SUNRISE, Florida — Bo Bice best summed up the latest American Idols Live Tour as he meandered backstage Tuesday, just minutes before the show kicked off.
"It's like 10 concerts," the runner-up explained. "One after another."
Unlike the first three Idols outings, which featured the top-10 finalists singing one or two solos for the first half of the show and the group performing together for the second half, this year's show emphasizes each individual's talents and includes only two group numbers.
Perhaps the tour's producers finally felt the singers were good enough to carry the crowd on their own, or maybe the thought of this year's older, more rock-oriented crop dancing together to a Motown medley made them cringe. Regardless, the show came across as a fitting souvenir for an "American Idol" season more modern, more diverse and more memorable than those before.
What made Tuesday's nearly sold-out show at the Office Depot Center seem like 10 concerts was that each individual set differed drastically in tone.
While Jessica Sierra opened with a two-song performance that oozed with sex — especially her seductive dance routine with a mic stand during "The Boys Are Back in Town" — Anwar Robinson followed up with a more emotional set, first somber then inspirational. After opening with Luther Vandross' "A House Is Not a Home" — which he dedicated to the late R&B singer — Robinson delivered the same soulful rendition of "What a Wonderful World" he performed on "Idol," complete with a screen flashing matching images of "skies of blue" and "clouds of white."
When Constantine Maroulis strutted onstage next, it was back to sexiness, whether he was acting out his inner bad-boy rocker (complete with wallet chain) on "Hard to Handle" or sensitive crooner on "My Funny Valentine." When he shed his red sport coat, the cooing crowd reacted as if they were at a bachelorette party. And yes, he did flash all his signature looks to the cameras.
Constantine, who told the audience this was "the greatest moment of his life," earned the night's first standing ovation with his closing rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which began with a giant image on the backdrop screen of four faces replicating Queen's video — only every face was his. Maroulis embraced the theatrics of the song, occasionally racing around so fast that he was too out of breath to sing.
Photos from the Idols Live Tour kickoff
Like Usher following My Chemical Romance, Nikko Smith took the stage next, belting Sisqó's "Incomplete" while he strolled from one side of the stage to the other and eventually into the first few rows. With Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover" as his transition, Smith (wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap in honor of his father, baseball great Ozzie Smith) wrapped up his set with Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You," which was more a showcase of his dancing than his singing. And let's just say that once "Idol" producers catch Nikko's fancy feet and robotic arms, they might be fast-tracking him through their new show, "So You Think You Can Dance?"
On the other end of the spectrum was Scott Savol, who cannot dance and didn't try to, instead treating the crowd to his season highlight, "Against All Odds." Savol then reintroduced Sierra and the two dueted on "Total Eclipse of the Heart," coming together from opposite sides of the stage and eventually holding hands through the final verse, weaving their voices together more like Nick and Jessica than Scott and Jessica.
Nadia Turner — who entered playing an electric guitar — greeted her hometown (well, technically she's from Miami, but Sunset was close enough for her) with two songs she performed on the show: the groovy "Power of Love" and the tender "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," proving (as Randy Jackson would say) "she can blow" no matter the tempo. Going out in style, she closed with Jimi Hendrix's "Fire," capturing the guitar legend's charisma and stopping just short of singing, "Move over, Rover, and let Nadia take over."
After an intermission (hey, cut the five-piece band some slack), Anwar returned to center stage on piano, playing "Superstitious" in dead-on Stevie Wonder mode. Mid-song, Vonzell Solomon entered in a flowing yellow dress, putting a sultry spin on the latter half of the tune. Following with the ultimate diva trifecta of "I Have Nothing," "Best of My Love" and "I'm Every Woman," Vonzell left the audience in awe. As big as the arena was (and it was big), she filled every ounce with her monster notes.
Anthony Fedorov, in contrast (catching the trend yet?), played it low key, waving constantly as he smoothly sailed through "Every Time You Go Away." And the awe here came from him, marveling at the crowd. "Oh my God, wow," he said as he looked around the arena.
Bo's set was perhaps the most unique of them all, as it truly felt like a headlining rock performance as he segued from one classic tune to another. After "Vehicle," he picked up an electric guitar and soloed his way through Hendrix's "Voodoo Child," showing for the first time that he can play like he can sing. And the dude was so comfortable onstage, you would've thought it was just another Sugar Money club gig.
"I'm sending this one out from my cats to all of you," Bo, dressed in leather pants and cowboy boots, said as he played the familiar opening lick of "Sweet Home Alabama."
Bo is a seasoned performer, but the Idols Tour producers were not about to mess with tradition. The show's winner goes last, and that, of course, was Carrie Underwood (see "Carrie Underwood Wins 'American Idol'"). Her twangy versions of "Independence Day" and "Sin Wagon" turned the Southern rock party into a full-scale hoedown.
The highlight, however, was "Bless the Broken Road," which she spiced up by bringing out Bo and a pair of guitars for a sweet-as-honey-pie duet. And for the closer, her single "Inside Your Heaven," Underwood welcomed all the finalists for an inspirational sing-along.
As an encore, the 10 returned one or two at a time for a church-like rendition of "Lean on Me," clapping above their heads in unison and taking turns with their vocal runs.
"R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." followed, with Bo and Carrie handling verses and Nadia leading the audience in a game of sing-and-repeat. The finalists then took over for an extended ending that included a group bow while the band continued jamming. And with that, 10 concerts came to an end.
The American Idols Live Tour continues Wednesday (July 13) in Tampa, Florida (see "American Idols Live Tour Dates Announced").
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.