Lee DeWyze underwhelms

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 22, 2011 - 11:25 PM

Review: The performance by “American Idol” 2010 was too brief (66 minutes), too bland, too misguided, too short of his potential.

As soon as Ryan Seacrest declares someone as "your American Idol," the clock starts ticking. The shelf life for the "Idol" champ is limited. Apparently, more and more limited.

A mere 13 months after being named "Idol" 2010, Lee DeWyze could walk near the University of Minnesota campus Wednesday and not get recognized. Lee who?

How soon they forget.

While tens of millions of people voted for DeWyze over Crystal Bowersox, only 142,000 people have purchased his album, "Live It Up," which was released in November. That's the smallest sales total for a debut by an "Idol" winner. (By contrast, Kris Allen, the 2009 champ, sold a modest 328,000 and 2.3 million digital downloads, which is 10 times more than DeWyze's total.) And maybe 200 people turned out Wednesday night to see DeWyze's solo debut at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. Maybe everybody else was at home watching "The Voice."

Again, by contrast, Allen drew 550 to the Fine Line Music Cafe last June, and runnerup Adam Lambert sold out Mystic Lake Casino's 2,100-seat showroom in no time.

Enough with the numbers. How was DeWyze's performance?

Too brief (66 minutes. Oops, sorry, more numbers). Too bland. Too misguided. Too short of his potential.

DeWyze, 25, has a certain appeal. He's a crooked-mouth crooner with sleepy Elvis Presley eyes, a moustache-missing goatee, and thick, spiky brown hair. With his unbuttoned plaid shirt (over a dark T) and blue jeans, he exuded an easy blue-collar allure. He demonstrated a likable voice, too, with a bit of a rasp, sufficient soulfulness and an ability to soar without reaching the Freddie Mercury stratosphere. A rock star this guy isn't.

Backed by his own acoustic guitar, a keyboardist and a percussionist, DeWyze came across as trying to be Lionel Richie in a David Gray world. On his album, the "Idol" from suburban Chicago favors medium-tempo, easy-listening adult pop songs with clichéd lyrics about being frustrated in love. One minute he evokes John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne the next, and ultimately Gray, the British star of "Babylon" fame. At the Varsity, DeWyze tended to deliver every song with the same kind of intensity. Hence, his most effective vocalizing often came on the non-words such as when he riffed "ey-ey-ey-ey" at the end of "Pretty Eyes."

That song and a few others came from the two indie albums DeWyze released "before all that craziness." Frankly, he seemed more emotionally invested in his older material. He found his blue-eyed soufulness on "Annabelle," and he got lost in song for the only time all night on the pleading ballad "Stay," with its big soaring chorus. The best thing from "Live It Up" was the Billy Joel-evoking "Brooklyn Bridge," DeWyze's most romantic tune and his lone piano-only piece.

After saying he doesn't like to do covers because that's what he did on "Idol," DeWyze offered a few -- Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," Iron & Wine's "Naked as We Came," a snippet of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" and an encore of Leonard Cohen's oft-covered "Hallelujah." Those provided a much-needed change of pace and texture but did little to showcase DeWyze's talents.

One area in which he isn't practiced -- and he admitted it -- is talking to the audience. His patter was plain and often painful ("we've got some cool bleep in back if you want to pick it out," he said referring to T-shirts and CDs). A line formed after the show -- a short line.

Set list: startribune.com/artcetera Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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