Phillip Phillips, winner of Season 11, performs with runner-up Jessica… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)
The life cycle of the latest "American Idol" reached its conclusion Monday night with its annual "Idols Live" concert, a smorgasbord of performances from the season's top 10 contestants. Two years ago the concert was held in the Staples Center, but this year it was back at the cozier confines of the Nokia Theatre. Did the show measure up to the pomp and pageantry of "American Idol's" televised run? We sent two writers who co-led our "Idol" versus "The Voice" coverage to find out.
Todd Martens: "American Idol" publicists said there were no review tickets given to the media for this show. That makes sense, since "Idol" is critic-proof; its only kryptonite is a year-to-year decline in ratings. "Idol" publicists also said the show was sold out. It was not. We bought tickets, and had an entire row in the mezzanine to ourselves.
Chris Barton: And the show felt strangely unmoored in the absence of the judges to break up the performances. Good thing we were there.
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TM: The first thing that struck me was how tonally off the show felt. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason when it came to presentation. One of the early group performances was Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," staged beneath a backdrop of patriotic stars and stripes. That was before the 20-minute commercial break.
CB: Also, does "The Voice" know "Idol" was nicking Maroon 5? And was the rest of Los Angeles suddenly missing all its brightly colored animal prints last night? Because all of them may have been concentrated in "Idol's" set design during Heejun Han's turn withLMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," joined by Jessica Sanchez and Deandre Brackensick. This was right in Han's wheelhouse given his reign as this season's semi-jester, but big, dopey dance music isn't Sanchez's strength. Somebody get this girl a ballad.
TM: Right, throughout the show I kept trying to picture a career for these artists. Sanchez was flawless in her delivery, forgettable in her personality. She seems Broadway-bound rather than primed for pop stardom. Hollie Cavanagh was more charming than technically proficient, but didn't embarrass herself on Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." She could anchor a parade down Disney's Main Street. Elise Testone's take on Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was about as thrilling as the taped introductions from Ryan Seacrest. VH1 personality?
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But two rows in front of us was a father sharing a rock 'n' roll experience with his young daughter, and it was charming to see them swaying to a classic rock song. Maybe, just, maybe, "Idol" could do some good for the world. Except then came Colton Dixon.
CB: Yes, much to the delight of the screaming girls voting bloc. After a yelping mall-rocker that was apparently a Switchfoot cover, Dixon pulled something from his album, which is tentatively due before the end of the year. His flamboyant, skunk-adjacent hairdo looked remarkable in the spinning lights during the swoony ballad "Never Gone," and I could hear roughly a thousand prom dreams taking flight. Somewhere in the "Idol" throne room, a sequestered Phillip Phillips surely nodded in approval.
TM: Some of these song choices started to make me a little squeamish. Colton sang Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and it was odd up against the feel-good "Mickey Mouse Club" optimism of the evening — like a G-rated film suddenly turning NC-17. Here was a song that referenced "making love" to alcohol.... Nothing, though, could prepare me for Phillips' cover of Usher's "Nice & Slow." This bedroom slow-jam, in which Phillips demanded his lover "call out my name," was an awkward betrayal of "Idol's" down-home goodness.
CB: Exactly. We went from an innocent county fair jamboree to a fumbly dorm-room seduction in only a few short moves. Why does almost everything Phillips does sound like Dave Matthews' "Crash"?
TM: Isn't Phillips' whole career, such as it is, a fumbly dorm-room seduction?
CB: I have to give him credit for doing a little something different with his voice during Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," but there were a lot of spinning graphics behind him so I might've been hypnotized. Still, with that smirk, Phillips always looks like he's getting away with something, and after Joshua Ledet's performance I kind of feel that he did.
As "Idol" ended, Ledet's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" became his signature move, and I couldn't help noticing that he was sweating when he dropped to his knees, which struck me as the most human-looking moment of the concert. It was a strong performance and he earned a nice ovation, which he took in with his arms spread. He may not have won the show, but I think he won the night.
TM: I agree, but does the audience? Remember those two older women who stopped us on the way out? "Did you just come from the Phillip Phillips concert?" one asked, as a car drove by blaring Phillips' "Home." It's Phillips' moment — at least until the next season.
Martens and Barton ranked the performers all season, along with readers, in our face-off between 'Idol' and 'The Voice.' See whether they got it right.