So there I was Saturday night at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis a good 20 minutes before the “American Idols Live” concert was to begin and the screaming started.
No, Adam Lambert didn’t come out and wave to the crowd to elicit the reaction. Instead it was his eyes on a slide mixed with, I think, Danny Gokey’s forehead and Kris Allen’s smile as part of an advertisement on the giant video screens for a 2010 Ford Fusion.
I looked over at my wife and we simultaneously laughed. We knew the oohing and ahhing over Lambert would be over the top, but even this introduction to the evening was, to say the least, amusing.
Lambert is the indisputable main attraction for the tour which features the Top 10 “American Idol” finalists and wraps up its summer-long run Sept. 15 before the contestants head off to forge their individual careers.
The format and presentation of the concert lends itself to the slick production seen on TV and the downright goofiness that often makes the show engaging and worthy of eye rolling at the same time.
It started with Michael Sarver, the appealing oil rig roughneck who was 10th and the last to make the tour cut. Sporting a sizable silver crucifix, Sarver did a good job of getting the crowd pumped and into the show. He was followed by the rest of the contestants through fifth-place Matt Giraud. There was also a group peformance by the “bottom six” leading into intermission.
The biggest highlights from the first half of the show came from Scott MacIntyre, Anoop Desai and Giraud.
MacIntyre, who is legally blind, came up from underneath the stage seated at his piano and showed the playing talent that allowed him to advance as far as he did.
Desai did a good cover of the old Bobby Brown standard “My Prerogative.”
Giraud, with his trademark hat in tow, did a memorable rendition of the Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle.”
The top four’s set opened with Allison Iraheta most notably belting out Heart’s “Barracuda” and Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby.” It was genuinely amazing, as had been commented on by the “Idol” judges, to see this petite teenager pound out rock anthems with the raspy maneuverings of a woman twice her age.
Danny Gokey showed noticeable improvement on the dance moves that sent Simon Cowell into a tizzy or two on the show. Highlighted by a cover of Michael Jackson’s “PYT,” Gokey took time out to relate to the audience. A former Milwaukee church musician, Gokey talked about how his life turned around from the death of his wife shortly before his original “Idol” tryout about a year ago. Gokey did not specifically mention his faith but encouraged the audience to persevere no matter how difficult life may seem at times.
After Gokey left and the stage went dark there was a purposefully longer than usual gap before Lambert came on the stage as screaming and applause reached a fever pitch. Lambert showed the stagecraft honed as an actor in playing to the crowd immediately, using his rare ability to stretch out notes repeatedly on the Led Zeppelin classic “Whole Lotta Love.”
He reprised Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” which gained him so much acclaim on the show and stripped down to a skin-tight vest – much to the delight of most of the women in the audience – with a medley of David Bowie standards “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.”
Much had been made about Lambert’s sexuality during the show, particularly compared to Gokey and winner Kris Allen, who too was a church musician. While getting up to leave, the guy behind me commented to his wife, “You know, all these women screaming for Adam do know he’s gay, don’t they?” Reflecting the majority opinion of the females in the audience she responded with a chuckle and said, “Yeah. So?”
As for Allen, his performance was solid and in complete contrast to Lambert. The applause for him was strong and polite, but without the fawning exuberance directed toward Lambert. Allen’s repeat of “Ain’t No Sunshine” from the Idol final was a vibrant illustration of why he generated the appeal he did. He concluded with an audience-wide sing-along on The Beatles standard “Hey Jude.”
The show ended with all the finalists on stage performing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” one last time.
As with any musician or sport, the experience of seeing it live always has some highlights even if the show or the game was mediocre. In this case Lambert’s seemingly imminent stardom and the show’s Hollywood gloss were both memorable.
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