SALT LAKE CITY — SLC went nuts for JPL, George Huff did Justin Hawkins justice and Fantasia Barrino lived up to the hype as the third edition of the American Idols Live Tour got under way Wednesday.
JPL, or Jon Peter Lewis to the unfamiliar, was certainly the crowd favorite at the half-full Delta Center, in part because the Mormon singer hails from nearby Rexburg, Idaho, and he also happens to be a natural entertainer.
With “Marry Me JPL” signs flashing from nearly every row and dozens of friends and family members in attendance (many rocking a “JPL School of Rock” T-shirt with “I bought a pen” emblazoned across the back), Lewis took the stage early on with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” but truly came into his own later for Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”
Mixing his signature moves from “American Idol” (remember “A Little Less Conversation”?) with Outkast-inspired steps that could earn him the new nickname “Jon Peter 3000,” Lewis slowed the song down for the start, then launched into full funk mode with Barrino, La Toya London and Jennifer Hudson singing backup.
Afterward, Lewis grabbed an acoustic guitar and accompanied Huff for Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” during which the soul singer broke into the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” even showing off his falsetto to nail the high part.
Huff then segued into K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life” with the help of Barrino before the whole group joined in for “Where Is the Love,” or at least the chorus. Huff, Lewis and John Stevens seemed to enjoy singing the low “one love, one love” part to the Black Eyed Peas tune, while the ladies handled Justin Timberlake’s lines.
The primarily female audience definitely favored the boys, including Stevens, who showed how well he could have done on “Idol” had he been allowed to croon Frank Sinatra each week (he did “Come Fly With Me” and “My Funny Valentine” with much pizzazz Wednesday).
Stevens’ duet with Barrino on Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” also proved to be a crowd favorite, as the two quite different singers showed heaps of personality and vocal range as they danced around the stage, singing to each other.
As far as the women went, Fantasia was — not surprisingly — the standout, but the other six women gave her much more of a run for her money than on the show.
Amy Adams kicked off the night with the soul classic “Knock on Wood” and added a bit of color to some of the group numbers, particularly “Heartburn.”
Camile Velasco did a spot-on Lauryn Hill on “Ex-Factor,” bringing a bit of hip-hop flavor to the show, which she would do again on Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” (although it was London and Hudson who stole that song with their booty-shaking).
Hudson and London had plenty of chances to show off their big voices, including their solos of Aretha Franklin’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” and Mariah Carey’s “My All,” respectively, and their rip-roaring version of “Dangerously in Love.”
Hudson also showed her understated side on a duet of “Nothing Compares 2 U” with Huff, while London went all-out sexy for Prince’s “Kiss.”
Jasmine Trias handled Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” in the first act, but upstaged herself later when she took to the piano for Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.”
At 17, Diana DeGarmo is one of the tour’s youngest singers, but she came off like a veteran as she mingled with the crowd in between belting out “Dreams,” Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll.”
Fantasia made her entrance, the last of the first act, with “Idol” favorite “Summertime,” and saved her single, “I Believe,” for the end, but it was her in-between performances that showcased her range and ability to connect with an audience.
Wrapping up the Prince tribute that included a bit of Usher’s “Yeah!” mixed in to “When Doves Cry,” Barrino took on “Purple Rain” and earned a standing ovation before she even really got into the song.
In a taped message played before the show, Randy Jackson called the group the best top 10 in “Idol” history. That’s a topic up for debate, but as far as tour productions and song choices go, it would be tough to argue against this tour.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports .