Runners-up find their way after "American Idol"
Katharine McPhee performed a homecoming concert of sorts over the weekend at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, opening with a 35-minute set prior to the headliner, trumpeter Chris Botti. She was glamorous in appearance, the blond dye-job on her recent album cover ditched for a short, natural brunette look, and she delivered the pitch-perfect articulation that wowed "American Idol" audiences in Season Five.
As if to remind everyone how she landed in the public eye, she sang one of her signature tunes from the show, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and the elegance and class with which she sang made it clear she has command of nicely trained pipes. She also reminisced about the Greek's place in her concert-attending history. It was the site of the first concert she ever attended. 1998. Christina Aguilera. Section B, Row D. It was a charming anecdote.
Yet in the time she was given onstage, she did not sell her new material in a way to get many in the audience to think of her as unique or substantial. Songs from her second album, "Unbroken," are largely middle-of-the-road pop with a equal glances at '70s singer/songwriters and contemporary country. Nearly all of them give her room her to emote, yet none connect with the showtune sensibility she brought to her season on "Idol." She only sings about two subjects -- love that got away and love that's here to stay -- and she has an odd proclivity to assuming a sideways stance while singing. She has yet to reveal an identity in song.
Her voice was one of the best of any second-place finisher in any "American Idol" year. Better still, she continues to improve. But moving on after finishing as the "Idol" runner-up may be one of the hardest tasks in show business -- accept your defeat, head out on a grueling tour, and then quickly record an album.
Winners can coast. It's up to the executives at 19 Entertainment and Sony Music to surround them with a team that will deliver a best-seller within a few months of the show's conclusion. Being No. 2 is similar, yet tougher: Should an artist reveal his or her true self, or try to fit the persona created by the competition?
Crystal Bowersox will record for 19/Jive after finishing the "American idols Live" tour that runs through 31 in Indianapolis, IN. That album is expected to be released this year. Bowersox, whose throaty vocal style and aggressive guitar playing became her signature, follows another runner-up who was also able to crack the "AI" mold, Adam Lambert. Like Lambert, she may be No. 2 but there will be more anticipation for her album than that of the winner, Lee Dewyze.
Lambert proved he had a plan when he auditioned. His show, on tour through Sept. 21 in Puyallup, WA, has been likened to a three-act musical theater piece. It's received positive reviews and has been selling out most of its dates.
Lambert succeeds because he delivers the image. He's performing songs that don't appear on his album, including covers and originals, but he has created an over-the-top glam show to surround his music. Unlike other artists, he's pulling in fans and holding their attention with spectacle rather than a hit single, a model that worked wonders in the 1970s and clearly still works in the '10s.
Contrast that with the two No. 2's who proceeded Lambert, David Archuleta and Blake Lewis.
Archuleta is still going the teen idol route, offering his new single "Something 'Bout Love" as a download on July 20 along with the opportunity to pre-order his next album, which does not yet have a release date. It will be an interesting trick to see if he can work his next release the way he did his first, connecting with an early teen fanbase and their mothers.
Like McPhee and Season Four runner-up Bo Bice, human beat-boxer Lewis was cut from his record deal after a single release that attempted to shoe-horn the singer in a pop idol mold. His follow-up, "Heartbreak on Vinyl," produced a dance club hit and sufficient demand to warrant printing the album on limited-edition vinyl that will be released Aug. 3. Now an indie artist, Lewis is embracing the concept of giving away music -- purchasers of the album get to download a digital copy, an unreleased track, 13 remixes of the single "Heartbreak on Vinyl" and free membership to his VIP Opendisc site. Releasing it on vinyl is Lewis' way to support independent record stores, not the most common cause among "Idol" contestants.
While Season Three runner-up Diana DeGarmo is doing musical theater, Bice is selling official bootlegs of his concert recordings and Season One runner-up Justin Guarini is playing gigs such as the West Virginia Italian Festival, many "Idol" trackers will be focused on the July 23 start of the Ruben Studdard-Clay Aiken tour in Asheville, NC.
It will be the first attempt by former "Idol" finalists to recapture a relationship built by television.
The duo, who battled in 2003, have 17 dates together and will perform some numbers as a duo. Aiken's last album was a collection of pop standards; Studdard's last was a collection of PG-rated slow jams. It sounds perfect for the casinos that have booked them. Their itinerary is at right.
23 - Asheville, NC - Biltmore Estates
24 - Jacksonville, FL - Florida Theater
25 - Melbourne, FL - King Center For Arts
26 - Clearwater, FL - Ruth Eckerd Hall
29 - Snoqualmie WA - Mountain View Plaza
31 - Reno, NV - Silver Legacy Casino
1 - Los Angeles, CA - Club Nokia
3 - Milwaukee, WI - Potowanami Casino
5 - Windsor, ON - Caesar's
6 - Chautauqua NY - Chautauqua Institution Amphitheatre
7 - Mashantucket, CT - MGM Grand Foxwoods
8 - Lancaster, PA - American Music Theater
10 - Hampton Beach, NH - HB Casino
11 - New York, NY - Hammerstein
12 - Verona, NY - Turning Stone Casino
13 - Hammond, IN - Horseshoe
14 - Biloxi, MS - Beau Rivage