One of the benefits of being crowned America's favorite new singer is that you get to sit out most of the traveling jukebox tour, also known as "Idols Live." While Phillip Phillips sat backstage at Target Center in Minneapolis on Monday night, presumably tuning his guitar and practicing his Dave Matthews impressions, the other nine finalists from the 11th season of "American Idol" took turns in the spotlight before an audience of 6,000, primarily reprising numbers they had already done on Fox's smash hit.
In most cases, repeat performances were unnecessary. With little choreography and even less enthusiasm, the young cast failed to generate much excitement, especially during the first hour, which bottomed out during Heejun Han's unimpressive attempt to rap on John Legend's "Green Light" and Colton Dixon's inexplicably glam version of Billy Joel's "Piano Man." The first half of the 2 1/2-hour show was saved by Erika Van Pelt's haunting take on Pink's "Glitter in the Air" and Elise Testone's gut-busting rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."
The post-intermission show was far superior, featuring stronger voices, most notably runner-up Jessica Sanchez, a 16-year-old with the voice of a seasoned pro. Her version of "Proud Mary" may have been a Tina Turner ripoff, but it succeeded in taking the show to a higher level. Her performance of Prince's "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" was so soulful, I half-expected His Purple Majesty himself to emerge from the wings and appoint her an honorary member of the Revolution.
Also scoring high: Skylar Laine with her country-fried version of The Faces' "Stay With Me" and third-place finisher Joshua Ledet, who got a standing ovation for capturing the spirit and sweat of James Brown on "It's a Man's Man's World."
Then it was Phillips' turn.
It's somewhat difficult to judge the young man's talent, perhaps in part because he's recovering from kidney surgery and may get stronger as the 46-city tour continues. It's also difficult to assess him because he's never been a terribly strong singer. His talent lies in his aw-shucks charisma and boy-next-door good looks, qualities that should prove of more value to him than his only passable voice. He shone on Damien Rice's "Volcano," a perfect song for him because it requires more pathos than vocal chops (it helped that Sanchez played backup singer).
The evening closed out with group performances of Pink's "Raise Your Glass" and The Wanted's "Glad You Came," an appropriately titled number based on the warm response of the crowd. As the tour progresses and the cast gets more into the groove, the enthusiasm can only grow.
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