Sunday, July 8, 2007

Idols Live Tour Review and Interviews

Leslie Gray Streeter of the Palm Beach post attended both the Idols Live show in Sunrise, Fla., plus an interview session with the finalists. Here are her impressions.

The Show:

Chris Richard-
may be the only one of the 10 singers on the American Idols Live tour to bear a striking resemblance to Justin Timberlake, but he wasn't the only one bringing a little sexy to the table.

In fact, the whole enter-
prise, the first show of the summer tour by the Fox network's sixth-season cast, served the BankAtlantic Center audience a markedly amped-up level of sexuality and either implied or in-your-face playful hanky-panky, something remarkable for what is usually thought of as a family show.

You had third runner-up and arguable vocal champ Melinda Doolittle lose the bottom of her Supreme-esque gown to reveal impressive Tina Turner-like gams for her "Proud Mary" duet with little Sanjaya Malakar.

Then there was Hayley Scarnato's vocally unremarkable but jaunty leg-flaunting performance of "When God Fearing Women Get the Blues."

And by the time she, Gina Glocksen and LaKisha Jones tarted it up, French floozy style, for "Lady Marmalade," I wanted to go, "Uh, guys, you know this is a song about hookers, right? Just wanted you to know, cause, umm ... HOOKERS."

Even with all that surprising steaminess, the American Idols Live show was chock full of good-feeling, sing-along fun.

There was even some impressive musicianship, which, you must admit, is not usually what people watch American Idol for.

The hooker song wasn't the only kink being worked out Friday -- there were repeated microphone problems, and runner-up Blake Lewis' foot-pedal system for his beat-box part on Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" wouldn't work.

Fortunately, Lewis is an impressive enough singer, guitarist and over-all charismatic charmer to play it off and deliver a version that reminded you why he lasted so long in a singing competition.

Other impressive moments in the show's first half:

• Winner Jordin Sparks playing acoustic guitar and harmonizing beautifully along with fellow strummer Chris Richardson on Rascal Flatts' "What Hurts The Most"

• Jones and Doolittle's '60s girl group tribute, on which Jones, the stronger belter, easily took the lead as Doolittle, the better singer and former background singer, held back and let LaKisha blow.

That's nice, but frustrating -- as a dad in the hallway during intermission said: "Show and blow, girl! What are you waiting for?"

• Doolittle brought it back in her duet with Sparks on Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)" which was, kids, not written for eHarmony.

More on the show in her blog:

Friday's kick-off to the "American Idols Live" tour at BankAtlantic Center may be my favorite of the last three seasons' live versions, even with some technical issues and whatnot. It's funny- I had noted during the season that sometimes, some of the Top 10 contestants, who make up the cast of the tour, left a lot to be desired in performance and overall excitement. Now I know that those guys are, as a group, crazy talented.

Some things just don't translate into TV, apparently.

I reviewed the first half of the show, before a 30-minute intermission, in the print version of Saturday's paper, and noted how the mood veered from flirty to "Isn't that song about hookers?" The sauciness continued in the second part, with Melinda Doolittle, Hayley Scarnato, Gina Glocksen and LaKisha Jones in top hats and spangles doing Christina Aguiliera's "Ain't No Other Man" and some naughty lines in both Maroon 5 and Jason Mraz songs kept intact. I'm not repeating them here. Figure it out.

Here are some individual highlights. Later on Saturday, I will let you in on my one-on-one conversations with seven of the Top Ten, and tell you why Jordin's a sweetie, Blake's a flirt and Sanjaya makes you want to hug him.

Melinda Doolittle: I was worried in the beginning that Mindy Doo was holding back too much, allowing herself to be overshadowed by other singers, especially LaKisha. But the second half of the show was a large improvement, and featured a "Natural Woman" that politely walks Kelly Clarkson's version to the woods and leaves it there without breadcrumbs. (I love Kelly. But you had to see it.) And she looked HOT.

