If you have an Aunt Shirley, there's a good chance that David Foster controls her brain. That might sound like a generalization, but I happen to be an authority on Aunt Shirleys, and mine is obsessed with the musicians the big-shot producer has helped make famous: Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, you name the bold-faced belter.
Yes, the 59-year-old Foster is a schmaltzmeister, a cocky king of adult contemporary gloss, the maniacal force behind Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You. But he's a good dude to know if you want to become a zillionaire singer. And he had no trouble filling out the buddies quota for "David Foster & Friends," a 10-city tour that brought great, gooey gobs of soft pop to the St. Pete Times Forum on Friday.
Situated in the Blue Line Theatre (basically, the joint was chopped in half, cozy for a few thousand patrons), the producer spent three hours bringing out scores of special guests to perform all the Foster-touched hits that have sound-tracked elevators for the past 30 years.
Dressed in a slick casino-boss suit and sitting at a black baby grand, Foster opened with his biggest instrumental hit, Love Theme From St. Elmo's Fire. Then on came Philip Bailey, from Earth Wind & Fire, who oozed out his classics, including After the Love Has Gone, co-written by Foster.
Canadian R&B star Deborah Cox played the roles of both Chaka Khan (Through the Fire) and Toni Braxton (Un-Break My Heart). And the Canadian Tenors —- four dudes who look like mildly annoyed GQ models — full-throated grandiose popera, including a rather moving version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (which Foster had nothing to do with, but just likes).
In between the songs, the vainglorious host tried to engage in regular-guy chatter. But Foster is so wealthy, so removed from anyone who doesn't light cigars with $100 bills, that he was more comfortable cracking wise about song residuals going to his three ex-wives. It was oddly watchable, akin, I imagine, to witnessing Donald Trump order a Whopper.
The show's second half had more oomph. American Idol's Michael Johns, a likable guy with a good voice, rocked out the Tubes' She's a Beauty (Foster wrote it) and '80s chestnut St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion). (I guess John Parr was busy). A sing-off between local amateurs was won by middle-schooler Amanda Puyot, who killed with And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.
My favorite star of the night — and this will come back to haunt me — was Peter Cetera. The former Chicago frontman, still owner of that unique croon, performed Hard to Say I'm Sorry, You're the Inspiration and Hard Habit to Break. Did I sing every sappy word, alone, hugging myself in the press box? You bet. Chicago 17 rules! (Please help me.)
The guests kept coming. Idol bear Ruben Studdard did a smooth reading of Al Jarreau's Mornin'. And then Oprah-endorsed prodigy Charice, all 17 years of her, uncorked Dion's The Power of Love and Houston's I Have Nothing and I Will Always Love You. The wee Filipina can wail, and if you haven't heard of her, Foster will change that. After all, Aunt Shirley is counting on it.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.