We'd heard that the Idols usually come out a few hours before go time to post for photos and whatnot, so we got down there plenty early. Unfortunately, the Idols themselves did not, so we were stranded on the boardwalk for a while. It was a little crazy out there. I amused myself with trying to discover the casino exit that Fast Eddie Felson used after being eliminated in the nine-ball tournament in the Color of Money. I didn't remember the name of the casino, and they are all so different now, though there are stil hints of the shabby 70's and 80's peeking through the new pastel and neuveau chic everywhere.
Instead we wound up having dinner at the Irish Pub on St James Avenue. I would have bought everything David Archuleta ever sings if they had teased Carly about it on stage, but happily, nobody was familiar enough with the area. Going there is definitely worth it. Get this for an appy: cheese cubes, thick-sliced pepperoni, crackers, and a ramekin of spicy brown mustard for six bucks.
The walls are lined with neat stuff, some of it the typical Approved Oirish Blarney™, faith an' begorrah an' St. Patrick droivin the snakes from th' Em'rild Oisle and such - but some of it fascinating. We sat next to a very long photograph of a beauty pageant from 1926. It turns out that it was the Inter-Cities Beauty Pageant, which eventually became THE pageant, Miss America, held here for many many years. Ms. America 1925 was in attendance, standing next to the master of ceremonies, alongside such notables as Ms. Spokane, Ms. Canarsie (really!), Ms. Toronto, and Ms. Utah. This shot is not the same one we saw, and I don't think it's as good: you can't read the sashes as easily.
From there we went to Boardwalk Hall, where a large sign prohibited picture-taking, audio and video recording, dageurotypes, woodblock engravings, and anything that could be used as a weapon. (Silly me, I put the camera in the car, and was treated to the sight of three thousand different flashbulbs going off every seven minutes.) Before we could get in, however, I endured the crush of Tween America to get a tourbook and a David Cook picture for the Ladybug.
Oh, and there was singing. Counting down from 10 to 3, everyone got three songs; the Davids got four each. There were also a couple of group sings for kicks - though in the tourbook, David Cook said that his least favorite part of AI was the group numbers. (Heheheheh. Get off my stage, hippehs!) My least favorite was the creepy Pop-Tart mascot wandering the floor. Neither crazy nor good. The venue is good though. Holds a good number of people, has a wealth of old-fashioned touches (especially the huge ceiling), and they kept the hockey boards along the sides to separate the floor seating.
10 - Chikeize like Sunday morning - went very R & B with his set. The first song was the one where he said "You know my name is Chikeize" (and he did it that way live, too) but I forget the name of it. The other two were also good. He hit one VERY high note that seemed even to surprise him. And yes, he was wearing one of the many velvet jackets, though it was a muted color and not the One Top outfit from earlier this year. Verdict - very good.
9 - Ramiele - oh, the poor thing. Whatever IT is, the thing that turns one from a talent into a performer? She just doesn't have that. She has the pipes but she just looks uncomfortable on stage. She isn't really walking around any better, which is bad since this stage has a walk-out area in the middle and both wings, PLUS an overhead behind the band accesible from all three sides. She sang "I Want You Back" by the Jackson Five, and it was kind of stilted. Then she tried to handle "Love Will Lead You Back" by Taylor Dayne (Jersey Girl!), and it was a little big for her. I didn't really care after that, so I don't know the last. Sowry! Verdict - poor.
8 - Michael Johns - big cheers. As they put him up on the screens behind the stage, the band started in with "We Will Rock You" and the crowd flipped out. He rose up on an elevator to the elevated section of the stage (cool) in a big rock star pose and belted out part of this song before going right to "We Are the Champions." He stuck with the greatest hits theme, going into "It's So Wrong but It's So Right" and closing with "Dream On." He introduced that last with "This is the song that got me kicked off Idol. Randy Jackson didn't like it, but Randy isn't here tonight..." Roar from the crowd. Love it - though technically speaking, this is just the song that he sang his last week. He was really kicked off for his bizarre "A Day in the Life" edit, it just took an extra week. Anyway, he did his slow bobbing around deal, and sang really well, and looked as much at home as Ramiele looked lost. This is why I had him top four originally. Verdict - rockin'.
