Live: American Idol Gets It Together At Nassau Coliseum

American Idols Live Nassau Coliseum Wednesday, August 24

Better than: A two-hour elimination episode.

To say that the 10th season of American Idol—the first without Simon Cowell, the fifth after the victory of gray-haired boogie man Taylor Hicks "broke" the show's ability to mint stars—was plagued by problems is to be somewhat charitable. Sure, it's still the most popular show in the country, despite surges by the likes of Dancing With The Stars; yes, it probably assisted Jennifer Lopez's return to the pop charts after she'd seemed all but exiled from them. But this season was plagued by a lackluster contestant pool and an outcome that seemed all but predetermined from sometime in mid-March. Yet despite the victor's assured dominance on the phone lines, the Idol powers that be were so unsure of the public's wisdom that they decided to throw the bulk of their promotional energies not behind country boy Scotty McCreery, the Josh Turner-imitating, sideleaning kid from Garner, N.C. who won the whole thing last May, but behind Pia Toscano, the ninth-place finisher from Howard Beach who amalgamates the most boring parts of Québecois belter Celine Dion and Pussycat Doll leader Nicole Scherzinger into a package that stands stock-still while competently belting out even the most meaningful phrases.

It's too bad, really, because last night's show at Nassau Coliseum proved that the most viable pop star to come out of this year's crop was actually the guy who finished... seventh?

Stefano Langone, 22 years old and from the outskirts of Seattle, has babyfaced good looks and a voice that recalls other pop n' b stars of the current moment—Bruno Mars, Ne-Yo, Usher. Last night he performed songs by two of those artists: "Grenade," the bombastic Mars track that so many Idol contestants attempted during auditions and that he tore himself up for; and "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love," the early-'90s throwback jam by Usher that isn't really much of a technical showcase, but that did allow Langone to whip off his shirt, so caught up in the moment he was. A cheap ploy, sure, but one that made the room pop for the first time all evening, and Langone's gesture wasn't completely unnatural-seeming; who among us, after all, doesn't get really sweaty in a club. That he'd also showed up Toscano both vocally and charismatically on their duet of "California King Bed" earlier made a little more sense after the shirt-doffing, too, and his appearances on stage (he was the go-to male for backup-singer duty as well), each of which was greeted by "ohs" and "oohs," further underscored the fact that a female contestant is probably never going to win Idol again.

The show was paced much better than the filler-filled episodes of the TV show—all singing, group numbers that weren't too embarrassing, not much synergistic BS or judge pontificating, over by 9:45. That was a big relief for this Idol viewer, who sits with her finger nervously poised over the fast-forward button during the entirety of some episodes. The first half had its ho-hum moments, most of which involved Toscano and crawling-into-herself 10th-place finisher Thia Megia. The second was more packed with showy Idol-ready moments: James Durbin powered his way through Guns N' Roses and Muse, showing off his not-quite-Lambertlike big notes and twirling the microphone stand as if it were a cane; Haley Reinhart, probably the competitor who got most screwed by the whole Team Pia thing, showed off her formidable pipes and only got a little frustrated when the largely under-18 crowd didn't know the words to "Bennie And The Jets."

And then there was Jacob Lusk, a great big whirling force of nature and stank, briefly turning the Coliseum into a 1979 dance club for a whirl through Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" and then bringing the house down for "You're All I Need To Get By." His performance of that soul chestnut during the season was without a doubt the show's peak this year; last night he dedicated it to its late songwriter Nickolas Ashford and proceeded to take everyone to church, flopping down in a heap when it was all done. I was pretty spent, too, I should say. He's probably the only Idol contestant from this year who I'd pay to see live.

By the time Scotty McCreery showed up on stage—he'd been held back from all the big group numbers so as to make his arrival onstage more oomphy, I guess—there had been a lot of climaxes, making his deep-voiced, subtle delivery more of a dénouement than was probably intended. McCreery, who seemed to have gained a bit of swagger between his time on the show and last night, performed Turner's "Your Man," a.k.a. "Babylockdemdoors," the song that during the season he pulled out time and time again to prove that, yes, he did have a deep voice and an ability to mimick basic country tropes and utterly pinchable cheeks that so many of the older women burning up the Idol phone lines adore. (Lauren Alaina, the second-place finisher, sang a song about moms as an effort to woo voters away from calling in for Scotty during the finale. It's that chronic.) His win seems less fluky than that of Lee DeWyze in 2010, but in the context of this show his subtlety, which despite a fun take on Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" borders on the soporific at times, certainly came off like a bit of a comedown after the barnburners who'd preceded him.

The show ended with a big old medley of Journey, Whitesnake, and Aerosmith songs sung by the company, with the most recent hit in the mix being Whitesnake's 1987 hit "Here I Go Again." Not exactly the most cutting-edge pop presentation—particularly for a show that started off with "Born This Way"—but it got the crowd on its feet, and not just because they wanted to beat the traffic on Hempstead Turnpike.

Critical bias: Jacob > [big gap] > Stefano > Naima > Haley > Casey > Paul Scotty > Lauren > Pia > James > Thia. (Sorry, Thia.)

Overheard: "Booooo!"—woman in front of me when Kris Allen's 2009 win over Adam Lambert was replayed. (This woman's friend, it should be noted, popped out of her seat in an effort to grab James Durbin's shoulder when he stormed by during his "Sweet Child O' Mine" performance.)

Random notebook dump: I wonder if Thia Megia's nightly performance of the damn-the-doubters Selena Gomez trifle "Who Says" is dedicated, in her mind, to Tom Breihan.

Set list: Born This Way (Lauren / Haley / Pia / Thia / Naima) Empire State Of Mind Pt. II (Pia) California King Bed (Pia / Stefano) Maggie May (Paul) Who Says (Thia) Tightrope (Haley / Pia / Thia / Naima) Grenade (Stefano) DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love (Stefano) Animal (James / Jacob / Casey / Paul) On The Floor (Naima) This Time (Pia) Smooth (Casey) Moanin' (Haley / Casey) Harder To Breathe (Casey) Forget You (Lauren / Haley / James / Jacob / Casey / Stefano / Paul / Pia / Thia / Naima) -- Flat On The Floor (Lauren) Like My Mother Does (Lauren) If I Die Young (Lauren) Sweet Child O' Mine (James) Uprising (James) Never Too Much (Jacob) You're All I Need To Get By (Jacob) House Of The Rising Sun (Haley) Bennie And The Jets (Haley) Your Man (Scotty) Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not? (Scotty) I Love You This Big (Scotty) When You Say Nothing At All (Scotty / Lauren) Gone (Scotty) Here I Go Again / Faithfully / Walk This Way / Any Way You Want It / Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' (All)

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