concert reviews

At MCI, American Idolatry For the Feats of Clay and Kelly
Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson at the MCI Center, Washington, DC, Friday 5 March 2004

Fox's "American Idol" may be just a karaoke contest wrapped inside yet another let's-laugh-at-people reality show, but its premise -- let America decide whom it wants to listen to -- has produced some actual talent. First-season winner Kelly Clarkson and second season runner-up Clay Aiken don't just have great voices, they've quickly become solid performers. During their co-headlining show Friday at MCI Center, they both cruised the stage comfortably, even signing autographs mid-song without missing a note.

Aiken opened, singing "Kyrie Eleison" as he walked through the audience. Fans, a mix of screaming teens and equally ecstatic middle-aged women, sat only when he did, during an acoustic medley that included Sting's "Fields of Gold" and James Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind." Aiken's love songs are predictable, but they kept the audience at full attention. When he paused to talk to a fan's friend on her cell phone -- coaching the hysterical woman to "breathe, honey, breathe" -- his geeky grin sent the crowd into further delirium.

Though she didn't get the thunderous response granted to Aiken, Clarkson delivered a solid set, belting out her ballad "Beautiful Disaster" accompanied only by a piano, playing guitar with her band on "Low," and whispering Betty Hutton's '40s torch song "Stuff Like That There." But Clarkson lost momentum through several unnecessary costume changes, and it was clear by the lukewarm reaction (and preponderance of Aiken T-shirts) that Clay was the main attraction.

Aiken and Clarkson closed the show with a powerful duet of Journey's "Open Arms," turning a saccharine '80s ballad into a vocal workout, bringing the crowd back to its feet. The pair's talent is genuine, and the crowd was ecstatic.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 8 March 2004
.: Selected discography: Thankful (Kelly Clarkson, 2003); Measure of a Man (Clay Aiken, 2003).