By Wayne Bledsoe
“American Idol” contestant Didi Benami was happy to be back in her hometown Wednesday.
“It’s awesome! I love all the orange and white,” said Benami, at a media gathering backstage at Thompson-Boling Arena. “I remember coming here to see the Lady Vols. I always wanted to sing the National Anthem for a Lady Vols game … I’d still like to.”
Benami, “American Idol” winner Lee DeWyze, and eight other finalists came to Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena as part of the “American Idols Live” tour.
The visit would be short: The group rolled into town at 5:30 a.m. from Columbus, Ohio, and would leave immediately after Wednesday’s performance for Virginia Beach, Va., for a concert on Thursday.
“The (TV) show is a lot more stressful,” said Benami. “This (tour) is a lot more chill. You’re not expecting somebody with a microphone in front of them to tell you how you’ve done … Here, people have paid to come see you!”
She and other performers said that the tour continued on a feeling of camaraderie that began when they were in competition with each other on the FOX TV show.
“We really developed friendships on the show,” said finalist Casey James before Wednesday’s concert.
James said that during “American Idol” earlier this year, he and the other contestants didn’t feel so much in competition with each other as they just wanted to do the best jobs they could do and let the judges decide.
“You take 10 to 12 singers all with different backgrounds and expect them to get along, and we did,” said Crystal Bowersox, who finished second to DeWyze on the show. “These are people I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life.”
The tour has not been without its troubles. Seven dates were canceled and, like many 2010 tours, ticket sales have been less than anticipated. The Knoxville show sold between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets in advance.
Performer Tim Urban said he felt “blessed” to be on the current tour considering the state of live music.
“So many tours have canceled completely,” said Urban. “We’ve taken a hit, but we still have a tour.”
He noted that in most venues where the tour had stopped, the auditoriums seemed full.
Aaron Kelly — at 17, the youngest of the performers — said that he was just enjoying the adventure.
“We had a couple of days off when we went to New York City,” said Kelly. “I’d never seen a Broadway show, so I went to ‘American Idiot’ (a musical based on the songs of Green Day) It’s cool getting to have this experience.”
The performers seemed to be happy to have the chance to relate to fans after being exposed to America by way of their television performances.
“People on the show thought I didn’t care because I smiled a lot,” said Urban. “It’s not that I didn’t care. I was just having a lot of fun.”
“I’m a genuine person who lives with good intentions,” said Benami.
Benami was chastised somewhat for crying after a performance.
“I’m not a crybaby,” she said. “When the show was going on, some people really focused on how I cried.”
She said that in addition to being ill for part of the competition, she and the other contestants were under a lot of stress and sleep deprived.
“(And) I’m very in touch with my emotions,” she said. “I think that makes you a better songwriter.”
Benami said she chose the songs she sings in concert in the same way she chose songs to perform in the competition:
“I always sang something that meant something to me. I want to move or inspire people. … If I look out into the audience and somebody is crying, in a good way, I’ve done my job.”
via Wayne Bledsoe | Knoxville.com | Photography by Amy Smotherman Burgess