Who's up for a rollicking game of "Oh yeah, THAT dude"? After all, there's no better time to play than at the annual American Idols Live tour, that remember-who extravaganza of pop-culture ephemera, well-worn covers and a guy dressed as a giant dancing Pop Tart.
At the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday, in front of 12,054 screamy fans of Fox's indefatigable phenom, last season's top 10 singers took to a bright, shiny stage to remind us why we loved them — or at least made fun of their hair. The crowd wasn't huge, but it was big enough to remind you that, after seven seasons, Idol remains the most powerful force on television. Deal with it.
What the TV show has going for it (manipulative storytelling! fleeting viewer power! Simon's besweatered man bosoms!) the tour often lacks. So to jack up the drama, this year's traveling show opted for a one-by-one countdown, ditching most of the clunky group sings and leading up to a David Archuleta (weee) vs. David Cook (WEEE) finale. It could have been brutal, but it was far better than last year's flop featuring, uh, um, that kid with the hair.
First up? "I'm Chikezie, baby!" (Oh yeah, THAT dude!) The R&B crooner filled up the arena surprisingly well, smoldering out three songs, including Usher's Caught Up. Not as successful was Polynesian pixie Ramiele Malubay (Oh yeah …), who's voice failed to reach the rafters and whose step-step-smile choreography suggested she skipped a few lessons at Arthur Murray's.
Backed by a seven-piece band, the singers sounded much better live, especially bobbing Aussie rocker Michael Johns, who flat-out killed with We Are the Champions and Dream On. Huckleberry blond Kristy Lee Cook was more palatable in person, too, although she shamelessly gobbled approval by tossing free T-shirts then getting everyone to stand for God Bless the U.S.A.
Showing off serious decolletage, raven-haired wailer Carly Smithson hit searing high notes for Crazy on You, but couldn't be heard when she dropped low. And while it was no surprise that flighty flower girl Brooke White performed barefoot, her famously sunny persona turns out to be genuine and adorable.
After a brutal intermission (so better to juice the merch sales, my pretty), dreadlocked smiley guy Jason Castro, who's become an online heartthrob, plucked a ukelele version of Over the Rainbow. The girlie-strong crowd freaked.
In an emotional homecoming, incandescent Sarasotan Syesha Mercado strutted her gams in a teeny skirt, sassing out Rihanna's Umbrella and Alicia Keys If I Ain't Got You. She looked great, but she also looked lost, finally finding her voice for Beyonce's Listen.
And finally, there was David and David. Wee teen Archuleta was first, and the crowd ate the little critter up, especially when he uncorked that syrupy-thick powerhouse croon on Stand by Me and When You Say You Love Me. But cool black suit aside, the voice still doesn't match the shy, smirky body, kind of like those creepy commercials with that talking baby.
Wearing thick rings of eyeliner, the people's champ Cook raised from the floorboards, strumming his guitar and crunching out Lionel Richie's Hello. Pandemonium ensued throughout his metallic set, although the likably relaxed rocker is still trying to find his stage presence, too. His heartfelt take on the Foo Fighters' My Hero was thunderous, but he's not quite Daughtry yet. Then again, it's safe to say Cook will never be THAT dude, either.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.