Jordin Sparks: One of my fellow reporters noted that, late into the second half, winner Jordin seemed to be a footnote in her own victory. Everybody else seemed to have a lot more stage time. But that was before the last 20 minutes, which became the Jordin Show. She has such a stage presence when seen live. and delivered a solid, incredibly effortless "I Who Have Nothing," a pretty good "Broken Wing" and a version of snore-happy winning single "This Is My Now" that at least kept you awake. (I hate that song.)

The kid is pretty good at the guitar, too. I will say that the choice of that icky treacle as the single let me know how much the producers wanted her to win, because it wasn't anywhere near the style of fellow finalist Blake Lewis' strength. Yes, it's a conspiracy theory. Talk amongst yourselves.

Blake Lewis: Speaking of my beloved beat box, he kept proving how well he sings, and not just how well he can turn his body into a stripey-haired percussion instrument. His take on Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity"? Priceless. He took up a lot of stage time, by the way, seeming to be in on so many people's segments. His buddy...

Chris Richardson: also got a heck of a lot of spotlight shone on his little buzz-cut noggin. He was the lyrical oomph to Blake's beat-box on "Geek In The Pink," which was competent on TV but flowed nearly perfectly on stage. He avoided a lot of the nasalness that Simon Cowell was always after him for. Nasal is a style of singing, like Chris told Simon. Just not one that works as well as what he did on stage.

Sanjaya Malakar: As his mom told me later "He can sing!" I didn't care for some of his Michael Jackson-esque choreography on "The Way You Make Me Feel," but he sounded great, moving around in front of a screen showing some of his greatest hair hits. One thing - why no faux-hawk? And he plays a mean tambourine.

Chris Sligh: OK, I gotta tell you something. This guy is the one that most shocked the biscuits out of me, because while the show proved that he has a solid voice, nothing hinted at its richness on stage, its range, or how confident and even sexy he becomes when behind a guitar. His version of Mute Math's "Typical" was fascinating, because with him playing, his voice sounded more edgy and rock-like. Drat. We didn't see half of what he could do on the show. We wuz robbed.

LaKisha Jones: I don't know what she's been doing in her time off, but something tells me it involves stage craft lessons. This girl came off as a consummate professional, and the cockiness that seemed to inform her decision to blow off all the guest mentors and always do her own thing, even when it backfired, seems to have become confidence. Her best moment came when she once again acknowledged that she was ignoring the popular edict to never attempt "I Will Always Love You" and just blew that thing all over the ceiling. I got chills. When she ran up to the big glory note, she just attacked it like "Yeah I nailed it. You had doubts?" I did. But I won't get fooled again. I still think it wouldn't have killed her to at least listen to Tony Bennett a little bit, though.

Hayley Scarnato: Like Melinda, she got better as the show went on. I think sometimes she was unable to hear herself in the monitor, so she appeared to be shouting. But her re-do of "When God-Fearing Women Get The Blues" was much stronger than it was earlier in the evening. And she owned her part on "Life Is a Highway." Good for her.

Gina Glocksen: I'll keep it simple -- this girl can sing. I'm sorry that her vocal resemblance to Pink, paired with her pop-punk-goth style, make her seem derivative, because she's got a Pat Benatar-like gift of power. I would love to see her veer a little away from the rock stuff that makes her seem ordinary, because she's truly gifted.

Phil Stacey: The other vocal stand-out of the night, the bald one nailed everything he tackled, including the lead on "Hey Jude," which the guys played themselves, and a soulful, sweet take on Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful." Again, the TV show just scratched the surface of his charisma - he was so relaxed here, probably because he didn't have to deal with Simon glaring at him. I gotta tell you that I don't often agree with Simon, but I did whenever he was hard on Phil. Just because he didn't "look like the American Idol" doesn't mean he didn't have one of the best natural voices on that show. Take that, Judgey Boy.

