The Making of an Idol
By Bryan Buss
Being, basically, a teenage girl at heart, I'm prone to love pop music. Good pop music, mind you. No no-talent tarts with tits for me. So I was psyched about checking out Kelly Clarkson (having never seen American Idol, the show that launched her career) at a sold-out show at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles this week. Despite having a girl-next-door image'not a diva or bimbo veneer so many gays seem to admire'Clarkson has emerged as a gay favorite as evidenced by the number of homos in her audience. As the only Idol to become a bona fide pop star, Clarkson has released a number of great pop songs and two strong albums to both critical and commercial success. And hearing her perform live, it's hard to believe this girl is only 23. She's already a pro with a powerful, soulful voice, which she doesn't use to oversing'so when she really does belt it out, it's jaw-dropping. There's clearly no lip-synching here. This girl is the real deal.
The opening band was the Graham Colton Band, who performed solid middle-of-the-road rock ' la the Goo Goo Dolls (the tall, thin, dreamy lead singer even sounded eerily like Johnny Rzeznik). When Clarkson took to the stage (decorated fairly sparely'considering how so many pop stars use the stage like a circus to distract audiences from the lip-synching'with some velvet-looking throw pillows of various colors and gauzy banners in pastel, reminding me a bit of a maharajah's palace) with straight, blond hair and a half shirt, she looked like Tara Reid's less trashy sister. She opened with her latest hit, 'Since U Been Gone,' and though she didn't pull it off quite as well as I expected or hoped, she found her footing fast. Clarkson covered her hits (her current single, 'Behind These Hazel Eyes,' 'Miss Independent,' 'The Trouble With Love Is,' a rock version of 'A Moment Like This''which really works, though I would have liked the ballad version, too) and album tracks ('Just Missed the Train,' 'Where is Your Heart,' 'What's Up Lonely,' 'Already Gone,' 'Thankful,' fan fave 'Because of You,' which the girl wrote when she was just 16!). She even launched skillfully into a handful of songs by artists who had influenced her''Piece of My Heart' by bisexual rocker Janis Joplin, 'The Thrill is Gone' by B.B. King, and 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' by the Eurythmics, introducing older material to her younger fans, many of whom are under the age of 15. She even asked all the high schoolers to scream at one point (of course, my boyfriend and I did so, too) and the noise was deafening. The song that seemed to get the biggest response was 'Beautiful Disaster,' a song from her first album, Thankful, that she also placed on her second, Breakaway, as a live cut. The crowd went crazy, everyone knew the words, and her voice was so dead-on that that song alone was worth the price of admission. The only real drawback was at the end, when she sang one of her biggest hits, 'Breakaway.' She was distracted, signing autographs for fans near the stage. Signing autographs is all well and good, except that far more people were not getting autographs than were, so most of the audience were simply aware of her not being completely into the song. And then, unfortunately, she chose to introduce her band. Always gotta give props to the band, of course, but it's best to do so while you still have some momentum, not after you've finished your last song'especially when there's no encore. So unfortunately, we walked away remembering how distracted she was during one of the hits, and that there was no encore. The show would have ended stronger if she had saved 'A Moment Like This' for the encore and followed it up with 'Before Your Love,' which is a showstopper if there ever was one. But she's got time to grow and, with those pipes, it appears she has a long career ahead of her in which to do so.