Often during Tuesday's "American Idol" concert in Atlanta, I had to remind myself that the singers have yet to release major-label albums.
You might forget that fact upon seeing the crowd of fans already gathered outside Gwinnett Arena at 1:30 p.m. The concert started at 7 p.m.
You might forget that fact upon seeing the many people who waited outside the arena for autographs after the show.
You might forget that fact upon seeing the established fan bases, ranging from "give metal a chance" T-shirts honoring James Durbin to numerous phrases involving the words "Scotty" and "hottie."
Arguably, Tuesday was runner-up Lauren Alaina's night.
It was her home state show, and fans were happy to cheer her on. Actually, I ended up sitting right beside Lauren's immediate family in the audience.
By now, you've probably read a set list online. This year's show mixed solo numbers with group tunes, which ranged from the whole crew to four singers in a song. Here's a rundown of my impressions of the 11 singers:
He had less stage time than many of the other singers, but he still delivered the consistency that helped him win the "Idol" title. Basically, Scotty was exactly like how we saw him on TV. He opened his set with Josh Turner's "Your Man." I won't lie: I got a little rush out of hearing his token line: "Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low."
Lauren continues to impress me. Her voice was much, much stronger in person than it appeared on the show. Also, while I was just lukewarm on her "Idol" performance of "Like My Mother Does," the song seemed very hit-worthy in the concert setting. Also, Lauren delivered the same sense of personality that made her popular during the early stages of her "Idol" season. I'm sure performing in her home state helped.
If I could change one thing about the concert, I'd have Haley perform an original song. Or at least a solo song that we didn't see on TV. Among her noteworthy concert numbers: "Bennie and the Jets," "The House of the Rising Sun" and the "Moanin'" duet with Casey Abrams. They were all great...but the greatness wasn't too different from what we saw on TV. I'm ready to see her future musical direction, especially amid this report.
I'd label James the most polarizing singer of the night. Some people loved his set, which included big screams in tunes like "Uprising" and "Sweet Child o' Mine." Others thought it was a bit, um, intense. Regardless of your opinion of the whole hard rock thing, you had to acknowledge James' ability to interact with the audience. He walked through the crowd and even acknowledged a poster from a fan wanting him to wish her happy birthday.
I feel for Jacob. You don't necessarily associate him with a pop concert arena setting. In fact, when he started to sing Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much," a good share of people near me sat down. He urged the audience to get back on their feet. It kind of worked. I still don't know where Jacob fits musically, but his second song -- "You're All I Need to Get By" -- was AWESOME.
I like how Casey minimized the growling for the live concert experience. He had the aforementioned duet with Haley, plus two semi-current songs "Harder to Breathe" and "Smooth" that likely expanded his appeal for fans who didn't always "get" him on "Idol." But for the record, I'd rather see Casey go the full-fledged jazz route than the rock direction.
Yes, Stefano took off his shirt. Deal with it. Anyway, Stefano was one of my biggest surprises of the night. I was impressed with the power behind his voice. I'm not sure where he'll end up post-"Idol," but he entertained me Tuesday. It was especially nice to see him play the piano on "Grenade." And oh yeah, he took off his shirt.
Paul had significantly less stage time than the other finalists. However, let's not underestimate the power of "Maggie May." It was the fourth song of the night, but Paul's solo song nearly everybody around me on their feet. "Maggie May" felt like the moment when the show officially started, despite earlier numbers that featured singers like Pia Toscano and Lauren Alaina.
Pia has a great voice and Tuesday's concert didn't make me think differently. That said, I'm not sure if she connected with the crowd entirely. I didn't see many people going crazy for her single, "This Time." But vocally, she exceeded my expectations.
When I was leaving the show, I heard somebody say that any singer could have taken Thia Megia's place. I disagree. Thia's concert performances are defined by two adjectives that rarely characterized her on the show: young and fun. It was a wise move to let her sing "Who Says" by Selena Gomez. At best, she'll take the tour experience as an opportunity to learn to loosen up a bit. She's easily on her way.
Naima, Naima, Naima. You're unique and it's hard to argue with uniqueness. Sure, I think her African dancing during a performance of "On the Floor" was one of those moments that some audience members didn't "get." Nonetheless, she offered something genuinely different from a performance standpoint and her vocals didn't sound bad, either.
ONE MORE THING:
If I have to offer a final conclusion, I'll note that the diversity of "Idol" fans never ceases to amaze me. I waited in line with kids, teenagers and older couples. People constantly predict the demise of "Idol," but it's hard to forget the show's specialness when you see the range and depth of its appeal -- during a good season, that is.