From Just Jared Dot Com, the set list for Idols Live 2007:

* Let’s Get It Started - Entire Group
* Baby Love, Stop In The Name Of Love - Girls
* Heard It Through The Grapevine - Chris Richardson & Ladies
* Proud Mary - Sanjaya Malakar & Melinda Doolittle
* Blaze of Glory - Phil Stacey
* Thanks For The Memories - Chris Sligh & Gina Glocksen
* When God Fearing Women Get the Blues - Haley Scarnato
* Thriller, The Way You Make Me Feel - Sanjaya Malakar
* Typical - Chris Sligh
* Lady Marmalade - Haley Scarnato, Gina Glocksen, & LaKisha Jones
* What Hurts The Most - Chris Richardson & Jordin Sparks
* This Will Be - Jordin Sparks & Melinda Doolittle (fighting over Chris Richardson)
* Time Of The Season - Blake Lewis
* She Will Be Loved - Blake Lewis
* You Give Love A Bad Name - Blake Lewis


* Crazy - Guys (with instruments)
* Who Knew - Gina Glockson
* Virtual Insanity, Ain’t No Sunshine, Geek In The Pink - CAKE
* I Will Always Love You - LaKisha Jones
* Killing Me Softly - Melinda Doolittle (Blake beat boxes and Chris sings towards the end)
* This Love - Chris Richardson
* Another One Bites the Dust - Phil Stacey & Gina Glocksen
* It’s Your Love - Chris Sligh
* Life Is A Highway - Chris Richardson, Sanjaya Malakar and Haley Scarnato
* Natural Woman - Melinda Doolittle
* Ain’t No Other Man - Haley Scarnato, Gina Glocksen, LaKisha Jones, & Melinda Doolittle
* I Who Have Nothing - Jordin Sparks
* Heartbreaker - Jordin Sparks
* You Were Meant For Me - Jordin Sparks
* Broken Wing - Jordin Sparks
* Living On A Prayer - Jordin Sparks
* This Is My Now - Jordin Sparks

And, the interviews with seven of the Top 10:

Boy, this show hasn't been on since May, and here in July we're still writing about it. A lot. See the blog below this one and the link to the review for more stuff on the live show on Friday. But now, I'm going to let you in on the interviews I did with 7 of the 10 touring Idols before the concert, in a fancy club lounge high above the places the mortals are allowed to go at BankAtlantic. Of course, this means I had never been there before, and am surprised my memory of the place wasn't wiped, "Men In Black" style, before going back to my rightful place among the non-special.

Speaking of special -- I really liked talking to all of the kids (they're all at least 6 years younger than me, so I can say that), and found that as good as they looked on TV, they're even more attractive in person. This is not fair.

Melinda Doolittle: Gorgeous. Just... gorgeous. Great skin, great make-up, and what appears to be new weave, done expertly and seamlessly (Y'all, they can work some weave these days. Modern technology at its peak.)

Are you nervous about the show?
(laughing) Oh, please, are you serious? Yes, with all those people watching. This isn't like singing background, and when I did that we didn't do a lot of arenas. This is interesting, though, a lot of group songs and one totally by myself. I do a lot with LaKisha.

What do you do for the nerves?
I pray so hard before I go out - Jordin and I get together and it stops the shaking (laughs.) It's OK because I think God put me here because this is something I'm supposed to do.

Where's the weirdest place you've been recognized?
Zambia. I just got back on Monday, and I was with the first lady of Zambia and Mrs. Bush. We were having dinner and it was suggested that I wear traditional dress so I went shopping in what would be the equivalent of a strip mall, and the lady there said "You're Melinda from 'American Idol!' I was like 'Wait, are we in Zambia?'"

Chris Sligh: I like this kid. And I sat next to his wife at the show! She's adorable.

How has your life changed the most since being on the show?
I think it's not being able to go anywhere out and eat. I think this is great, but my wife has trouble with it.

Do you read things written about you on the Internet?
I used to. I've stepped away from it. The funny thing is that I was a blogger, forum kind of person before this, but it was a different subculture. I did it in a whole, non-committal kind of way. "American Idol" fans are crazy in the best way possible. What I didn't realize is that if people are fans of a certain person, they become enemies of everyone else. I was like "Why hate me? I like Chris Richardson!"

