertainer, offered an open mike to any of them that wanted to sing and many took the opportunity. One auditioner named Jeff caught my ear, so look out for him next season.
We went down stairs for a hamburger and beer and ended up staying until closing time for an evening of very good entertainment.