Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

'American Idol' live tour photos and recap from Verizon Wireless July 24

"American Idol" is definitely a case where you can look at it as the glass half empty (cratering ratings, no recent breakout stars) or glass half full (great judges' panel, decent talent from season 13).

The same can be said about the tour itself, which has always been a way for the contestants to remind paying customers why they voted for them in the first place with no pressure of judgment and the ability to choose songs they know they can sing. That hasn't changed.

From a glass half empty perspective, "Idol" tour producers cut costs by slimming down the stage, recycling the 'Idol' logo-shaped screen and using backing tracks instead of a live band. The Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, which seats up to 12,000 if you count 5,000 people on the lawn, was technically more than half empty last night. But it didn't look too bad because most of the 7,000 seats were filled. I estimate the attendance to be a respectable 4,500.

Last year was the first and only time I missed the tour. (My parents were in town.) So I don't know if this was worse than a year ago. But on a glass half full perspective, the crowd was polite and attentive and the season 13 crew put together a breezy, entertaining who that went just over two hours, plus intermission.

In recent years, many of the singers have opted for songs on tour that they had not sung on the show. I'm not sure why but this year virtually every tune on the 27-song set list was a reprise from season 13. The list was very heavily weighted to recent pop songs by the likes of American Authors, Bastille, OneRepublic, Pink and Avicii with a smattering of classic rock (Guess Who, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney and Wings). Also for the first time, someone was allowed to sing an original song: Alex Preston's heartfelt "Fairy Tale."

The singers proficient with instruments tried their best to make up for the fact they had no live band. Both Malaya Watson ("When I Was Your Man") and Jena Irene ("Can't Help Falling in Love") used the piano. C.J. Harris, Majesty Rose, Sam Woolf and Jessica Meuse all played guitar at some point. Alex played both guitar and a couple of times, opted for drums. Dexter Roberts, who cut out without explanation after four shows, only showed up on screen. His two solo songs were simply scrubbed from the set list.

Oddly, the producers chose not to introduce any of the contestants by name using the video screen as they have in the past with the exception of winner Caleb Johnson. Maybe they presumed folks would remember the singers, but for many, this would have been their last shot to brand themselves before they become asterisks in our collective memories.

For the first time, the winner did not sing the winning song thrust upon them during the show. Caleb dumped "As Long As You Love Me" in favor of a ballad from his upcoming album "Testify," set to debut August 12 in the fastest turnaround in "Idol" history. Instead, he tried out his new song "Fighting Gravity" in it and I'm certain it will be the single sent to radio. It was significantly better than "As Long As You Love Me" and proved he could effectively sing softly and not have to carry a big vocal stick to have an impact.

Here's a photo rundown of the concert:

MK Nobilette, who came in 10th, was the least worthy contestant there in my mind. As on the show, her voice was decent, her stage presence nearly nonexistent. Her Pink's "Perfect" was adequate. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Majesty Rose (ninth place) was someone I thought could have gone further on the show but suffered from an identity crisis. Is she R&B? Pop? Rock? What?  She conveyed her strong vocals and quirky mannerisms on Janelle Monae's "Tightrope." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Sam Woolf and Alex Preston reprised their version of Passenger's "Let It Go." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
A teen in front of me videotaped "Let It Go." Sam Woolf is a likable kid but he certainly does not fill up an amphitheatre with his presence. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Alex Preston brings back the drums during Bastille's "Pompeii." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Jena Irene was the most dynamic presence on stage. Here she is doing "Gimme Shelter." (Malaya? The most manic, of course.) CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Alabama's CJ Harris does a soulful version of John Mayer's "Gravity." He sounded in pitch - for him. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
I was in the 20th row or so. I hardly looked at the screens but they were probably useful for the folks in the back. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
The group performance before intermission of "Happy." The graphics say it all, eh? CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Amusingly, AARP is a sponsor of the tour. The average viewer age of "Idol" season one was 32 years old. The average age this past season? 53. So this sponsorship makes sense because AARP solicits folks when they hit 50. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Jessica Meuse opened the second half with a smile as she and three others sang "Best Day of My Life." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Caleb Johnson working a bit of "Story of My Life." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
I realize I didn't get a good solo shot of Malaya Watson, who had really only one solo (playing the piano) and I couldn't get a good angle of her from where I was sitting. She was quite energetic in group performances and as a backup singer in several instances. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Jena Irene sang her original song "We Are One," which is a middling song, neither terrible nor that great. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Pink much? At least in the hair! Jessica Meuse actually channeled her best Lady Gaga with a very countrified version of "You and I." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
One of the highlights of the night was Jena Irene pulling out all the stops on "My Body" by Young the Giant. She was the only singer of the night who was really able to use the stage and had Alex back her up on drums, too. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Alex working his original tune "Fairy Tale" to his advantage. I'm certain someone will sign him to a record deal. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
If anybody needed a backup band, it was Caleb. It was downright odd for him to do Led Zeppelin with no guitarist or drummer behind him. Otherwise, he sounded solid, as always. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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