Would you have changed anything about the TV show?
Before the show I had never performed without my guitar in my hand, so there was a marked difference. I was not in my comfort zone. I think my artistry is tied up in being able to perform with my guitar so in that way I think it was a little unfair. Melinda is a technician vocally and had worked her whole life to be a great singer. I didn't get to show a different side of my artistry...It never was just a singing contest. It's also a popularity contest. But I made it to 10th in a popularity contest, so that's good. I just wish it could be more about being an artist.

Weirdest thing written about you?
Fans of Chris Sligh write these things called "Slighku" which are haiku about me. That's cool because I always sucked at haiku.

Jordin Sparks: She's gorgeous. And not at all heavy, like some dumb people think. She's perfect-looking, actually.

You're not as tall as you look on TV.
I get that all the time! I was wearing 5-inch heels on TV!

That would do it. Are you nervous?
Not yet. I can feel the adrenaline starting to pump. You get nervous at the first one of anything, and this is so much bigger than anything we've done. I feel that, the huge crowds. I can't wait to get out there.

What's changed the most for you?
It's just not normal anymore. I get recognized everywhere. The paparazzi follow me around but so far they're pretty cool. They're not parked outside my house, but I was in New York, and they followed us everywhere. I was like "Don't you have anything else to do?" But they kept their distance.

Your dad, of course, has dealt with fame as a football player. Did he give you any advice on how to deal with this?
He said "Jordin, you have to approach this like a football field." (Giggles.) You have to go out there prepared." I love him so much!

Phil Stacey: Do not stare into his eyes. They are hypnotic. If he were not a nice guy he could use their power to get you to run his errands and perhaps wash his car. But he is nice, so I didn't find myself shining his shoes or anything.

Thing that's changed the most about your life?
That people are interested in me whether they know me or not. They give you that glance, and you know (they've recognized you.) People who do know me think I'm cool now. They're like "Phil, what can we get for you?"

Thinking back on the season, is there anything you would have sung differently?
It's weird. I remember thinking "Man, I wish I had done that!" But that was life in the Top 5, out of 16,000 people who auditioned. For me to make it all the way there, I wouldn't have taken anything back.

Did you agree when the judges said you were really a country singer?
Absolutely. I didn't go there right away because I thought maybe they'd get tired of me, so I steadily improved. When you get to the Top 12, you have your meeting with 19 Entertainment about what kind of record you would like to do, and they said "Really? Country?" But I write country, and always have been influenced by that and gospel.

So why'd you hold back?
I don't know if it was being in the military, and being compared to (previous Idol) Josh Gracin, who was in the military. And I didn't want to go too much rock, because I'm bald, and Daughtry was the bald rocker.

So you're from Cincinnati?
Yes! I was so excited to find out there was a Skyline Chili in Ft. Lauderdale.

You've gone yet?
Are you kidding? When I went to college, I left my first love, my best friend and two months later the only thing I missed was Skyline Chili.

Sanjaya Malakar: Best. Hair. Ever. And very sweet.

You nervous?
A little bit. I'm anxious. but this is so much fun. It'll be interesting to hear the can't see them but you know they're there.

How has you life changed? You're probably the most recognizable one this year.
I get recognized. People say "Hey, Sanjaya, how ya doing?" It could be someone I've met before or some random stranger. It's cool.

You're only 17. Was it harder to take some of the things that were being written about you?
I would balance it out by reading something good about me. My fans read that stuff more than me. It's cool.

Did you like meeting the famous folks? Diana Ross said "Sanjaya is love!"
Everyone was awesome, and it was cool to have legitimate, successful musicians teaching you what they know. The person I was most excited about was Tony Bennett. He's the oldest living legend of our time and a huge inspiration to me...It was cool to have him treat me like a fellow artist.

So, spill. What are you doing with your hair on the tour?
I can't tell you. I would say that if I did I would have to kill you, but that wouldn't be polite.

Blake Lewis: When they pointed Blake, his hair newly skunk-striped, over to me, he saw my red shirt and started singing Chris DeBurgh's "Lady In Red." This was played at my junior prom, so don't I just feel ancient. This kid is a charmer, a big flirt, and should be a co-host on "The View," because he'd have those ladies so transfixed they wouldn't have time to smackdown.

