American Idols show off talents at the Coliseum

by Lauren Cartwright

‘“American Idol’” may be a popular culture machine driven by commercialism, advertising dollars and the evil genius of Simon Cowell, but I loved every minute of the ‘“American Idol: Season Four’” concert Sunday evening.

The top-ten finalists of American Idols made their only North Carolina appearance on the 41-stop summer tour. The Greensboro Coliseum wasn’t sold out, but there were enough bottoms in the seats to call it a great turnout. I think that at $35 to $45 a ticket a few thousand people at a concert is excellent effort for a group of twenty-somethings ‘— many of whom toiled in showbiz obscurity less than a year ago.

Before the show, the lobby of the coliseum held different types of fans. There were middle-aged moms trying to keep up with their tweens who pulled them in many directions. There were booths set up in each corner of the lobby. One area held a dance stage where college-aged men and women in black T-shirts with ‘“American Idol’” blazed across the back were giving dance lessons. A karaoke machine occupied another corner, where people were doing their best William Hung impersonations ‘— perhaps inadvertently.

Jill Clarey, wife of YES! Weekly Editor Brian Clarey, and I stepped into the concession loop to the smell of funnel cakes and burned French fries, and even more people milling around looking for their seats, buying some of the Idol merchandise, or waiting for family members who were in the restroom. This was the case with Robert Joyce, a forty-something white man holding his wife’s jacket. I thought he looked out of place at this pop concert, so I reasoned he’d be a good person to talk with. Robert, of Boonville, said he brought his wife because she wanted to see Carrie Underwood, the current winner of ‘“Idol.’” His wife joined us and said that she’d seen Carrie perform not too long ago in Nashville at the CMA music festival Fan Fair’— a week filled with country music concerts and meet-and-greets. The wife said, ‘“Be looking out for Carrie’s single, ‘Aprils Fools.”” I promised I would be. Personally, I’m more of a Nadia Turner or Bo Bice person, but I’ll listen to them all.

Jessica Sierra, the first Idol booted off the show, started out the show with lots of hip shaking and gyrating ‘— a little much for the middle school crowd. Next up was Anwar Roinson, the Bob Marley-looking music teacher who was so sweet he gave me a toothache last winter. He slowed the show down a bit, dedicating his set to the late Luther Vandross.

Constantine Maroulis, the sultry singer from New York who was often criticized by pop culture pundits for his hypnotizing gazes deep into the camera lens, captivated the room more so than any of the other early performers.

I figured his craziest fans would be the 12-year-olds with their parent’s digital cameras, but in fact some of the scariest, screaming, photo-snapping fans were the forty-something women. A burly black security guard was trying to regulate the aisle that people were running up to get closer to the stage, but lost control of the females soon into the second act.

Constantine always struck me as creepy on the show, but in person he was very charismatic. He covered the jazzy classic, ‘“My Funny Valentine’” and Queen’s ‘“Bohemian Rhapsody.

Fourth up was Nikko Smith, baseball great Ozzie Smith’s son, who was added to the list of idols after Mario Vasquez dropped out near the final stretch. He came out donning a white jacket with an airbrushed ‘“Nikko’” on the back. He sang Stevie Wonder’s ‘“Part-time Lovers’” and a Justin Timberlake cover with the smoothness of Usher, yet not quite the rhythm of JT himself. But Nikko can dance a mean Robot.

Scotty ‘the Body’ Savol was the last Idol up before intermission. He was as laid back as ever, making me question once again why he made it as far in the competition as he did.

During the break, I took a chance to look around the auditorium, which held just as many adults as children. I also contemplated the amount of money that was being made at this show. At $45 a ticket, a family of four could easily spend over $200 for the evening out.

Nadia Turner, who was booted, in my opinion, too early in the competition rocked the house, taking the stage in a short, army-patched jean dress, toting an electric guitar, and sporting her wiry ‘fro. Halfway through her set she stripped off the dress, revealing an even shorter black cocktail dress, jumping and dancing across the stage, inviting everyone to join in her party.

Vonzell Solomon was next, wearing a canary yellow evening gown, and as always, acting her elegant self. She sang an Alicia Keys cover along with her Idol favorite, ‘“I’m Every Woman.’”

Anthony Federov, a blond, energetic young man with a Michael Bolton-esque appeal strutted his stuff on stage to ‘“Every Time You Go Away.’” One of my least favorite Idols, he had many women swooning in their seats, and even a few pre-pubescent girls tearfully pledging their love to him on handmade posters.

The final two performances were the ones I believe most of the crowd was here to see, judging by the homemade T-shirts, signs and screams bouncing down from the balconies.

Bo Bice jogged out on stage clad in a long-sleeve t-shirt, jeans with strategically cut holes and a pair of shades that would make Bono jealous. Bo was a great performer, sticking close to his rock roots, covering ‘“I Don’t Wanna Be’” and the song fans have come to see as his anthem ‘— Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘“Sweet Home Alabama.’”

Carrie Underwood came out last, and sang all country, the genre that best suits her abilities. She and Bo also sang a duet of Rascal Flatts’ ‘“The Broken Road.’” Carrie’s voice seemed a little strained, but the crowd was still eating her up and she proved once again her American Sweetheart status with an appreciative speech to all the fans who supported her.

After an encore with all the Idols singing ‘“Lean on Me,’” Jill and I were invited to a meet-and-greet after the show. We thought it would be a stiff line of people with the Idols sitting at a table, signing poster after poster without individual face time, but it turned out much differently. The Idols came in a few at time and fans just sort of gathered around them, thrusting out items to be signed. I was a little nervous, since these were the most famous people I had ever meet, but all the ones I talked to were very nice. The biggest thing that struck me was that they were all so miniature. Tiny, even. On my TV at home and on stage they all have this towering presence that makes them all seem like giants, but in reality standing at five feet four inches myself, I was as tall as most of them, even some of the guys. Anwar probably weighed a buck twenty-five and I think I could have thrown him 10 feet.

Constantine, who to me rated very high on the creepy scale, was the most statuesque and very willing to take time with each fan.

‘“He’s the nicest guy in the whole world,’” said Eileen Armenante, a Greensboro resident who was once the neighbor to Constantine’s family in the New Jersey town where he grew up. She said: ‘“We’re his local family.’” He spent a few minutes with his old friends, seeming glad to see a familiar face.

When I got a chance to talk to Armenante, she called out to him a few feet away: ‘“Constantine, I’m telling some of your secrets. She’s with the press.’” Looking a little anxious that Eileen might pull out pictures of him as a child in the bathtub, he nervously laughed it off. Eileen said she knew him before he went by Constantine, alluding that he was once embarrassed by his Greek name.

Jill and I waited in line to talk to a few of the Idols. They all seemed to appreciate the complements. Nadia Turner took the time to turn back to Jill after talking to another group of fans and thanked Jill again for her compliment.

The humble and friendly atmosphere in the meet-and-greet was a good experience for a first timer back stage. Not yet jaded by their fame, the Idols willingness to take time and listen to each fan went a long way in a roomful of mere mortals.