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Concert Reviews:
"American Idol" finalists open tour at Joe Louis Arena
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

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DETROIT -- The judges and mentors were nowhere to be seen. There was nary a harsh criticism to be heard. Nobody was voted off the show. Ryan Seacrest didn't have anything to say (except on video at the beginning and end of the night).

It was a fine way for the 10 "American Idol" finalists to start their version of summer vacation.

The American Idols Live! Tour 2012 opened its 44-date run Friday night, July 6, at Joe Louis Arena, letting the cadre of young singers -- from champion Phillip Phillips to early ouster Erika Van Pelt -- just sing, which is what they wanted to do in the first place, without the glare that comes with the grueling season of competition.

That hardly meant Friday's Idols Live! show was a loose affair; like its 10 predecessors, it was carefully choreographed, combining motion and energy as the singers whipped through a two hour and five minute (plus intermission) jukebox of current favorites and classic hits. The good news this time out is it was as easygoing an affair as "Idol" has ever taken on the road, light on over-singing and emotive histrionics or any sense the performers were trying too hard.

There were also more group combinations and collaborations, a continuing evolution of the concept and a far better presentation than having the singers troop up one after the other in the order of their elimination. Idols Live! may not necessarily be getting bigger -- all but a few rows of Joe Louis' upper bowl were curtained off on Friday and there were plenty of empty seats towards the rear of the lower deck -- but this year it certainly seems to have gotten better.

Idols Live! history often puts the champ -- who goes on last and isn't seen until his or her set -- at a bit of a disadvantage, but the low-key Phillips held his own. Dressed in a black T-shirt and dark slacks he added scats to Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and gave Usher's "Nice & Slow" a dark, brooding re-working. He dueted with Elise Testone on Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know" and runner-up Jessica Sanchez on Damien Rice's "Volcano," while Phillips' rendition of his coronation song "Home," assisted by Deandre Brackensick and Colton Dixon, had the organic, Mumford & Sons-style flow that the studio recording implies but doesn't really deliver.

It was also far better than the full-cast finale renderings of Pink's "Raise Your Glass" and the Wanted's "Glad You Came" that brought the show to a lightweight conclusion.

Phillips' primary "competition" on Friday was third-place finisher Joshua Ledet, with smooth renditions of Bruno Mars' "Runaway" and the Aretha Franklin-George Michael hit "I Knew You Were Waiting," the latter as a duet with Sanchez, as well as a convincing cover of James Brown's "It's a Man's World," complete with knee-drop. Sanchez also shined on Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had," a smoky take on Prince's "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore" and a buoyant romp through the Ike & Tina Turner arrangement of "Proud Mary," assisted on the latter two by Ledet and Brackensick.

Among the other highlights were Skylar Laine's authoritative covers of Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead" and the Faces' "Stay With Me," Hollie Cavanagh's daring phrase changes to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," Testone's muscular handling of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and Adele's "Rumor Has It," a Dixon's arena-ready anthem "Never Gone," a rare instance of an "Idol" contestant doing their own material in the show.

The pecking order eclipsed some of the night's early performances, such as Laine and Cavanagh's duo performance of "Idol" champ Carrie Underwood's "Undo It." And one can only imagine producers of "The Voice" smirking over the Idols Live! inclusion of Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," which was borne from singer Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera's roles as coaches on the rival show. But maybe that fit the spirit of a show that put rivalry aside in favor of camaraderie and let the Idols show what they can do away from "Idol."



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