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'American Idol Live!' Opening Night: The Magic Number Is Five (Live Review)
Five is a pretty good number when it comes to music. Just ask the Jackson 5, the 5th Dimension or the Rolling Stones album 12 x 5. Last night in Clearwater, Fla., five was also a great number, as the top five from season 14 of American Idol headlined a five-star, crowd-pleasing, two-hour concert that gave the audience an “up close and personal” look at their favorite finalists.
It’s the first live summer tour in Idol’s 14-year history not to feature the season’s top 10, but with all respect to the contestants who finished sixth through 10th, this did not seem like half a show. It may have been a budget-cutting measure to hit the road with only a quintet of Idols, but Nick Fradiani, Clark Beckham, Jax, Rayvon Owen and Tyanna Jones, as talented a top five as there has ever been on the Fox series, gave their all, and each one had time to shine individually while, at other times, also giving support to their fellow competitors in backup roles.
The evening was filled with 28 songs, most from either the current Hot 100 or the Billboard singles charts from the past few years. It was a cavalcade of hook-laden top 40 smashes, ranging from Imagine Dragons’ “I Bet Your Life” to Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” to the current No. 1 and song of the summer so far, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again.” Highlights included Jones’ radio-ready performance of Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin”; Owens’ sensitive take on Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”; Fradiani’s fun interpretation of BLACKstreet’s “No Diggity,” via a Chet Faker version; Jax’s plaintive “White Flag” from the Dido songbook; and Beckham’s take on Maroon 5's “Sunday Morning.” Group numbers were strong too, including all five taking on Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us” and Beckham, Owen and Jones excelling on Sia’s “Chandelier.”
For the multi-generational audience, two songs that are 85 and 50 years old were also included. Beckham reprised one of his best numbers from the season, Hoagy Carmichael’s 1930 composition “Georgia On My Mind,” a No. 1 hit for Ray Charles in 1960. Jax also performed one of her best songs from Idol, the Who’s rock anthem “My Generation,” a hit in 1965.
The live show wasn’t all covers. Beckham asked permission to perform an original (“I don’t know what I’ll do if you say no”) and impressed with “I Won’t Give Away,” which would make a fine first single for the runner-up, and winner Fradiani included “Coming Your Way," a song he recorded some time back with his band Beach Avenue.
With only five Idols on the bill (well, there were actually six, but more about that in a moment), there was time to try something new this year. The top five had time to tell their personal stories, something that has always set Idol apart from its broadcast competitors. Beckham was especially effective, making an emotional connection with the two thousand attendees inside Ruth Eckerd Hall with tales of growing up in a musical household and playing pranks while playing piano at weddings. Fradiani elicited a standing ovation when he skipped part of his personal story to acknowledge a friend in the audience who had served in the military for 20 years.
Before the top five hit the stage, there was a surprise opening act. A bright-red-haired Joey Cook, who came in seventh for the season, sat center-stage, accompanied only by her ukulele for three songs, including the classic “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (another 1930s song that was a Hot 100 hit in the ’60s -- for the Mamas & the Papas with lead vocals by Cass Elliot) and her audition song “King of Spain.” The audience loved her but we did not see her again, as she didn’t return to interact with her Idol brothers and sisters. A final bow at the end would have been nice, but we’re grateful she was included (and will remain on the bill for the first six dates).
Technical credits were all A-plus including the sharp direction by Raj Kapoor, who is helming his eighth Idol live tour, and the flawless lighting by Drew Gnagey. The four-piece band assembled for the tour was note-perfect and the audience rightfully applauded the Idols' vocal harmonies, which were fine-tuned by Antonio Sol, who also worked with the finalists during the season as one of their vocal coaches.
Idol may be going off the air in 2016, but this penultimate summer tour is one more reason we’re going to miss it. Fox, we won’t mind if you reconsider.