Let’s just say I thought I knew what to expect when asked to cover the American Idol Live concert at American Airlines Center Sunday night, July 29, 2012.
I expected a nice stage show featuring America’s top new voices, some better than others. A show to be, dare I say, endured. That is, until my subject, McKinney’s hometown diva, Hollie Cavanagh, was to take the stage. What I didn’t expect was to love every single number, and every single performance turned in by every single member of the crew. From Erika Van Pelt’s rendition of Pink’s “Glitter In The Air” to Phillip Phillips’ anthem, “Home”, every performer had me on my feet, standing and clapping in appreciation of their talent and showmanship.
The show opened with the American Idol Season 11 Top Ten, sans winner Phillip Phillips, singing My Chemical Romance’s “Sing." My favorite part of this number was seeing the excited smile and little hand-waves from Hollie Cavanagh as she spotted her family members and friends sitting front row and center among the thousands of American Idol fans gathered in the big arena, where I’m sure she herself has taken in a concert or two. I can only imagine what a milestone this concert must have been for her.
Following the opening number, he of the beautiful hair, 17-year-old DeAndre Brackensick, got the crowd on their feet with the smooth reggae beats of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”. This was followed by McKinney’s own pop powerhouse diva Hollie Cavanagh and country crooner Skylar Lane’s version of Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It” which was then followed by a moving rendition of Pink’s “Glitter in the Air” sung by Van Pelt.
Joining Van Pelt after her solo were Hollie, R&B dynamo Joshua Ledet and Christian Rocker Colton Dixon for Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” With the audience on their feet, Heejun Han kept the party going with John Legend’s “Green Light”. He proceeded to whip the crowd into a frenzy when rapping and singing LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” along with Brackensick and Idol’s second place winner, Jessica Sanchez.
The men, minus Phillips, then took the stage to cover Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” before rocker Elise Testone electrified the audience with her set featuring Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Adele’s “Rumour Has It.”
As the audience caught its breath, the sharp collective scream of thousands of young girls went up as Dixon took the stage to cover Switchfoot’s “Meant To Live” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man." He also introduced his own song, “Never Gone” to the appreciative crowd.
The first act concluded with the whole group, minus Phillips, singing a pop medley of “Just the Way You Are” and “What Makes You Beautiful” by Bruno Mars and One Direction.
Sanchez opened the second act with her distinctively growly version of Beyonce’s “Best Thing I Never Had” and Prince’s “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” But it was her rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” along with Brackensick and Ledet that had the crowd back on their feet. From my vantage point, I was also treated to the sight of the stage-hands and roadies working it out, dancing their hearts out, as they too enjoyed the number.
There was no time to sit down before Country diva Skylar Lane took the stage to rock Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead” and Face’s “Stay With Me."
As Lane exited the stage, the crowd went wild as she introduced McKinney's Cavanagh, who with the sheer power of her voice pretty much blew the doors off the AAC with her version of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep." Hollie followed with Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break” working the stage for all it was worth and, dare I say, having fun while she was doing it. As I took in the flashing lights of the spectacular L.E.D. backdrop drawing huge dancing red and white hearts to the beat of the music, the thousands of cheering fans surrounding the stage, the power of Hollie’s voice, and the sheer joy she exuded in front of the hometown crowd, I felt tears of joy well up on her behalf. It wasn’t that long ago that I watched this same girl sing the National Anthem before a high school baseball game with half empty stands. What a difference a year can make.
After her stellar performance, Hollie introduced Ledet, who took us to church with his show-stopping version of the Bruno Mars fave, “Runaway Baby." He had us fanning ourselves, testifying and begging for mercy when he wailed James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”, then brought it home performing “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” with Sanchez, ala George Michael and Aretha Franklin fame.
And then, the moment we were all waiting for, Season 11 American Idol winner Phillip Phillips made his way to the stage amidst thundering applause and appreciation. The fan girls went wild as Phillips started his set with his unique covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Usher’s “Nice and Slow”. This was followed by a haunting duet of Damien Rice’s “Volcano” with Sanchez that was as visually pleasing as it sounded as the young singers stood far apart from one another as molten colored lights flowed behind them.
To end his set, Phillips rewarded the audience with his original song “Home” with Dixon and Brackensick on back-ups, to which he received a much deserved standing ovation.
The grand finale had the ladies pumping up the volume with Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” before the rest of the crew, even Phillips, closed the show with The Wanted’s “Glad You Came."
With 15 live shows under their belts by the time they played Dallas, and 30 or so to go, this young group of performers have had enough time to work out the wiggles, and get their sea legs on stage, and it showed. While I did expect to enjoy my top three or four favorites, I did not expect to be blown away by the entire Top Ten. This is a seriously talented group of entertainers and I look forward to following their careers.
Read on to learn more about what I expected and what I did not expect following the American Idol Live Concert at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
What I expected: After hearing the words “no press-credentials” at the proverbial 11th hour from American Airlines marketing, I expected to find myself swallowed up in a sea of screaming 10-year-old girls, somewhere between the upper rafters and the crow’s nest hugging the American Airlines Center ceiling.
What I didn’t expect: To find myself Row 2 on the floor, jumping, dancing, fist pumping, cheering and singing. I would like to thank Hollie’s family, especially Luke, for including me as a member of your family and friends.
What I really didn’t expect: To find an envelope with my name on it at will-call containing an After Show backstage pass courtesy of Hollie Cavanagh. Thanks, Hollie! Now, that is what I call going above and beyond the call of duty.
What I expected: For Elise Testone to slay Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” which she did. So hard. Next to the anticipation of seeing Hollie on the AAC stage, this was the moment I most looked forward to, and Elise did not disappoint.
What I didn’t expect: To come away a Heejun Han fan. Which I did. Did I miss the AI episode where he and Deandre rapped? They were awesome. Plus, for sheer showmanship with the ability to work the crowd with the wiggle of a hip, Heejun wins hands down.
What I expected: To see and hear way more of Phillip Phillips. Whether it be his chronic health concerns or Idol’s attempt to create the illusion that the majority of the show was in fact an opening act for their winner, his absence was duly noted. When he finally took the stage near the tail end of the presentation, he rewarded the audience with a five-song set, turning in a stellar P2 performance wrapped up in pinch-able dimples and the earnest musical concentration we’ve all come to love.
What I didn’t expect: To see the singers/contestants who placed in the 6 through 10 slots on stage as much as I did. Those kids worked their tail-feathers off, as in addition to their own solo and group numbers, they provided back-up vocals on almost every song.
What I expected: To walk away with a story for the folks at home.
What I didn’t expect: To walk away with an experience I won’t soon forget.
Top Photo (Courtesy of Michael Murphy): Hollie Cavanagh and Colton Dixon perform at American Airlines Center during the American Idol tour.
All photo gallery images courtesy of Michael Murphy.