by Steve Johnson, Tribune reporter
— This is the answer to the question, “What’s next?”
For most of the spring, the “American Idol” experience was television cameras, a big Hollywood theater, celebrity judges and millions of viewers frantically dialing in their votes.
But Friday night in an outdoor lakeside amphitheater here, amid the general human sprawl of this city’s Summerfest live music extravaganza, the 10 most popular singers from the hit Fox series performed their second concert in what will be a summer of barnstorming, including a United Center show in late August.
Lee DeWyze, Crystal Bowersox and company were on hand for “Idols Live! 2010,” of course.
But gone were Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres and, surely, the feeling that much of the nation was watching. This was workaday showbiz: your numbers, my numbers, the one where we all sing together; don’t miss your cue; be on time for the meet-and-greet; next stop, Grand Rapids, Mich.; and on and on, almost three hours a night, more nights on than off, into mid-September.
“We love you guys,” virtually every performer told the audience, a line that probably wasn’t mandated in the contracts they signed to be on “Idol,” but might as well have been. Some added thanks to the fans for making this all possible. Virtually all of them introduced the next song, whatever it happened to be, as a “favorite.”
“Do we have any birthdays tonight? Happy birthday,” said Siobhan Magnus, who made up for the generic stage patter by delivering her trademarks: theatrical vocals (on the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” for example) and costuming suggestive of nothing so much as Woman Surprised in Dressing Room at Old West Casino.
To the credit of DeWyze, the TV show’s winner and the concert’s final act, he seemed to revel in every minute of it, from the pro forma banter to the hearty applause to, one can assume, the fact that he and runner-up Bowersox were the only two singers to have their own T-shirts in the merchandise tents.
No performer Friday gave more of himself than the 24-year-old DeWyze, perhaps thinking back to scrambling for small-club gigs around Chicagoland.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” the Mount Prospect native said at one point, stalking the stage, letting his chesty, slightly raspy vocals soar as if he were still trying to impress judges. He turned Elton John’s “Rocket Man” into a full-out power ballad. He made Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a power ballad. The Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” a song he used to sing with a buddy at Chicago-area open mics, remained a power ballad.
DeWyze has more magnetism live than he was able to project on TV. But if you’re noticing the absence of original material in the songs mentioned here — say, one or two of the entirely listenable tunes DeWyze himself wrote and recorded for his two pre-“Idol” CDs — you have captured the essence of “Idols Live! 2010.”
The singers aren’t prerecorded, and the band behind them is a skilled ensemble, able to glide from Aaron Kelly’s country flavorings to the smoky soul of Michael Lynche without stumbling. But the show is essentially a live reprise of what took place on television, the 10 singers taking turns singing tunes they had already performed.
If you were inclined to unkindness, you might call it the highest quality karaoke night you’ll ever witness — and the only one with a 15-minute interlude for Ford commercials.
It didn’t seem to matter to most of the fans. Two held up “Hi Aaron” and “Go Aaron” signs, in heavy marker on torn-out notebook paper. One wore a homemade “Team Lee DeWyze” shirt. An adult man attending with a woman blithely waved a little sign on a stick touting the lissome Didi Benami.
And an apparent mother-daughter pair spent almost the entire evening waving a big pasteboard sign whose message was as invisible to the people sitting behind them as were the performers it blocked. “No One Else Gets to See You, Crystal,” it might have said.
Jessica Hanlon, 23, a nanny in Milwaukee, said the concert helped inspire her to try out for the show when auditions for “Idol’s” next TV season are held there later this month.
“I was, like, this could be me in a few weeks,” said Hanlon, who attended Elmhurst College and said she is slowly gaining the confidence to sing publicly.
“Her voice is, like, freaking amazing,” said Hanlon’s friend, Ashley Dasko.
The two spent a good portion of the show dancing and, on songs like “Use Somebody,” singing aloud to each other. Whole families attended: The Ackers, from Madison, Wis., were at their third “Idols” tour, father Scott said. But it wasn’t just young folk or parent-child combos at the show.
“I’m a closet ‘Idol’ fan,” said Kathy Palm, of Lake Villa, a decided non-teeny-bopper who endured the three-hour drive from the Chicago area through heavy holiday traffic and multiple construction zones.
More expensive than general Summerfest admission, the Marcus Amphitheater wasn’t sold out, but its two broad lower tiers were essentially full — aided, no doubt, by heavily discounted tickets that were available before the show. (There are reports of trouble for several concert tours this summer, and “Idols Live!” has reportedly canceled one show and changed others. DeWyze recently Tweeted that the planned Chicago show, originally set for the United Center Aug. 30, will be moved to Aug. 28.)
That’s all more show business. The big artistic question Friday, even as the fans seemed satisfied, was whether the concert’s unoriginal essence mattered, in particular, to aspiring artists DeWyze and Bowersox. With post-“Idol” albums due out as soon as they can be finished, they eventually want to be the kinds of performers people come to see for their own songs, not their TV associations.
In the general admission portion of the festival grounds, however, where Friday’s acts included metal warhorses Scorpions and nouveau new wavers The Bravery, the fact that this season’s American Idols were performing down at the far south end was greeted with a shrug by several attendees.
The Idol singers will get a better chance than most of proving they have something to say musically, but Friday night, the distance between their theater and the other stages seemed greater than the festival map would indicate.
via Chicago Tribune