After a season of sharply declining ratings and some disappointing competition, the once-mighty "American Idol" sent its annual package tour onto the road -- and into one of the most troubled summers for concert ticket sales. The Chicago show originally was scheduled for Monday night; it moved back to Saturday after other shows were canceled and the tour was trimmed.
But even if this were another robust summer in America's arenas, the 2010 American Idols Live tour still would have little to recommend it, even at a discount.
Dull, dull and dull -- the three-hour show was a homecoming for the TV talent show's top two competitors, but it was one long haul through poorly chosen covers and some remarkably lifeless performances.
"Idol" has turned pop music into a cheap sporting event, and as such we're probably supposed to root for the home team here. But, lordamighty, who voted for season nine winner Lee DeWyze?
A dime-a-dozen coffeehouse player, Mount Prospect's DeWyze opened his set -- his golden moment before a cheerful hometown crowd -- by draining every ounce of passion out of U2's "Beautiful Day," knee-capping its bounding rhythms and simply strumming it like a Hootie & the Blowfish ballad. His utter emasculation of the song was kind of impressive. He repeated that feat with Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and the way he took the soulful swing of "Treat Her Like a Lady" and turned it into three minutes of plodding, personality-free hollering -- well, it's a dreadful talent to possess, but he owns it. He makes Kris Allen sound like Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
"I auditioned here," DeWyze said, speaking of the United Center, where "Idol" held its round of Chicago auditions early last year. "Pulling in here today, everything ran through my head, like -- what happened?" No doubt it's been a whirlwind year for him, and the song he sang before those remarks, Elton John's "Rocket Man," could have been a poignant moment. But instead of embracing the lyrics about an astronaut's mixed feelings about leaving home, DeWyze merely sang lazily and maintained his witless expression. "I'm not the man they think I am at home" -- the Chicago crowd cheered, but that lyric was correct.
The other prodigal former Chicagoan, Crystal Bowersox, kicked much more butt even if she didn't bring anything new to the stage. Did she sing 4 Non Blondes? Of course she did. Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin, too, both while strumming her acoustic guitar and stalking the stage in her cut-off jeans and sandals. When she put the guitar down, though, for Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," she gave us what this show was supposed to be all about: one rich, revealing, incredibly powerful voice. She just strolled the stage, unsure of what to do with her hands, and sang, evoking every amen out of the song's gospel ambitions.
This was a homecoming for her, too. "I didn't talk about it much on the show, but Chicago's my second home," she said. "A little over a year ago, Lee and I were sitting in these seats -- I think I was over there."
The most entertaining guy on stage, though, came in third. Casey James can sing and play the bejesus out of his guitar. He shredded a solo in the middle of his opener, the Black Keys' "I Got Mine," and again for his closer, the Rolling Stones' "It's All Over Now." His ballads sagged, even the duet with Michael Lynche on "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?," but his rakish grin and studied nonchalance made him fun to watch, not to mention that Eddie Vedder quiver in his purr.
The rest of the crew was the musical equivalent of a manila envelope, and many of them begged and pleaded with the crowd to stand up, clap, show any sign of life their performances couldn't elicit. The only stand-out in the entire first half was Siobhan Magnus, whose arty presentation of the Stones' "Paint It Black" reached for Lady Gaga but at least delivered early Cher.
Overall, the show proved that departing "Idol" judge Simon Cowell's timing is as prescient on the way out as on the way in.
Set list for American Idols Live on Saturday:
Didi Benami: "Lay It On Me" (Kyler England), "Terrified" (Katharine McPhee)
Andrew Garcia: "Straight Up" (Paula Abdul), "Sunday Morning" (Maroon 5)
Katie Stevens: "Here We Go Again" (Demi Lovato), "Fighter" (Christina Aguilera)
Tim Urban: "Better Days" (Goo Goo Dolls), "Viva la Vida" (Coldplay)
Siobhan Magnus: "Paint It, Black" (The Rolling Stones), "Spiderwebs" (No Doubt), "Stockholm Syndrome" (Muse)
Aaron Kelly: "Somebody Like You" (Keith Urban), "Walking in Memphis" (Marc Cohn), "Fast Cars and Freedom" (Rascal Flatts)
Benami, Garcia, Stevens, Urban, Magnus and Kelly: "The Climb" (Miley Cyrus)
Michael Lynche: "This Woman's Work" (Kate Bush), "Ready for Love" (India.Arie), "My Love" (Justin Timberlake)
Casey James: "I Got Mine" (The Black Keys), "Don't!" (Shania Twain) "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" (Bryan Adams) with Michael Lynche, "It's All Over Now" (The Rolling Stones)
Crystal Bowersox: "What's Up?" (4 Non Blondes), "Come to My Window " (Melissa Etheridge), "Up to the Mountain" (Patty Griffin), "Piece of My Heart" (Janis Joplin)
Lee DeWyze: "Beautiful Day" (U2), "Rocket Man" (Elton John), "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen), "Treat Her Like a Lady" (Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose), "Use Somebody" (Kings of Leon)
All 10: "It's My Life" (Bon Jovi), "My Life Would Suck Without You" (Kelly Clarkson)