When you start out at overwrought, there's only one place to go -- into the rarified realm of unmitigated pop bombast, staked out by mighty-mite people's choice pop star Clay Aiken at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim on Saturday. What would you call it? Uber-wrought? Ultra-wrought? Maybe there is no word for it.
In any case, it's what "American Idol" hath wrought. Aiken is the hit TV talent show's flagship star (even though he was not a winner, losing a close race to Ruben Studdard in the viewer voting last year), and he's the headliner on a national tour that pairs him with first-season champ Kelly Clarkson.
It's a dream team for "American Idol" fans, whose intimate observation of the contestants and participation in the outcome has given them a proprietary relationship with the performers. The Pond audience wasn't one to sit back and clap politely. They screamed and shouted and waved signs that said such things as "Taken With Aiken" and "Kelly Rocks."
Both artists played their determined roles, making sure to be appropriately modest and grateful. But while Clarkson was casual and down-to-earth in her opening set, Aiken fancied himself a more theatrical figure, role-playing to his songs' emotions with melodramatic pauses and heavy glances. If he had a mustache he would have been twirling it.
Striding to the stage from the rear of the arena while belting his version of Mr. Mister's 1985 hit "Kyrie," Aiken immediately set the tone for his hour-plus set, in which his songs -- mostly power ballads that sound designed for uplift scenes in "The Lion King" -- were spewed with a flat forcefulness that could pin you to the back of your seat if you weren't standing up waving a sign.
It was enough to make Celine Dion seem restrained. But at least Dion has the equipment to make her over-the-top approach technically impressive. Aiken's voice is thin and pinched, with uncertain pitch and little versatility, as one awkward attempt at soul-style embroidery showed on Saturday. His one tool is volume, an appropriate expression of the go-for-it theme that underlies every "American Idol" story line.
And of course the flaws and limitations are part of the appeal, the things that make him one of us even as we send him into career orbit with our votes.
The concert actually reversed the expectations created by their hit albums, Aiken's "Measure of a Man" and Clarkson's "Thankful." On record he at least sometimes seems a slightly eccentric character, while she comes off as a somewhat slick genre-hopper.
But on Saturday she was the one who was easygoing, even a little feisty -- as when she criticized the production on her recording "Beautiful Disaster" and proceeded to sing it with bare piano backing.
The giggling and the whooping between songs and the signing of autographs went a little over the top, and nothing she sang suggested she's more than a modest talent aglow in the fairy dust of "American Idol," but as its resident girl-next-door, the pop world could probably do worse.
Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken
Where: Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A.
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Contact: (213) 742-7300.