ALPHARETTA, Ga. – It smelled like Tween Spirit Thursday, July 24, at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park but there were plenty of soccer moms, baseball dads and boppin' teens, with a smattering of cruise ship grandparents thrown into the mix, as well.
It was fairly hilarious, however, to see said youth sporting AARP sunglasses that the tour's sponsor was handing out. Failing to put Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" on the set list was an opportunity lost.
All kidding aside, I am a huge AARP fan, and was intrigued by their mounting a Boomer Superstar Contest for us kids with the salt-and-pepper hair and middle-age spread. I'm definitely going to check this out! For more deets: http://aarpcontest.votigo.com/aarpcontest
Having never watched American Idol, I was a stranger in a strange land. My worst fear had been being victimized by Beatlemania-like screaming (or should I say One Direction, to be more au courant?) but the squeals were never at the ear-splitting level -- at least in my immediate vicinity.
Although I know this is a very populist proving ground, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the winner, Caleb Johnson, is a young version of Meatloaf. All of these kids have average body types and attractiveness, so it was apparent to this first-timer that musicality and stage presence held heavy sway over the voters.
The tremendous American Idol XIII logo projected on the huge oval screen reminded me of the Super Bowl, but this actually is a Super Bowl construct -- winnowing down all comers until there were two left standing to duke it out.
But in this case, the second through ninth ranked also got a chance to make it to The Big Show, so the kids are still able to get out there and vaunt their stuff to prospective talent scouts. The opening number "costumes" were nothing but street clothes, perhaps a nod to the "This could be you!" vibe they are going for.
The production values were really dialed back, giving the program the feel of a glorified talent show, but the kids worked it for what it was worth.
OneRepublic's "Counting Stars" was the perfect choice to kick things off and the merry band skipped and jumped across the stage. There was not a hint of resentment of the soonest voted-off -- only enthusiastic camaraderie was up there on the stage, whether that individual was soloing, or just singing backup.
Majesty Rose came in ninth place, but she brought the most to the party visually. With Janelle Monae's top-heavy 'do and signature black-and-white attire, she gave us a great cover of "Tightrope." She wore a succession of girly, swirly skirts and even one thrift-shop-fabulous polka dot and huge floral ensemble.
There was plenty of sign-waving going on, which elicited a "Put your signs down! Alex is mine!" from one of the cute girls sitting behind me. Fortunately, their friendship isn't ripped asunder, for her buddy was all about Sam.
It was apparent that Alex Preston (third place) and Sam Woolf (no. 5) are the two heart-throbs. To this Boomer, Sam has the most classically handsome features, but his habit of singing with his eyes closed brought despair to the girls who hefted their signs and made heart-hands for him every time he turned their way.
Jena Irene, the runner-up, was the only girl to generate the passion the two aforementioned boys did. She is a force of nature, and I predict a long Cher-like career for her. She maximizes her edgy, dark beauty and boundless energy to connect with the fans better than any of them.
Piano Girl Malaya Watson is a quirky kid with grand piano talent. She banged out a passionate cover of Bruno Mars "If I Was Your Man." It was a little odd, because she didn't change up the lyrics to suit her gender, but she delivered a solid performance.
The graphics often added an extra element of fun to the production, with groovy stars-and-stripes visuals as Caleb belted out "American Woman." All nine clapped along and sang major league American idol Pharrell Williams' "Happy" under a flock of smiley faces.
Jena went really retro with Elvis' "Can't Help Fallin' in Love With You." I'm sure it pleased her parents to see that those piano lessons had been put to good use. Her Foster the People's frenetic "Pumped Up Kicks" was for realz pumped up and kickin'!
When Caleb takes the stage, he owns it like a boss. Maybe I was amazed to hear one of my all-time favorite songs, Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." Again, I hadn't expected to hear my beloved Led Zeppelin this night, but I was only momentarily "Dazed and Confused." I hope Robert Plant has seen a clip of this kid!
The big finale brings goosies to my legs even as I type these words. Imagine Dragons' powerful "Radioactive" combined with the anti-nuclear graphics and recorded backup set the stage well and these kids took it for all they're worth.