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American Idol Live @ Bradley Center

Aug. 4, 2011

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Though it still brings in ratings that any other program would envy, "American Idol" no longer generates the same excitement it did even just a few years ago. That can be chalked up mostly to inevitable franchise fatigue—no hit show can sustain its luster for a decade—but it also seems at least in part a reflection on the uninspired crops of contestants from recent seasons. This year there was only one singer who didn't feel in some way like a retread of past hopefuls: Milwaukee's Naima Adedapo, a reggae enthusiast who, with her long dreadlocks and African wardrobes, was ultimately too far outside the traditional "Idol" mold for most viewers—including, apparently, ones in Milwaukee. The city never showed her nearly the same support as it did for its first "Idol" hopeful, Danny Gokey.

Adedapo was allotted just one solo showcase song at last night's "American Idol Live" tour stop at the Bradley Center, but that performance was one of the night's clear highlights—a gutsy, crowd-working rendition of Jennifer Lopez's dance hit "On the Floor."  During Adedapo's "Idol" performances this spring, her demanding African dance breakdowns sometimes winded her, but that wasn't a problem in concert. Whatever she may have lacked in star power on camera, she made up for live with physical agility and raw showmanship.

Most of the concert was reserved for finalists far less distinct, like composite rocker James Durbin or small-town gal Lauren Alaina, a 16-year-old country singer who grew increasingly camera shy over the season's run. Despite placing a distant ninth in the competition, the strong-voiced but otherwise traitless Pia Toscano received an inordinate amount of stage time, and even performed a new single. Toscano is the equivalent of the girl in high school that everybody falsely assumes to be popular because of her talent and attractiveness. That the franchise continues to back a singer who on paper is the perfect pop star—confident and photogenic, with a knack for striking the triumphant poses during big notes—but who in actuality is so utterly incapable of connecting with audiences speaks volumes about the rigidity that has made the once white-hot show passive viewing for much of its audience.

Of course, the "American Idol Live" tour isn't designed for the masses who casually dip in and out of the program. It's pure fan service for the "Idol" die-hards, and for that audience—mostly parents and their heavily glittered young children, as well as quite a few retirees, to judge from last night's crowd—the concert expertly recreated both the wholesome feel and the gross consumerism of the program (Ford commercials even preceded each half). There were also quite a few group numbers, including a profanity-free take on Cee Lo's "Forget You," a snappy version of Janelle Monáe's "Tightrope" and an opening production of Lady Gaga's LGBT anthem "Born This Way," an odd choice considering the show's squeamish attitude toward homosexuality.

There's an element of fantasy required to enjoy the "American Idol Live" tour, which treats singers who competed to become stars as if they are actual stars. The reality, of course, is that the tour marks the end of the limelight for most of these contestants—their last chance to perform that Rod Stewart song they sang on television that one time for a big audience before returning to obscurity. This week's concert listings give a sense of what may await even the luckiest of them: On Saturday, Aug. 6, Sanjaya Malakar, the notorious 2006 "Idol" finalist who created far more noise than any of this year's contenders, is scheduled to play a $10 concert at Shank Hall. It seems unlikely that many of the fans who supported him in 2006 will be there.
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