NEW YORK — The “American Idol” stars aligned Friday night (February 12), as Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert and Kris Allen took the stage for an exclusive live event.
Ryan Seacrest’s “Rock My Town” concert brought out hundreds of lucky ticket winners, all of whom braved the cold for hours to make sure they got the best possible spot in the intimate Highline Ballroom.
Performing in the order in which they were eliminated during the eighth season of “Idol,” fiery-haired Allison Iraheta rocked out first in a dizzying set that showed off her raspy pipes and her criminally overlooked pop/rock songs.
[artist id="3221540"]Iraheta[/artist] — in two punky pigtails and a black-and-white rocker-chic dress — and her enthusiastic four-piece band ripped through fan favorites like “Holiday,” single “Friday I’ll Be Over U,” show-opener “Don’t Waste the Pretty” and “Robot Love” with plucky aplomb. (The latter song even featured Iraheta busting out a quick robot dance move, much to the delight of the audience, made up of teenagers, their parents and a host of baby boomers with glitter face-paint, presumably there for Mr. Lambert.)
Iraheta’s set hit a few bumpy patches — including some technical hiccups with a bum mic — but she made up for it with her rough-around-the-edges, self-deprecating charm. After flubbing a few lines in the title track from her album, “Just Like You,” she offered a silly mea culpa to the adoring crowd. “I’m sorry for being an idiot. Let’s see if I can get this next one right.” (She did. “Trouble Is,” an achingly tender ballad, was a set highlight.)
Later, on another ballad, “Scars,” Iraheta stopped her band when she realized she began in the wrong key. During take two, Allison changed the lyrics to “Don’t turn away, I won’t go off key this time.” All was forgiven by her set closer, a stompy fuzz-rock cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” that was so strong, it’s easy to imagine Iraheta making it to last year’s finale had she had the chance to sing it on “Idol.” It’s a shame Allison’s self-confidence was on the fritz as she exited. “Sorry about sucking tonight,” she sighed. (For the record, she did not suck.)
Self-confidence wasn’t a problem for [artist id="3188063"]Adam Lambert[/artist], who sported more glam and glitter in his hair than all of Las Vegas combined. During the explosive 11-song set, he owned the stage with his blend of raw sexuality, campy theatrics and, most importantly, vocal agility. Lambert effortlessly glided through octave-jumping, voice-testing songs like “Music Again,” “Strut” and the heart-stopping ballad “Soaked,” originally a Muse demo.
Adam easily whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his Mick Jagger-meets-Alice Cooper-meets-Elvis Presley presence, but Lambert quickly stopped his set as soon as he noticed a fan in front had passed out from all the excitement. Once the situation had been resolved and the sick woman got some water, Adam suggested she take a seat away from the stage. “You can rock out from back there,” he politely suggested, before busting out “Sure Fire Winners,” which appropriately features the line “Give ‘em something to pass out about.”
Any “Idol” fans who expected Lambert to put out an album of hard-rock songs should start saving their cash for when Adam goes on tour later this year. Songs like “If I Had You,” “For Your Entertainment” and the Lady Gaga-penned “Fever,” which each have a dance/pop vibe on his RCA/ 19 Recordings debut, were given a rough, badass makeover thanks to his backing band.
Lambert and his crew were just as effective on quieter tunes too. Current single “Whataya Want From Me” and the Ryan Tedder collaboration “Sleepwalker” were both high points for the passionate singer.
But it was the one-two punch of his last two songs that really kicked the set to new heights. First, Lambert busted out the rare bonus track “Down the Rabbit Hole,” and even though not everyone knew the song, Adam had the entire crowd in the palm of his spiky-gloved hands thanks to his electrifying performance, complete with knee-falling, ear-monitor tossing and plenty of cozying up to his bassist, TommyJoe Ratliff (who your parents probably remember as the dude Lambert kissed on the American Music Awards ). “I got a little carried away,” he meekly said.
Lambert then busted out his iconic cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” and the crowd erupted. It was a genius set-ender. Not only did it allow for his talented band to get some arena-ready rock solos, but the risqué lyrics let Adam act out as much as he wanted. His rock-and-roll antics included giving the microphone stand some affection, smearing makeup all over his face, shouting “come on, bitches!” into the crowd, licking the lens of a fan’s digital camera and letting a group of grab-happy audience members get up close and personal.
As the glitter settled and the road crew began setting up for Allen’s performance, a sizeable group of Lambert fans made a beeline for the door, an odd and unfortunate gesture considering the amount of “Idol” fans who were shut out from winning tickets and love all the performers.
Those who stayed were treated to a surprisingly loud [artist id="3188062"]Allen[/artist] set. It smartly kicked off with his much-lauded cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” which has now evolved into a mash-up with the Coolio oldie “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
Later on, he played another ditty that earned him raves on “Idol,” the Swell Season’s “Falling Slowly,” except now Allen adds a few measures of U2′s “With or Without You” into the mix, making the song feel even more sweeping and emotional. So much so, in fact, that Glen Hansard stole Kris’ unique arrangement for a Swell Season show earlier this week, a tidbit Kris was eager to share with the crowd. (Allen also played his Michael Jackson week offering “Man in the Mirror” but left it untouched, presumably out of respect for MJ, whom Kris called “one of the greatest ever.”)
Allen’s been on the road the most out of the three on the bill, and it has paid off handsomely. His bandmembers sound like they have been playing together for years, and his stage presence has improved tremendously since his days on “Idol.” He no longer looks awkward when he performs without a guitar. In fact, “Can’t Stay Away,” “Written All Over My Face” and his cover of the the Beatles’ “Come Together” all showed off a newfound — dare I say it? — rock-star swagger that delighted the Kris fans bopping in the audience (even if nobody passed out, as Kris jokingly said was his goal for the night).
Even more exciting was when Allen and his band opened up the arrangements to his album songs. “Red Guitar” and “Is It Over” both approached jam-band territory at certain points, giving the 12-song set a dynamic ebb and flow.
The crowd cheered the loudest for Allen’s single “Live Like We’re Dying” (and least for the sore thumb of the night, the Pat Monahan-penned ballad “The Truth”), but the highlight was the infectious sing-along “Alright With Me.” Kris grabbed five fans out of the front of the audience to help sing backup. (A sixth “straggler” joined them.) As he helped one girl up, she suffered from “pants on the ground” syndrome, giving the crowd a nice view of her underwear. Allen, being a Southern gentleman, blushed as he stammered, “Oh gosh! Don’t … don’t look.” (It’s also important to note that Kris neglected to choose the ballsy fan who had thrown an Adam Lambert T-shirt at him earlier.)
Moments after Kris left the stage saying “Kradison thanks you,” Allen’s band returned for an encore, except this time they brought Lambert’s guitarist Monte Pittman with them. The crowd buzzed. Could it be? Would fans be treated to a one-of-a-kind collaboration?
Turns out, yes. Kris, Allison and Adam all traded verses on an electric cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” in an epic collaboration that played like a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame jam session: “Idol” edition. As Kris mentioned earlier in the night, “They’re my family, dude,” and that familial bond was on full display. While wailing into their mics, Adam picked up Allison, Allison draped herself on Kris, and Kris and Adam sang to each other while frenzied fans in the crowd desperately tried to keep up with their camera phones. When it all ended, the audience was in full flail mode.
If only those early exiters knew what they were missing.
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