Whether or not you’re a fan of Garner’s Scotty McCreery, he won “American Idol” fair and square. He’s the face of Season 10, just like Kelly Clarkson is the face of Season 1, like Carrie Underwood is the face of Season 4, like Taylor Hicks (remember him?) is the face of Season 5.
McCreery’s face appeared on the jumbo video screens at Time Warner Cable Arena several times during the first two hours of the “American Idols LIVE!” concert on Thursday night, but the 17-year-old country crooner didn’t actually set foot on the stage until 121 minutes into the show.
And then, less than half an hour later, after getting the place to himself for just three songs – Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” and his coronation song, “I Love You This Big” – the lights went up and the crowd was headed for the exits.
By comparison, Pia Toscano finished ninth in the Fox reality competition but it felt like she was on stage practically the entire night. Thia Megia, who placed 11th, seemed to materialize with a microphone every other song or so, too.
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I think this is unfair to “Idol” fans, the majority of which voted for McCreery and therefore deserved to see more of him than say, of Stefano Langone (who also was near-omnipresent despite the fact that many concertgoers likely couldn’t have recalled his last name if you put a gun to their heads).
The structure of the set list has a stronger whiff of injustice in Charlotte, which is 21/2 short hours from his hometown. It has a particularly strong whiff of injustice in Raleigh, which is 10 minutes from his hometown; the “Idols” tour was at the RBC Center in the capital on Wednesday night.
But the structure of that set list doesn’t change, whether they’re in Utah – where the tour launched on July 6 – or in the winner’s home state. After all, the 11 contestants are newbies when it comes to performing night after night in gigantic venues. Consistency is important, spontaneity is not.
The goal is to be a safe, reliable, crowd-pleasing product. Other than the fact that McCreery was kept under wraps too long, the concert certainly was that.
Yes, Toscano was overexposed, but she looked like a knockout in every dress she came out in, while her beautiful, full voice at times sounded better live – particularly during a duet of Rihanna’s “California King Bed” with Langone (remember him?) – than it did even on TV.
No, Langone probably won’t be remembered a year from now, but female fans of the show were surely buzzing afterward about the moment he stripped off his shirt to reveal a chiseled physique during his performance of Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love.”
Some of the collaborations didn’t work. Toscano, Megia and runner-up Lauren Alaina sounded a bit sharp on Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and the choreography consisted of a lot of not-so-sharp movements around the stage.
But at the same time, there were also plenty of highlights for fans. Paul McDonald, in his only solo, got the crowd going during a spot-on rendition of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Casey Abrams really got the crowd going with a hammy take on Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe,” serenading a girl in the front row and riling up the workmanlike five-piece band.
Rocker James Durbin compensated for his oversinging of Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and Muse’s “Uprising” by exhibiting an enthusiasm that was downright contagious, and Haley Reinhart showcased her astonishing pipes in a smoky reprise of “The House of the Rising Sun.”
As for McCreery? He gave the crowd what they came for: He sang well, he looked good in a blue flannel shirt and jeans, he played the guitar (on “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not”), he dueted with his pal Alaina (on Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing at All”).
And he expressed his gratitude: “I gotta thank each and every one of you for being with me since Day One.”
But I gotta believe he – and they – wished they could have been together a little bit longer on Thursday night.
Théoden Janes: firstname.lastname@example.org.