The instant the familiar opening notes of the “American Idol” intro sounded this past Sunday night, the audience at the Durham Performing Arts Center erupted; and they didn’t stop cheering and screaming their appreciation until the last note of the last song. For those who think “American Idol” has jumped the shark, the appearance of the Top 10 from Season 13 at DPAC would prove them incorrect. The fact that North Carolina is a hotbed of musical talent, producing more winners than any other state is borne out by this year’s Top 10 with the winner, rocker Caleb Johnson from Asheville, and finalist Majesty Rose from Goldsboro.
After a brief opening video, Johnson and the finalists started the evening with a rousing rendition of One Republic’s “Counting Stars.” It was easy to see from that first number which of the Idols made it to the finale, because some of the Top 10 appeared a bit uncomfortable on stage while others filled the theater with their presence. Johnson and second-place winner Jena Irene were standouts, both in voice and physical use of the stage, while others such as MK Nobilette and Alex Preston appeared either tired or bored or afflicted with stage fright.
Throughout the evening, groups of three or five or duos took the stage to cover recent hits in typical “American Idol” fashion. Nobliette, Jessica Meuse and Malaya Watson covered Pink’s “Less Than Perfect” in a predictable fashion, and several other covers were less than notable. But the evening gained steam when North Carolina native Majesty Rose took on Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope.”
This year’s Top 10 all are fairly comfortable with instruments with some accompanying themselves on guitar or piano, and even pounding a fairly respectable drum. Malaya Watson took to the piano to cover Bruno Mars’ hit “I Should Have Brought You Flowers.” Though she did a pretty respectable job on the tune, it was odd hearing her speak about being a man when she so obviously is not.
C.J. Harris and Jessica Meuse brought out their guitars to accompany their version of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and roused the audience to clap out the rhythm with them. The audience, an even mix of adults and children, not only clapped but sang the lyrics to show their appreciation.
Also accompanying themselves on guitars, Alex Preston and Sam Woolf did an upbeat, bouncy version of “Let Her Go.” Both Preston and Woolf are songwriters who put their spin on this song, as well as their own. Preston’s rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House” was one of the best moments of the evening. His phrasing was excellent, tone and playing were on point. He had a second solo and chose David Gray’s “Sail Away.” Covering those songs proved Preston’s talent is much deeper than his 18 years would belie.
After the intermission, the show went into overdrive, keeping the audience on its feet for most of the second half, which focused largely on finalist Caleb Thompson and runner-up Jena Irene. Both appeared quite comfortable on stage and with each other, especially during their duo covering the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
Idol C.J. Harris stepped back into the spotlight for his solo with guitar on John Meyer’s “Gravity,” the most soulful song of the evening, so good that it sounded better than the original. Harris stayed onstage to swing right into “American Woman” with Irene, Meuse and Preston.
All of the finalists brought the audience to their feet with their version of Pharrell’s “Happy,” and some even danced in the aisles as the two finalists brought it out front.
Jessica Meuse’s solo version of “Pumped Up Kicks” a song with lyrics about the Columbine shooting suited her better than her time as a backup singer for the other Idols. She seemed bored when singing anything but lead.
Another singer who shone when on his own was Alex Preston, who introduced several original compositions that had the unique quality of a nice guitar lead with lyrics like those written by Coldplay or Maroon 5.
Jena Irene took to the piano for her amazing cover of the romantic classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Her soaring voice and unique take on the song’s close drew thunderous applause from the already adoring crowd.
Then it was time for Caleb Johnson, who took over the stage like a younger Meatloaf. A big rocker in black leather, he seems patterned on those rockers from the 1970s and 1980s, but is equally comfortable doing a difficult standard of Led Zeppelin’s or softening it down with The Beatles’ “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He announced during his soloes that his album is coming out Aug. 12th and introduced “Fighting Gravity” his original ballad that will be featured on the album though he admits, “There’s tons of rock on the album. This is the ballad.”
When the Top 10 came out in force to close the show, not one person in the audience remained seated. It’s obvious from the response that “American Idol” is a long way from dead . . . at least not in North Carolina, home to this year’s winner, as well as to Fantasia Barrino, Scotty McCreery, Clay Aiken, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, and many others. Whatever is in North Carolina’s water sure does produce great singers!
“AMERICAN IDOL” LIVE (Durham Performing Arts Center, July 13):
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
“American Idol” Live (2014 tour):http://www.americanidol.com/tour (official website).
“American Idol” (Fox singing competition since 2002): http://www.americanidol.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIdol (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/AmericanIdol (Twitter page), https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIdol (YouTube page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Idol (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.