concert reviews

'American Idols Live!': Winning but Not a Winner
American Idols (season 3) at the MCI Center, Washington, DC, Sunday 22 August 2004

One would have expected Sunday's "American Idols Live!" performance at MCI Center to be a showcase of outstanding vocal talents. That was not always the case, as with Jon Peter Lewis's bland rendition of OutKast's "Hey Ya," but what Lewis lacked in vocal prowess he made up for in energy -- and his signature dance moves.

However, skillful singing did prevail at the show, which, ironically, was sponsored by Pop Tarts (with free samples available in the lobby). The two-hour concert featured performances by 10 of the 12 finalists from the Fox TV show's third season, including winner Fantasia Barrino, whose powerful version of Prince's "Purple Rain" was one of the strongest songs of the night.

The event's first hour was devoted to individual performances, giving each singer a chance to shine (such as La Toya London's outstanding vocal control on Mariah Carey's "My All") or falter (as in the case of Camile Velasco's moaning version of Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor"). The use of recorded backing vocals in the individual songs was inexcusable for a touring troupe that arguably includes some of the best voices in America.

This weakness was most evident later in the show, during Barrino's heartfelt delivery of her single, "I Believe," which begged for the support of live singers rather than the coldness of a karaoke tape.

In addition to Barrino, George Huff was particularly solid; his booming voice nailed Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," during which he inserted the chorus of the Darkness's "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" with perfect falsetto. The show's solos and duets were more convincing than the choreography-driven ensemble songs, and the concert overall was a balance between a handful of memorable vocal deliveries and a few pop tarts with sugary -- but ultimately unsatisfying -- performances.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 24 August 2004
.: Selected discography: American Idol Season 3: Greatest Soul Classics (2004).