The case for “American Idol’s” decline into irrelevancy -- besides its generally sagging ratings, frequent personnel changes and struggling contestants -- could have easily been made at its annual summer tour, which stopped in Los Angeles on Thursday.
A showcase of that season’s batch of contestants, the tour has traditionally been the final cycle on the “Idol” machine. Finalists are given another boost of publicity and the most recent year’s victor gets to tease some post-show work.
Sadly, Thursday’s show was a grim reminder of how far “Idol” -- which for so many years was literally the biggest thing on TV -- has fallen. Once a glossy spectacle that played to arenas across the country, this year’s show was anchored at the more intimate Greek Theatre.
This was significantly better than the casinos and state fairs that the finalists have been playing this summer, but a reach from recent years at the 7,000-plus capacity Nokia Theatre, where the show’s glitzy finale is taped (and worse, Staples Center from the tour’s heyday). And the downgrade in venue size was even more evident by the anemic crowd.
More than a quarter of the Greek’s approximately 5,900 seats were masked off and the crowd was an uneven mix of excited kids, bored parents and AARP members (no joke, there were commercials before the show).
But the nine finalists (country crooner Dexter Roberts dropped off due to illness) tried in earnest to make the best with what they were given – and that wasn’t much. There was no live band onstage, and for a show that’s long been lampooned as a glorified karaoke contest, the move felt ironic.
Backing tracks aside, the staging was simply too overwrought for the Greek’s infrastructure.
A massive video screen, which looked like it was recycled from the show, completely swallowed the stage, with a trio of platforms and lighting rigs taking up even more space. It was a pointless addition considering Ryan Seacrest or the judges didn’t even bother to film greetings and contestants were forced to introduce one another as they waited for sidemen to cue up their tracks.
Clips of the contestants that were already seen during the show's run were screened, alongside basic graphics that made Thursday’s show look like a flashy high school musical. The whole thing was uncomfortably embarassing, especially for those who had gone to previous tours.
During the two-hour show (there was an intermission) the finalists plowed through the covers and few originals the audience had already seen them do on the show.
Majesty Rose pulled off “Tightrope” with gleeful cheer. Malaya Watson delivered a stunning take of “When I Was Your Man” at the piano (thankfully a number of contestants were able to play instruments). CJ Harris used the venue’s intimacy to his advantage with a moving take of “Gravity.” Jena Irene reminded the audience of her superstar potential with her solo set.
But memorable moments were scarce, as several finalists opted to dial it in. This was clearly the case for show favorites Alex Preston, Jessica Meuse and Sam Woolf, who all looked like they’d have rather been elsewhere while they were onstage.
The show’s frustrating apex came with winner Caleb Johnson spending his set on songs he played on the show and not previewing his just-released debut, “Testify."
Johnson's album was at least promoted in a video segment and available for purchase at the merch booth. A few fans even hoisted it in the sky during his set, but even that felt like a consolation.
Twitter: @GerrickKennedyCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times