Watching the "American Idol" tour concert Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena, I couldn't help but paraphrase Bruce Dickinson (aka Christopher Walken as the "Don't Fear the Reaper" record producer) on "Saturday Night Live." I thought, "I'll be honest. ... Fellas, it was sounding great. But I could've used a little more Erika Van Pelt."
Granted, I am a little biased, since Van Pelt has local roots. The 10th-place "Idol" finalist is from South Kingstown, R.I. She sang with the Chorus of Westerly as a kid and performed at the Sun's Wolf Den and Lucky's Lounge as an adult.
But she also was, on Sunday, simply stunning on her one solo. Yes, only one solo! Gyp! She stood still in front of a microphone stand and, with minimal musical accompaniment, hushed the arena with her take Pink's "Glitter in the Air." She avoided what some other "Idol" contestants do — project their lyrics at top volume and delight in vocal acrobats. Van Pelt seemed to feel the emotion of each line, conveying it all with her smoky, character-rich voice.
She did turn up for group numbers — "Moves Like Jagger," for instance — and to sing background vocals on other songs, including Elise Testone's fiery "Rumour Has It."
Van Pelt issues aside, what amazed me was how much these "Idol" concerts have improved since the Carrie Underwood-Bo Bice version I saw back in the day. That infamous show felt slapped-together and sloppy.
The current concert was a slickly produced piece of entertainment product. The choice of songs were a crowd-pleasing lot, and the pacing was expertly controlled. The performers weren't organized just based on when they were voted off the show; instead, they were worked into various parts of the concert. Production values were fairly high, from costumes to lights. (But, holy smokes, whoever designed the video graphics and the light show must have ADD. Fortunately, they both settled down a bit for concert's second half.)
What the show didn't have was any great chit-chat from the performers. Most of it involved their saying hello to Connecticut and asking if, in fact, Connecticut was ready to party.
Some other notes:
Whither Phillip Phillips? This year's "Idol" winner didn't come onstage till two hours — two hours! — into the concert. (There was an intermission in there, but still.) He easily had the most polished set and the most confident musical identity. He ran through songs from "Superstition" to "Somebody That I Used To Know" to his own hit single "Home." Phillips managed to avoid group numbers till the very last one in the show, when he looked more than a little awkward singing "Glad You Came."
Joshua Ledet killed it Sunday night. Powered by his pealing vocals and magnetic stage presence, his performances of "Runaway Baby" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" wowed the joint.
Deandre Brackensick and Joshua almost upstaged Jessica Sanchez when they acted as her backup singers for "Proud Mary." Their recreation of the signature Tina Turner dance moves were a riot — and spot-on.
Heejun Han seemed to have wandered in from amateur night at some local bar. Even one solo for him was too much.