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POP MUSIC REVIEW

It's just like seeing some old friends

'Idol' singers and their fans share a bond. Too bad the finalists can't let loose in concert.

July 25, 2007|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

Standing in line at the will-call booth before this year's "American Idols Live" concert experience, Brandon Rogers -- the Season 6 contestant voted off just shy of being included in this tour -- was not besieged. Nor was he ignored. He was joked with, smiled at, warmly appreciated. America's cuddliest hit show produces stars like this: regular-sized, with gifts not too far beyond the norm and an amiable desire to share them.

Inside Staples Center on Monday, the Idols who did make the cut spent 2 1/2 hours reinforcing the idea that our television heroes and we fans who make them shine are all friends, united by good humor, wholesome energy and the contents of the latest Top-40 hits compilation. The concert's set list was a homage to corporate radio; the gang dipped into hip-hop, country, modern rock, oldies and plenty of Bon Jovi.

Many song choices enhanced the images formed by weeks of exposure to these former unknowns: big-voiced, willful LaKisha Jones did well with Whitney Houston's signature "I Will Always Love You," while earthy, gospel-schooled Melinda Doolittle delivered on Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

Gina Glocksen, rocker chick, sang a Pink song while dressed in black. Haley Scarnato, known more for va-voom than voice, wore tight pants or short skirts, but as the designated sex symbol of this strictly PG night, she might have found a better-fitting bra.

Several Idols reprised personal high points from the competition, including Blake Lewis, rough-voiced at first but wowing as usual with a dose of beat-boxing and that Bon Jovi magic.

During their run on the Fox Network, this bunch sometimes seemed light on talent and, frankly, dull. But they eventually jelled, and their camaraderie became a story in itself. Sanjaya Malakar, who took the season from bland to bloggable, aided the concert's congenial mood as well. Playing Ike Turner to Doolittle's Tina during "Proud Mary," or moonwalking and crotch-twitching through Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," he was a merry player in a postmodern romp, shifting stances with every restyling of his famous coif.

This regard for pop as a place where styles, sounds, races and generations intermingle is the crowning achievement of "Idol." The show's annual live tour allows parents and children to share a musical experience satisfying everyone's taste -- moms sang along to the Jewel song Jordin Sparks performed, the tykes went crazy for the Maroon 5 songs Lewis and Chris Richardson took on, and Sparks dedicated a country weeper to her grandfather.

Chris Sligh, who challenged Phil Stacey for the Chris Daughtry slot by wailing a lot and playing competent electric guitar, continued his crusade to promote spiritually minded bands by reprising his version of Mute Math's "Typical." Active-duty sailor Stacey added his own dish to the picnic by singing "America the Beautiful" in full Navy whites. His Ray Charles-style interpretation was more showy than soulful, but his affability gave the flag-waving a homey feel.

Though the Idols showed admirable pitch control and vocal power, virtually none of what they offered was exciting as pure music. When the male performers grabbed instruments and acted like a band for two songs, it only further exposed the evening's lack of spontaneity. Even strong interpretations of classics from Jones and Doolittle came too close to their sources to thrill. (Doolittle should stay away from Franklin's material; she's very gifted, but almost no one can punch through the Queen of Soul's shadow.)

Only Lewis made any attempt to stretch musical boundaries. Tentative at the start of his mid-show mini-set, he found his rhythm during an extended vocal percussion sequence that went beyond what he'd offered during the competition, even incorporating a bit of eerie overtone (or "throat") singing.

Later, he pushed his buddy Richardson to new heights during a blue-eyed soul medley that actually had some swing. It's not surprising that Lewis proved to be the night's adventurer -- he'd developed that role during his run on "Idol," and now it's scripted in.

As for the woman who beat him for the crown, Sparks proved exactly right for the "Idol" prize. Her voice is gaining nuance, though she still shouts too much, and she walked that huge stage like it was home. Performing a set that highlighted her greatest gift -- her ability to own songs from many genres, a trait she shares with the original Idol, Kelly Clarkson -- the poised teen talked to her thousands of fans as if each were her dorm-mate. She was casual, self-deprecating and off-the-cuff, even when doling out shtick.

"I've never thrown a guitar pick before!" she declared after doing just that when she finished her Jewel song. That seemed unlikely, since this was the 14th date on the tour. But no one minded. Sparks has already learned the lesson that's guided many a television superstar: repetition makes you only more real.

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ann.powers@latimes.com

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