Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Aiken steals the show

Other 'Idols' perform admirably but runner-up on top

By Mandy Jenkins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard performs on Sunday night at the U.S. Bank Arena.
(Leigh Patton photo)
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Clay Aiken may not be the American Idol, but he is America's sweetheart, hands down. He owned the audience at U.S. Bank Arena before ever stepping on the stage Sunday night as part of "American Idols Live."

Even though the audience greeted Charles Grigsby, Julia DeMato, Kimberly Caldwell, Rickey Smith, Carmen Rasmusen, Kimberly Locke, Trenyce and TV show winner Ruben Studdard with exuberant screams, their hearts belonged to Aiken. Those cheers moved from exuberant to deafening the moment the geek-chic charmer appeared on stage to sing the soaring "This Is the Night."

Trenyce, Locke, Aiken and Studdard all have star quality. And each has grown in stage presence since the TV show, making the concert - complete with talented backup band and a multimedia presentation - more than just the overblown talent show it could have been.

The first five performers were all solid. The problem is, Grigsby sounds like Usher, Rasmusen like Mandy Moore, Caldwell a bit like Avril Lavigne and so on. It isn't that they aren't talented, but none has a unique sound.

Trenyce was the first performer to wow the audience, rocking the house with the rock gospel "Proud Mary."

Then Locke did a powerful cover of Natalie Cole's "Inseparable." Both have the voices for this music and seem to have the ability for more impact, given the right material.

Studdard's classic sound, however, is already being wasted. His rendition of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" proved he won the competition because of a voice made for an older R&B sound, but judging from his upcoming single "Can I Get Your Attention," it seems the industry execs are intent on making him into a new R. Kelly. The song was utterly common, complete with hometown shout-outs, rap riffs and empty lyrics.

Despite the occasional cheese, the three-hour show managed to keep both grandmas and grandkids interested by capitalizing on the fan-friendliness of the TV show. These were TV heroes, live in the flesh, and they kept their images to a tee.

Maygan Eldridge, 14, of Bellbrook, came to the concert armed with a homemade Ruben T-shirt and begged anyone who would listen for backstage passes.

"Ruben just seems so sweet, I'd give anything to meet him," she exclaimed. "I voted for him, like, 20 times."

Eldridge came out to meet her "Ruuuben," and she'll definitely buy his record when it comes out. She's exactly who this show aims to please. It succeeded admirably.


E-mail mjenkins@enquirer.com

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