How has your life changed?
The doors to the communication I've always dreamed of are wide open, because of the platform of "American Idol" I got to speak on. I got on a show I had never watched, and never knew anything about, so that's a blessing. My music is really eclectic so when I told them I was going to be on the show, they were freaking out. And when I first got there I was like "What am I getting myself into?"

In what way?
I was doing drum and bass shows, and conscious hip-hop shows, singer-songwriter stuff, and electronica and hip-hop. American Idol didn't have any of it.

Are you nervous?
No. I don't get nervous. I get nervous around beautiful women. (Smiles) I did open mic shows a lot, so I live in the live realm. That's my time to create, to get that instant gratification. TV is a different thing for me.

So I understand you didn't adhere to the "Idol" curfew during the show.
Never, no. What's a curfew? (Laughs) I'm not a kid. I don't need a chaperone. I'm gonna be 26 in 14 days. I live for different kinds of energy.

Chris Richardson: I didn't get much time with him, because he was already headed out of the room, but came running back in when they said there was a reporter he didn't talk to. He's adorable. As I spoke to him, Sanjaya was behind him mugging with a giant life-sized Pop Tart. Oh, show business.

So what's the biggest change for you?
The whole thing. People know who you are now, in a great way, though the show.

What's the weirdest place you were ever recognized?
The bathroom, standing at the urinal. This guy was like "Hey!" But the cool thing about it is that people have let us into their lives a little bit.


The Tulsa World reports that former "American Idol" singer Clay Aiken was apparently involved in a disturbance with another passenger Saturday while on an airplane headed to Tulsa International Airport.

The dispute occurred on a Continental Airlines flight between a woman and a man, whom FBI Special Agent Gary Johnson confirmed was a former "American Idol" contestant.

Aiken, who was a runner-up on the TV talent show in 2003, was headed to Tulsa Saturday for a performance at the Brady Theater. His management could not be reached for comment Saturday afternoon.

Johnson said he was told the dispute was over the male passenger's foot resting on another passenger's armrest. He said the disturbance was a minor one.

There was an allegation that the woman gave the male passenger a "minor shove" during the argument, Johnson said.

"At that point the flight crew was able to resolve the situation," he said.

The disturbance occurred Saturday morning, said Tulsa Airport Authority spokeswoman Alexis Higgins.

Higgins said the passengers were held until FBI agents arrived to question them.

No injuries were reported and no arrests were made. The disturbance did not interfere with the flight of the aircraft, Johnson said.

... And in a phone interview from his North Carolina home prior to the flight incident, Aiken told the Tulsa World that he's glad that the ladies have stopped pelting him with their undies.

"They've calmed down on those. I think they threw so many the first time, they ran out. During the 'Idol' tour when we came through Oklahoma City, they were throwing undies all the time."

These days the platinum-selling singer has been eschewing Top 40 radio and trying not to lose his brand new iPhone.

"I haven't lost it but I anticipate that I will at some point very soon," he said, acknowledging that he has lost other cell phones. "I'm probably going to have to tape it to myself."

This tour is the first time he's worked with an orchestra outside of special Christmas tours. Aiken admits to being unsure as to whether or not it will work.

"I don't know what to expect. But it'll be interesting one way or the other. It's either going to be a wonderful, wonderful show or a colossal flop."

Through his brief pop career he has kept a sense of humor about himself and the various controversies that have followed in his wake. He's endured everything from his well-publicized spat with Kelly Ripa to frequently invasive questions about his sexuality.

He's also been the whipping boy of cowardly Internet blogs, laughed at for his baby-faced looks and self-professed dorkiness.

But that doesn't seem to keep him from having a good time.

"You have to have an ability to laugh at yourself, no matter what," Aiken said. "We're doing 'Sexy Back,' [by] Justin Timberlake ... And seriously, there is no way on earth that I will ever be Justin Timberlake ... I'm never going to be that cool ever. So you have to kind of do things like that with a little tongue-in-cheek action."