7 - Carly - sounding not quite as Oirish as usual. Still wearing dresses that make her look like a short person on top of a tall person's legs. Oh, and she can still sing the absolute stuffings out of everything. Opened with Evanescence, "Wake Me Up" (I think that's the name), and won my Ladybug's heart forever. It didn't hurt that she looks a lot like the singer from Evanescence, nor that she blew the doors off the thing. Then "Crazy on You" and "I Drove All Night," to the full-bodied approval of all in attendance. Top four performance. Verdict - turned up to eleven.
6 - Kristy Lee Hoedown - She is embracing her country self, and I admire that. I believe that two of these three were originals, actually, sandwiched around "God Bless the USA," but I won't vouch for that. (Anybody know a song called "Cowgirls"?) Some of the crowd sang along with the chorus to God Bless the USA, and it got a little dusty in the arena. She did a little of the Invisible Horse but otherwise solid work. Verdict - yee-haw.
Oh... there was a group sing in there as well. I'm really dropping the ball as far as set lists and all, but I couldn't really take notes in the dark and the loud and the jostling and FLAYVIN. Besides, pen and paper were probably forbidden too. It was an Idol Gives Back thing, I know that. Carly and Mike Johns carried over the simpatico they had in the songs during the show.
5 - Brooke - she rose up from an even larger elevator in front of the band, on the lower level, seated at a piano. Wow. So that's a stage that could double as an exercise track, with two working elevators, all the band's gear, some contestants' own instruments, three large screens, eleven smaller mobile screens, lighting, rigging, and a giant Pop-Tart costume. The roadies are awesome. Oh, yeah, singing... Brooke opened with a decent "Let it Be," (barefoot, natch), then let the piano sink away while a crewman handed over her guitar. One of the others was called "Yellow," and darned if they didn't soak her in yellow again, like they did for "Here Comes the Sun." Bad times. Verdict - ok, kind of forgettable.
Intermission. I got to watch the Guitar Hero commercials. It reminded me of two things. One is that I wish they'd used my idea for the Round of Three commercial - David Cook and David Archuleta singing "The Girl is Mine"a la McCartney and Jackson, with Syesha taking a verse to scorn them. (C'mon, you can hear the Crown Prince saying, "I told you, David, I'm a lover not a fighter.") They bicker away while Syesha gets into the Ford, and then... "I don't believe it!" The camera pulls back to reveal that Jason Castro is in the car with her, cheerfully singing "The girl is mine, mine, mine" as they drive away. This would have been PERFECT.
Second thing, I looked up to make sure I'd remembered it right, and I did. From the nine-to-eight post, regarding the pickup basketball commercial:
The commercial made me laugh out loud, but at them, not with them. Song was a dud, singing was a dud, and they wouldn't have a prayer of winning a pickup game against those guys if they all played at once.
Playing nine on five
What a way to take a beating
They're just running by
It's all dunking and repeating
We've just lost the game
Sixty-seven against zero
We should have stayed home
Playing "Guitar Hero"
And what did the Davids play on the screen during breaks? You guessed it, bubbelahs. I want my royalties NOW.
Also during the intermission, a really bad Guitar Hero contest between some dude with tats and a hairdresser from LA. Neither man even tried to play, based on what we're watching on screen. This is a serious Guitar Hero contest? I did better the first (and only) time I ever played. Boo.
Finally, two perfectly cute grade schoolers in an air-guitar contest. They were both better than the GH dudes, too. Lots of sweet moments - the younger kid is fighting the MC's forced "we're all super cool" cheer, and I love him forever for it. They each got a home version of GH, leading to the older kid saying sadly, "But I don't have a PS2." Heheheheh. "Target's open 'til eleven," chirped the host. Now, I love me some Target, but dude? Seriously, Mom's not going to Target, and will now curse your name and parentage for months.
We come back from break. 4 - Jason Castro - opened with the uke version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, complete with mangled lyrics. (Come on folks. I know that's how the big guy sang his version, but you're allowed to sing it in his style and get the words right.) Did "Daydream" by the Spoonful, and then... NOT "Hallelujah." Ladybug just took him off the Christmas card list. Verdict - like, mellow.
