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'Idol' tour gives contestants a chance to do what they love

Contestants reveal what they can do after a lot of rehearsal as the 52-city tour kicks off in Portland, Ore.

July 07, 2009|Richard Rushfield

PORTLAND, ORE. — For non-devotees, "American Idol's" summer tour, which launched Sunday at this city's Rose Garden Arena, may seem an afterthought. But to fans of television's most popular program, this year's 52-city tour showcasing its 10 finalists is like seeing the ducklings burst forth and become swans at last.

The young talents, who will make a stop July 16 at Staples Center, can finally fly free of the pressure of competition, scowling judges and an often unforgiving media corps. At last, they can throw themselves into songs they have had weeks to practice, and at last can have fun without the looming sword of a Bottom Three designation.

And on Sunday that's just what they did. Megan Joy, Anoop Desai and Lil Rounds, who had struggled to find their foothold in the show, all sounded better on stage than they had on TV. Meanwhile, prodigies like Adam Lambert and Kris Allen put on a mini-concert and successfully presented themselves as fully realized rock stars.

Overall, the effect was far more contemporary, far "cooler" than in previous years. Whereas recent tours have had something of a classic rock vibe, the songs and personalities of this year felt very current, with selections from Amy Winehouse, the Fray and Kanye West.

And contrary to last year's show, which featured a two-story stage with wings jutting out into the audience, this year's look was minimalist, featuring a band dressed in simple black suits.

"This year we decided to go in a different direction that really focused on musicality and really focused on the individual personalities," said Raj Kapoor, the tour's producer and director. "We really tried to create an environment for the individual artists where they could really stand out even more than on the television show."

There is little to be said that hasn't been written this year about the Lambert phenomenon, but his ability to fly past what seem impossibly high expectations continues to amaze. His closing David Bowie medley is dazzling, and there can be little doubt about the great things ahead for him.

This year's winner, however, oddly came to the stage facing a bundle of questions -- namely, could his soft-spoken, low-key style stand up as the headline act of an arena show?

The answer is yes.

Rather than try to make Allen top Lambert in volume, the production brought the audience in closer, turning the stadium into a little theater or nightclub -- something the latest "Idol" took full advantage of in ending the show with a crowd-pleasing sing-along finale of "Hey Jude."

Although the floor monitors patrolled the aisles, admonishing people to turn off their video cameras, their efforts failed -- moments after the show was finished, much of it had already been posted on YouTube.

After the show, the "Idols" raced out to the fences beyond the bus barricade, where hundreds of fans waited to see, touch or take a picture with their favorite Idol. Tired but utterly jubilant, they emerged one by one and raced down the line, soaking in the affection of the crowd. Danny Gokey and Matt Giraud ran up and down the line slapping hands, celebrating their public debut.

"This is what it's about for us," Allen said. "Not that we didn't love the [television] show, but performing for audiences and entertaining.

"This is what we're dying to do."


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