But when asked to compare the qualities of older and younger women, Aiken laughed in that distinctive Carolina accent, and answered with characteristic Southern charm.

"I think that there are definitely benefits to either one," he said, wisely. "Younger ladies have things to offer that older ladies can't and definitely vice versa. So, I'm gonna stay well behaved and not get myself in trouble by answering that too specifically."

These days, he operates under the mantra that busier is better.

"People assume that since I haven't been on every TV show in the last month that I'm obviously washed up and I'm finished or I'm retired," he said. "I think it's just the general expectations game in that you can never take a break in this industry."

On his tour he performs songs from his newest CD, "A Thousand Different Ways," as well as medleys of pop songs and TV show theme songs from the last 20-30 years.

"We're doing a medley of songs that absolutely should not be performed with an orchestra ever. And we're going to do kind of a little tongue-in-cheek interpretation of some of them."

Included in that sampling of pop culture will be Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy, Breaky Heart," as well as Timberlake's "Sexy Back."

On Aiken's next album, he'd like to branch out a bit with, toy around with the production and work with a producer who's less likely to try to change him, he said.


"Everybody doing good on a Sunday night?" Taylor Hicks asked the near sellout crowd at The Maryland Theatre.

"It's Friday," a few hundred fans yelled back.

"I forget nights," the "American Idol" winner said, scratching his salt-and-pepper hair, reports the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

It would be hard to blame Hicks for forgetting what day it is, as the performer has been on the road since last fall, touring and promoting his eponymous compact disc.

Backed by a tight five-piece band, Hicks sang covers of Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye and other soul artists, mixed with tunes from his CD, such as "Just to Feel That Way."

In a bygone era, concertgoers showed their appreciation of rock stars by illuminating darkened theaters with lighters. Friday night, the glow of cell phone camera screens could be seen throughout the crowd as fans videotaped and snapped shots of Hicks.

Many of those in the audience, some of them well-traveled, clearly idolize the singer who rose from obscurity to capture the "American Idol" crown in 2006.

Robin Loscheider and Megan Morley, both of Baltimore, were attending their fourth Hicks concert.

"Wherever he goes, I'll go," said Loscheider, wearing a Hicks concert T-shirt that the singer had autographed after another concert. "It's not just about the music. He's a great performer ... as well as very good-looking."

"I would have run my fingers through his hair," said Pam Dodson of Sharpsburg, one of three women outside the theater wearing "Soul Patrol" T-shirts. She, along with Fay May of New Market, Md., and Linda Truax of Knoxville, Md., had waited outside the theater, and saw Hicks during a meet-and-greet session the singer had with Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

"This is my first concert ... of any kind," said Dodson, whose shirt also was autographed.

Truax said she was a little tongue-tied when she asked Hicks to sign photographs she had taken of him, her and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at a NASCAR race in Homestead, Fla.

May is another repeat customer for Hicks, having seen him at a concert in Lancaster, Pa.

"Women were tripping and pushing each other" outside his tour bus, May said.

"I think it's the gray hair ... The way he moves is good, too," said Cindy Wolfinger of Hagerstown.

"He's just a down-home, wholesome guy," said her friend, Lynne Smigelski.

"I picked him to be the winner from the beginning of 'American Idol,'" said her daughter, Lindsay Pompa, an elementary school music teacher. She and her friend, Amber Shingler, came to the theater at 5 a.m. several weeks ago to get in line for tickets, which sold for $60 and $90.

Hicks made sure members of the audience knew he had not forgotten what got him where he is now.

"Thanks to your support, in two years, I've gone from a minivan to a tour bus," he said between songs. A couple of buses, actually, to move the band and crew from town to town. A furnished tent was set up behind the theater with potted plants and a buffet table for after the concert.

"I'm gonna stop talking and start singing because I think that's what you bought tickets for," Hicks said.


Katharine McPhee appears on "The Morning Show" in Orlando, Fla.

Watch video of Katharine McPhee interviewed by Hannah Storm:

Watch Katharine McPhee perform "Over it":

Watch Katharine McPhee perform "Not Ur Girl":

Watch Katharine McPhee perform "Love Story"

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