Thursday, November 11, 2010

A True Confession, Wherein Your Intrepid Reporter Goes to See an American Idol in Chicago

Okay, I admit it. I watch "American Idol" from time to time. This fact always surprises people who know I'm a bit of a snob about movies and theater. No Matrix, no Porky's, no Andrew Lloyd Webber. And yet I like "American Idol."

Well, I don't like it like it. Its tactics and manipulations are often reprehensible. Simon Cowell and his snotty comments are not my cup of tea. I often dislike the pampered pets they try to sell me the hardest. And I never, ever go for the schmaltzy or bombastic voices they seem to think define the very essence of an American Idol. But I do find myself rooting for underdogs from time to time, especially the people the producers and judges seem to be ignoring, and I have even been motivated to vote when somebody takes my fancy. It's a sickness, I know. Or just a weakness.

A couple of seasons ago, I was quite taken with unassuming Kris Allen, the sweet kid from Arkansas who managed to make it past all the flashier contestants who'd been given all the screen time through the audition rounds. Allen didn't get what is commonly known as the "pimp" spot (singing last) as many times as the big faves, he wasn't a very good interview (not being incredibly perky or slick) and yet he seemed genuine and modest and charming. And I really liked how he sang. (Yes, I know. "American Idol" tries to make it about anything but how they sing. Still, sometimes, it's the singing that draws you in.)

After all the ups and downs and a whole lot of craziness, my fave actually ended up winning that season of "American Idol." And then he put out the de rigeur album, and I even liked it!

Allen and his band came to Chicagoland last summer, but I happened to be a thousand miles away at the time. So when I heard that he was returning in November as the opening act for Lifehouse, I jumped at the chance to buy tickets. This made no sense to my husband, so I asked my niece, Nicoletta, a charming singer and performer herself, if she wanted to go. She did. We set out for the Chicago Theater on time, meaning we got settled in our lovely seats (my jumping act meant I nabbed very good seats) and caught the opening act, a young woman named Alyssa Bernal who is billed as a "Youtube sensation." I don't know what that means, but she was very cute and could actually sing, and when it comes to young singers, that's always a plus. The downside was that the sound wasn't mixed properly, muddying things a bit, and it seemed strange that a singer/songwriter with a knack for pretty melodies and earnest lyrics had a dramatic mohawked punk guy playing bass and drawing focus behind her. I liked her stuff, though, especially a duet with her keyboard player and her single "Cali Cali Cali," a breezy little song about (as you might expect) California.

But the main event for me was Kris Allen, and I was happy to see not only that he performed like a champ, but that he was very well-received by an audience mostly there for Lifehouse. His singles "Live Like We're Dying" and "Alright With Me" got a lot of enthusiastic singalong happening, and my personal favorite, a breakup song called "Is It Over," was absolutely epic, with a sensational solo from lead guitarist Andrew DeRoberts.

Allen's set was just under an hour, and I knew I would be leaving shortly afterwards since I wasn't all that interested in Lifehouse, anyway, but I absolutely felt I got my money's worth. Kris Allen and his band were polished and energetic, as well as a whole lot of fun, and they communicated a real joy of performance that was also a joy to watch. By the time Allen closed with the Beatles' "Come Together," spilling into the audience to high-five and generally commune with the hoi polloi, I was ready to deem my concert-going experience a rousing success.

I'd like to see the Kris Allen Band as a solo act the next time, and I'd like them to come a little closer than Chicago. Surely somewhere in Bloomington-Normal or Champaign-Urbana has a venue that fits this feisty little band. Fingers crossed!


  1. I was there too! This is a great review. I saw his sollo show the following night at Valpo and it was even better than Chicago.

  2. Ditto on what Anonymous said! Valpo was so much fun! I'm glad you enjoyed Kris and the band.

  3. nice review! Kris was my fav too that AI season and he exceeded my expectations when I saw him in Boston last month!

  4. Sweet review! Wish I got the chance to see him...

  5. My ignorance is showing, as I have no familiarity with this sort of event, but...

    apparently opening acts have their own opening acts?

  6. Fun to read, Julie. I see you provoked a lot of response from concert goers and American Idol fans.

  7. Are you me? lol You've articulated pricesly my feelings about American Idol. I was never an avid watcher, but Kris Allen did catch my eye and ear. I have seen him live as the opening act for Keith Urban and Lifehouse. Artists that I like, but not enough to motivate me to see them live. Kris Allen was the deciding factor to go to the concerts and it was well worth it. Kris Allen and his band were amazing. I thought I was sick of Heartless/Gangsta Paradise, but was really blown away after hearing it live. Vocal perfection. Is It Over and Red Guitar, good, but not great on the album, is freaking phenomenal performed live. The only complaint, his set was too short. Thanks to my love of Kris Allen's music, I got to hear an up-and-coming band (Kris Allen Band) and renewed my love of an older one (Lifehouse -- another great live band) and what can I say about Keith Urban? Amazing, amazing performer and guitarist. I love that Kris is learning and growing as a performer. Like Lifehouse and Urban, Kris will be around for many years to come.

  8. LIke you I really loved Kris on Idol and have now actually gone to see him four times in my area (The Idols concert, as well as three other times, once with just his guitar player, Cale, and the other two times with his band). I had a really wonderful experience each time. I thibnk he's fantastic. The positivity he and his band radiates is amazing. Plus I've met them all and they're great guys.

  9. Jon, I think Lifehouse played with two opening acts, not that one of their opening acts got an opening act of his own. I learned when trying to figure out the name of the song Alyssa Bernal dueted on with her keyboard player that she has done a duet (that same song, apparently) with the lead singer of Lifehouse. So I'm guessing that's why she was added as the first opening act. As opposed to the second opening act, who was the guy I like.

    In these days of reduced budgets, my guess is that they like sharing touring costs with as many people as possible.

    It's all quite fascinating.

    It's also fascinating that a modest "review" gets such immediate traffic while Scott's much lovelier Guster review didn't get the bump in hits. I guess I now know why people blog constantly about Idol. I'm guessing this will be my last time, though. No plans for future Idol content!