3 - Syesha - wearing a dress that seems much more modest than it really is - it's all there but it's all made of thin clingy wispy stuff - and thin-yet-large hoop earrings. A bundle of contradictions. The singing went well, though. "Umbrella," (pronounced with seven syllables in the song: uh-oom-bu-reh-ell-uh-ah) and then a Beyoncé tune and a song I don't recognize 'cuz I don't listen to the cool kids' music. Very natural on the stage. She sounded great, looked very happy. Verdict - top four.
2 - Crown Prince - the squealing for this reached such levels that every dog within two miles must have tried to hide under a couch. Is it too late to get the Asian Liberace out here? I mean, it's taking a while to bring him on. He's using the center elevator - is he bringing the piano too? I mean, he played it for all of five notes during the entire year.
Ladybug: they lit up the smoke machine.
'fly - no, they just lit up Jason Castro.
Up through the haze rises Archie, and yes, he's at the piano. The way it's angled I don't know if he's doing much. Everyone in the band is also going. It does keep him from offering me gum, however. He sings four songs. The first two I kinda recognize, the last two are "Stand By Me" (excellent, actually) and a Josh Groban tune (kept up pretty well). Had to turn down some gum at the end, but I'm sure he didn't notice since he closed his eyes with feeling the whole blergin' time. Great voice, but not a lot of stage presence. Verdict - syrupy yet good.
The squealing resumed, only double, at least. Hm - maybe we have the real reason Cook prevailed over the forces of Tweendom. He got their votes too! These kids probably dialed Archie AND Cook 5-10 times each, only all the moms only voted for Cook and the poor Crown Prince was bulldozed. Kid, you were set up.
1 - David Cook - came out like a rock star, and yanked out his earpiece about six seconds into the set (maybe it was a malfunction). I wonder if this factored into the performance, which was not that good. It's the reverse of the final, actually; now it's Cook singing nothing but stuff he's done already. "Hello." Much better the first time. "Time of My Life." Obligatory, and he was gracious in thanking everyone for making it successful, but "Dream Big" is a better song. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Except this song. Not a favorite to begin with, and he could have sang his excellent "I'm Alive," or his excellent "Innocent," or his excellent "Day Tripper," or etc. etc. Lucky for us, Ladybug brough the iPod and she bought everything he did on the show, plus most of the singes.
Then he did a song that he dedicated to his brother, called "There Goes My Hero." Sounds repetetive. Not enjoying it. His heart's in the right place but his music was not getting there for me. (Ugh, I've turned into Randy Jackson. I hate myself so much right now.) Finally, he encores "Billie Jean," and of course he had to, considering the boom this song gave him originally. Pretty good. Verdict - acceptable.
Actually, to elaborate: Verdict - he wishes he were somewhere else. I know he's grateful and I know he loves his brother. Those are real things. But equally real, I think, is that he wants to finish an album and tour with an actual band and sing all his own stuff, and not have to race through a truncated routine so that the Awesome Roadies can dismantle everything and schlepp it to the next town. It's like he's just about ready to say "Bag this, I'm cranking out some nine-minute Metallica track." He just feels the tether - he's a little impatient with the limitations imposed on the contestants of the show, and it shows through a little bit, just like it did from time to time on the show. Simon scolded him for that and he's got a point. Part of being a polished professional is selling what you're doing full-tilt. The audience gets that you're being limited but they still deserve the best you can give.
Even without an album, Cook did enough on the show to put up a credible half-hour or so of great music; he could also break out a few songs he didn't do on the show, like some of the others did. He should work harder to keep it fresh for himself.
There's an encore - "Don't Stop the Music." Everyone comes out, even Mr. I Hate Group Sings. Lots of fun. Overall, a fun night and a decent concert.
Top Three - Carly, Chikieze, Michael.
Bottom Three - Ramiele, Brooke, and Jason. (Sorry, man. Should have sang Hallelujah.)
PS - true fact: on the way out of the arena, I stepped on some gum. Archie's revenge.