“American Idols Live!”
Prudential Center in Newark
Saturday, August 8
The Top 10 American Idol contestants of Season 8 came to Newark, New Jersey on Saturday night. That meant lots of “Whattup New-ARK!”s and “I’ve always dreamed of performing in Jersey” announcements from the oh-so-sincere singers, who, if you recall (I couldn’t), are Megan Joy, Michael Sarver, Scott MacIntyre, Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai, Matt Giraud, Allison Iraheta, Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert, and Kris Allen.
In a race against the punctual, well-oiled machine that is the American Idol tour and its apparently stringent 7pm start time, I allow my bags and my person to be thoroughly frisked in the lobby while someone on stage shouts props to “America!” (I’m certain it’s Michael Sarver) and then some mildly inspirational pop music indicates Scott MacIntyre’s entrance. I don’t actually make it all the way down to my floor seats (aka the seventh circle of hell) until #7-to-get-the-boot Lil Rounds is already singing. So I didn’t see Blind Guy and he didn’t see me. And wait, that means I missed the oil roughneck AND Megan Joy? Well-timed.
Seriously, I thought there’d be an opening act consisting of Ford commercials, a Guitar Hero jam, and Coca-Cola showers for everyone in the stadium. But I guess they didn’t get the memo that more of their audience runs on gay-time than ever before.
Anyway, I dutifully take my seat among fans of the more die-hard or rich-parented variety only a few rows from the stage, where every flaw masked by the magic of television becomes crystal clear to the naked eye. Lil, who choses long, loose curls, jiggles about in a sleeveless black raincoat with rhinestone trim. She sticks to light R&B with Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” and Alicia Keys’s “No One,” and then tries to encourage us to “party” with her–ripping off her coat to reveal a gold-belted black onesie–for “Single Ladies.” And by “party” she means karaoke night at the local hockey stadium: all the words to Beyonce’s opus flash behind Lil at the audience.
The same graphic screen that was Lil’s teleprompter now shows blue skies and clouds while some piano lightly tinkles in the background and Anoop takes the stage. He can best be described as smart frat-boy, in white chinos, vest, plaid tie, nightclub wristband, and button-down blue shirt that flutters when he steps in front of the strategically positioned desk fan at the edge of the stage. His voice is certainly better than it was on the show, at least on the three numbers he’s been singing on a loop for a few months now: “Always on My Mind,” Ne-Yo’s “Mad,” and Britney’s “My Prerogative.” Anoop tells us he’ll be back in Newark next year on his solo tour. Ha, he probably will.
Justin Timberlake’s face appears on the screen. It’s about this point of the evening that I realize I have no idea who’s in the Top 10 anymore. Matt who? I sneak a peek at the program the boy next to me got his dad to buy him and see 10 faces plastered on the front. But so many look the same! Slowly it comes back–Matt is the other Kris, the one who didn’t win. He sings the Black Crowes’s “Hard to Handle,” runs around the stage, and then jams on the piano. Piano skills are always hot, and they are still in use for “Georgia on My Mind” and the Fray’s “You Found Me.” Every time he sings “surrounded,” the backups–in black-tie, seated on stools–disinterestedly spin their fingers in circles. Matt tries to raise the energy level: “Cell phones to the sky!”
As I’m writing that ingenious quote down, nose buried in notebook, I hear a Powerpuff Girl or some other infantile cartoon character singing, “You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off of you.” I look up. It’s Megan Joy. With rhinestones stuck to her tattoo arm. Before intermission, all of tonight’s singers so far, in slick black suits, take on a medley of oldies. After Megan duets with Lil, a double piano comes up out of the stage’s nether regions and Matt and Scott do “Tell Her About It.” Then Michael Sarver, who looks exactly like a secret service agent, sings “Suspicious Minds.” Anoop comes out in a cute pair of black horn-rimmed specs for his solo, and then all six line up to end the first act, which does lead into a Ford commercial (whew!) in which the Idols’ hair, faces, and chins get all jumbled. Adam’s hair on Kris’s face? Awesome.
The stagehands repositioned the little desk-fans during intermission to be right under the mic so that 17-year-old Allison’s hair blows all over the place when she comes out (on guitar that I don’t think she actually plays) to sing Pink’s “So What,” Janis’s “Cry Baby,” and “Barracuda.” She’s been poured into a full-body leathery spandex black thing, and without TV camera interference, she only looks in her thirties tonight instead of the usual 40 and up. Allison’s also the only performer whose movements on stage seem to come from an instinctual place. I still wanna see some ID.
Now it becomes clear why the moms and thick-necked Italian dads in the rows near me ponied up for floor seats. Gokey is welcomed with open, waving arms by a solid contingent of parents in the stadium. Newark’s not exactly your Crazy Christian capital, so I can only assume the nerve Danny hit with this crowd had to do with his rendition of MJ’s “P.Y.T.” He’s in a red button-down with storm boots, jeans, and a military peacoat, plus simple rimless glasses with shiny white sides. The sun sets behind Danny as he does a Latin dance to “Maria Maria.” And then the sun retreats behind the trees of the forest, its rays peeking through, while he gives a sermon about loss and grief and following your dreams and sings a song about God called “My Wish” (Rascall Flatts) and the dads raise their arms in the air and the moms cry.
And then god is kicked off stage as the heathens in the crowd get their way. It’s Adam Lambert, and he’s wearing the usual: heavy black eyeliner, a leather coat with tails, and spikes for shoulder pads that make him look like a bad-ass crocodile. The only new development really is the blue eyeshadow. He does “Whole Lotta Love,” “Starlight,” “Mad World,” duets “Slow Ride” with Allison, and then does a David Bowie medley (yay!) in a British accent (not yay). It sounds like a Bowie jukebox musical on Broadway (note to producers: why haven’t you done that?). Adam’s really prancy, and keeps tossing his crotch upward, like a misguided ex-gay coach tried to teach him to walk cock forward ’cause it’s more manly. And now I can’t think of anything but Brüno’s genitals spinning ’round and ’round and… what? Fans are tossing all sorts of crap onto the stage–bras, a hot pink whip, a crumpled bag of McDonalds remains. The screams are deafening.
Adam disappears along with his stage booty. Then the graphic screen reveals Kris’s face all over different parts of the stage. A curtain drops. The music intensifies. And then a platform rises from below, topped by a little man in a flannel shirt holding a guitar. No one’s throwing anything up on stage while Kris sings “Heartless,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Hey Jude,” etc. Then the whole Top 10 appear and do “Don’t Stop Believin'” to remind us to watch Glee this fall. The night may have been formulaic, the performances packaged, the song choices boring, but how can you leave a stadium feeling anything but happy when the best song ever is being sung? Easy: mash it up with “Na na na na, na na na na/Hey hey hey, goodbye.”