"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: