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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Fan-pandering antics rev up 'Idol' showcase

September 02, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

It's "Apocalypse (Almost) Now" time in the world of pop music.

Madonna and Britney Spears smooch in front of a cheering throng at the MTV Video Music Awards. Self-proclaimed King of Pop Michael Jackson celebrates his 45th birthday with Jackson impersonators at a theater on a crumbling block of downtown Los Angeles.

And on Sunday, during "American Idols Live!" at the Arrowhead Pond, nerd-turned-dreamboat Clay Aiken pulled his boxer shorts down.

Well, they weren't exactly his boxers. The patterned briefs had been thrown on stage, along with a constant stream of flying panties and other undergarments. Picking them up warily, Aiken pulled them on over his white pants, the accessory to his white shirt and white coat. This was, after all, a part of the "American Idol" showcase, a G-rated franchise that at times makes the Brady Bunch Singers look like Marilyn Manson.

Still, when Aiken removed the boxers, it was as if he had really stripped, judging by the deafening crescendo of screams from elementary school girls, their mothers and grandmothers that erupted inside the sold-out arena.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
'Proud Mary' -- The version of "Proud Mary" that was mentioned in the review of the "American Idols Live!" concert in Tuesday's Calendar was the one made famous by Ike & Tina Turner, not Tina Turner alone.

Though he finished second in viewer voting to "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard, Aiken was clearly the star attraction during the concert, another cog in the relentless merchandising and marketing machine of Fox's "American Idol" phenomenon. The two-month national tour of finalists from the second season made its final stop at the Pond.

The nearly three-hour show was a super-sized version of the TV series, complete with all the fast-paced production, video montages, heavy-handed schmaltz and overwrought performances that have transformed "American Idol" into a cross-generational favorite. But on Sunday, non-devotees had to contend with the fact that the performers were allowed to sing entire songs instead of snippets, and there was no one like acerbic judge Simon Cowell around to give some of the singers a reality check.

The doubters were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the thousands of disciples who came to worship their "Idols," including Studdard, Aiken and seven other finalists, as they belted out standards and mainstream pop anthems. (Another finalist, U.S. Marine Joshua Gracin, was not allowed to report for duty on the national tour because of obligations to his military training).

And the adoration was nonstop. There was even a loud cheer for last year's "American Idol" runner-up Justin Guarini, whose recently released album sold dozens of copies, when his image was flashed on a screen. The finalists all got ample opportunity to soak in the cheers one more time before many of them slip back into the obscurity from which they came.

The majority of performances registered high on the bland scale. With the exception of Studdard and Aiken, the other male performers, Rickey Smith and Charlie Grigsby, were unimpressive. Trenyce (yes, she hasn't made it, but she still only has one name) was the best of the female finalists with a version of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" that demonstrated both showmanship and strong lungs.

True to "American Idol" form, there were more than a few jaw-dropping moments. A "duel" in which the men sang "The Lady Is a Tramp" while the women belted out "Bootylicious" was surreal. Studdard hip-hopped through "No Reuben," a song off his upcoming album, where he paid tribute to "the barbershops -- the black man's country club."

But it was Aiken who turned the Pond into the House of Clay. While his colleagues strained to show off their talents, Aiken eased through his numbers with effortless poise and charisma. Though Studdard was crowned as the American Idol, it was clear from the resounding reaction to Aiken's every move who will likely come out as the real winner when his debut album is released in October.

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