BY HOWARD COHEN, hcohen@MiamiHerald.com
American Idol is easy to champion on TV. Yet its contestants are, all too often, just as easy to forget before the inevitable summer tour of the Top 10 finalists comes around just a couple months after a winner is crowned in May. (Michael Sarver, you were on Idol this season? Who knew?)
The formula was upset a bit in its eighth season -- a year forever to be known as Adam's World.
Of course, we mean Adam Lambert, 27, he of the rubbery pelvis, mascara and polarizing multi octave range and classic rock god moves that all combined in a perfect pop storm to land him on the covers of Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly even before Idol crowned the safer, Disney-approved Kris Allen its winner.
Adam, who finished second, was nonetheless the star of the eighth American Idols Live Tour Wednesday night at Sunrise's BankAtlantic Center.
Base this observation partly on his stellar performance. Adam, who always knew how to make an entrance on TV, didn't disappoint as he exploded with Whole Lotta Love, his convincing Led Zeppelin cover. He brought shivers on Mad World again and he concluded his set with a David Bowie medley that went from space (Life on Mars?) to rave on a clubby Let's Dance, complete with PG-13 hip thrusts.
Also, rank Adam the undisputed star by the decibel level in the arena from moms and daughters any time the San Diego rocker's image flashed on one of the view screens above the bare stage.
But what ultimately made this version of the annual summer cheesefest the best and most entertaining Idol tour to date was its shocking lack of train wrecks. Everyone, from the lower rung who performed in the night's first half, to the top finalists, upped their game and performed with confidence. The smarmy corporate commercials were fewer, too.
As always, Idols Live features the finalists performing in reverse order. Let's judge:
• Michael Sarver, the Texan oil-rigger, had the thankless job of opening the show and was in decent voice on his two songs. But his exhortations to rouse the crowd -- ``We don't go to parties to get to sit down'' -- didn't convince too many to shake their $35 programs or Adam T-shirts.
• Megan Joy, who took to cawing like a bird on TV when things went awry, was close to tolerable on her Corrine Bailey Rae and Amy Winehouse covers, even though it's a truism that if a Paris Hilton doll with a head cold could sing it would sound like Megan.
• Scott MacIntyre, who is legally blind, was amusing when he reminded the audience of Idol host Ryan Seacrest's infamous high-five. ``It was the high five heard around the world,'' Scott quipped. But the whiny, self-important quality that always proved his downfall returned when Scott mocked Idol judge Simon Cowell. That said, Scott sang better live Wednesday than he ever did during the competition.
• Lil Rounds also sounded more in tune than we'd heard from her before on her forceful Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys numbers, but she went too far when she haughtily announced her intentions of doing Beyoncé's Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) -- ``When I told my production team I wanted to do this song'' -- and then ran out of wind in the vocal department. She should have put a lid on it.
• Anoop Desai can sing ballads, like his opening Always on My Mind, as well as anyone. But there's a crassness under the surface, revealed during his ill-advised Bobby Brown My Prerogative cover and a later group performance that will keep him an also-ran. ``I'm hopeful I'll be back here in a year with a tour of my own,'' he said. Don't count on it.
• Matt Giraud, one of three who played piano on the tour, was the night's biggest surprise. On TV, Matt was a subpar Justin Timberlake. On tour, he transformed into a young Billy Joel with an exponential improvement in his vocal strength, and the ferocity and dexterity with which he attacked his piano on Hard to Handle brought to mind early Joel.
• Also fantastic, 17-year-old Allison Iraheta, who put Pink's angry (and adult) So What across to the teens in the house and embodied its lyrics -- ``I'm a rock star; I've got my rock moves'' -- and then delivered a flawless Janis Joplin song, Cry Baby. Allison sounds like she's smoked a carton of cigarettes while on an all-night bender singing Joplin records and The Rose soundtrack. These are good things. Allison and Adam also reprised their Foghat Slow Ride cover after his set and it scorched, as expected.
• Danny Gokey worked his widower angle once again with schmaltzy reads of Rascal Flatts tunes. The good news is he sang them well enough, moved with more agility than he displayed on TV and everyone knew his set was soon to give way to Adam's.
• Finally, before the closing group number of Journey's inescapable Don't Stop Believin', winner Kris Allen had his turn and he sang his season's highlights -- Heartless, Ain't No Sunshine and switched off between piano and guitar.
Naturally, it was anticlimactic compared to what had transpired moments before, but in his warm fuzzy and still ambitious way, Kris was likable and helped make this a night of slick musical entertainment you could leave feeling good about.
Caption: American Idol season 8 winner Kris Allen (left) and finalist Adam Lambert during Idols Live Tour at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. Photo by ANDREW ULOZA.