'American Idol" runner up Jena Irene had her share of critics on this blog this year. Many just found her style grating, her enunciation poor.
But you have to give her credit for working on her craft, taking critiques seriously and improving week by week. She was also far more versatile than most of her competitors. able to work behind a piano a capella and rocking it with the live band. And the bottom line is she has charisma and can sing, two important components for any artist.
I spoke with her in an advance of the upcoming stop at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, where demand for the concert is decidedly slack. Believe it or not, earlier today, Ticketmaster had fifth row seats available. Fifth row! I suspect even with giveaways galore, there will be a lot of empty seats when I go Thursday night. I had no problem getting a review pass, a far cry from the peak years of seasons 4 and 5 when I had to purchase my own tickets. (This will be my 12th "Idol" live tour. I skipped for the first time last year because my parents were in town and believe me, I am not sad.)
Anyway, back to Jena Irene. She was available for an interview so I took it. She just turned 18 and is "having a blast" on tour. Hardly anybody is bothering to review the tour but the Hollywood Reporter did stop by the Jersey stop and gave the tour kind reviews. "Truly shining in the spotlight was runner-up Irene, who looks like she belongs in an arena. The Michigan teen has that extra star power that manages to connect with the audience with a smile and a wave."
The biggest this year over the first 12 years: no live band. It's a mere backing track set list.
"We're really bummed we don't have a band," Jena Irene said. "It kind of sucks. We do the best what we have. In the second song, it's just the piano and my vocals. No backing track! And Alex [Preston] comes out and plays the drum on the third song. It's really fun."
Indeed, many of the nine contestants will play instruments and help each other out. (As reported earlier, Dexter Roberts left the show in early July due to some mutual agreement but why he left has never been clearly parsed out.)
Jena Irene said coming in second never bugged her because her goal was to make it to fifth place. "This is more than a dream come true," she said. "I got to perform with Paramore [during the season finale.]. That was amazing. I love my place. It's cool that I didn't win. A lot of people are still supporting me."
Here is Jena Irena on other subjects:
Winner Caleb Johnson and their close-knit platonic relationship: "With me and Caleb, it doesn't feel like an age difference. [He's 23. She's 18.] We're all in the same business."
On going to the prom with Caleb: "It was so funny. It was kind of a joke we just went with. There was press outside where it was held. It was crazy. We only stayed an hour and 15 minutes. We didn't want to ruin it for everyone else. Still, I got to meet my friends I hadn't seen in five months."
Mispronouncing her name as "Jenna": "Oh my god. You have no idea! We'll be doing sound check and people will yell, "You're great, Jenna!"
The women's tour bus vs. the men's bus: "Their bus is horrible. We keep ours clean."
On Atlanta: "My brother lived there for awhile and was stationed in Georgia. We went a few times. All I remember is how hot it was in the summer and there was lots of rain. I miss rain having lived in California. We will have a day off so I can't wait to explore the city and see what it's about."
On a record deal: "I have a couple of directions I could go. There are a couple of deals I could negotiate. I'm still waiting to see if 19 Entertainment wants to sign. [She thinks 19 Entertainment has exclusivity on her until around Sept. 21.] A couple of other labels can work with me. Beyond that, I'm still going to take a couple of classes online at Western Michigan University."
Future plans: Beyond a recording career, she's interested in the music management business. "I want to be a manager of other people,' she said.
Type of music she hopes to record: "I'm learning how to compose virtually. Electronic music is my genre. I really love alternative and electronic."
On Harry Connick Jr.: "Even though a lot of people thought Harry was a little harsh, he always gave the best advice. He really focused on my intonation and how well my pitch was, especially when I moved around. I am learning to give a good performance and maintain good pitch and provide good vocals, to be well rounded. He said you can be a good entertainer but never compromise on the vocals."
While he insisted the show is "aging gracefully," he then said this:
“It’s been a very competitive year for singing shows. Idol has a very committed fan base. If I had a criticism of the show, it’s that we haven’t found a group kids the last two years who really captured the imagination of the public. We talked about it this year—how do we focus on that and not get wrapped up in this constant conversation about the judges and how good they are?”
I agree that season 12 was a cluster you know what and the talent was subpar. But this year's talent was decent in my humble opinion.
He said next season there will be even greater emphasis on the talent as opposed to the judges. The judges get along fine so that works fine with me.
Ruben Studdard is performing twice in Atlanta in the coming weeks.
First up, he'll be Wolf Creek Amphitheatre August 23. Tickets can be had here.
Here are prices:
VIP table tickets are $65 per seat in advance, $70 day of show.
Reserved tickets are $40 in advance, $45 day of show.
General admission lawn seats are $25 in advance, $30 day of show.
Two weeks later, the Bounce TV Summer Music Festival Tour 2014 comes to Chastain Park Amphitheatre Sept. 5 featuring Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly) and Patti Labelle with special guest Studdard.
Tickets go on sale Friday July and range from $59.75 to $125.75. I don't have a link yet to buy tickets.