Idol fans get their fix

Published August 7, 2006


And just like that, the names, the faces, the nicknames that devoured great chunks of my brain for six straight months were back in my life: Elliott "the Amish Leprechaun" Yamin, Taylor "Gray Guy" Hicks, and, of course, Mandisa, no last name or nickname necessary.

Oh, Mandisa. I missed you most of all, you sweet, zaftig wonder.

American Idol - the No. 1 show in the nation, that titanic topic of watercooler hubbub for five straight seasons now - invaded Tampa on Sunday with its live tour, stuffing a soldout St. Pete Times Forum with 16,534 fanatics.

Men and women, boys and girls showed up to this family affair with homemade "Soul Patrol" T-shirts the battle cry of Hicks, the show's unlikely champ and handmade posters pledging "I Love You Chris - Dead or Alive" (a nod to smooth-pated rocker Chris Daughtry).

Let's get this straight: This one was critic-proof. If the concert - which featured nine of 10 finalists from this season's show - proved to be as aw-shucks cheeseball and addictively watchable as the TV program, then it would be a success. After all, nobody bought a ticket to American Idols Live! expecting substance; talent is merely a bonus in this popularity contest.

The show kicked off with ... Mandisa!

"I'm really just a simple girl looking for a good man," she said after full-throated opener I'm Every Woman. Before I could holler out, "Pick me! Pick me!" the powerhouse diva dedicated her second song, Alicia Keys' If I Was Your Woman, to former Idol winner Ruben Studdard.

Just when I was really enjoying my Mandisa fix, that cutie-pie dope Ace Young showed up, joining my gal for I'm Your Angel.

Some of the performers sounded much better live than they did trying to impressive judge Simon Cowell. Lisa Tucker worked the stage like a pro, uncorking a rousing Signed, Sealed, Delivered and a sweet Your Song.

Tucker and spritely R&B trainee Paris Bennett joined forces for TLC's Waterfalls, but Bennett was far less commanding in person, especially when she tried to make like a Baby Beyonce on Crazy in Love.

Shaggy country boy Bucky Covington, coughing out Stevie Wonder's Superstition, continues to look and sound like he mistakenly stumbled onstage on his way to the beer line. I'd love to say something snarky about Kellie Pickler, but she was scratched from tonight's lineup because of health problems.

Daughtry proved that he's by far the most talented performer in Idol history. He sent the throngs into a frenzy with a thunderous cover of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. The guy can flat-out sing, and his unique heavy-metal wail has a cool trilly effect that sets him apart.

Yamin, a fave with cheek-pinching moms everywhere, bounded onstage to help Daughtry with Nickelback's Savin' Me, but the crooner's old-school singing style, even on his signature Moody's Mood for Love, came off as Star Search-y in the cavernous venue.

After Bucky, Chris, Ace and Elliott hushed out an earnestly goofy version of Guns N' Roses' Patience, Katharine McPhee appeared in a long black dress and showing serious decolletage. This season's runnerup, McPhee often seemed too polished on the boob tube. But at the Times Forum, she displayed a genuine superstar grace. She commanded near-silence for her dang-sexy rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which earned her a standing ovation.

And finally, there was Hicks, who still looks like the guy selling you nails at Home Depot. He made his entrance in the middle of the crowd singing Jailhouse Rock. Clumsily strumming an electric guitar, he then kicked into Hollywood Nights, sounding like Bob Seger with cotton in his mouth. He busted out some of his patented herky-jerky dance moves, and on his signature cover, Takin' It to the Streets, he sounded like Michael McDonald after a six-pack of Red Bull. Hicks may not know nuance, but, man oh man, do people love a winner.

When the gang returned for a group-hug encore of We Are the Champions and Living in America, I realized the concert provided everything I love, and hate, and really hate, about American Idol.

I can't wait until next season.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic.