American Idol Eve finds Kris Allen Rocking Vienna, Virginia


American Idol premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on Fox, making its debut after crowded seasons from X Factor and The Voice.  The broadcast and music juggernaut buckled several years ago when white guy songwriter syndrome hit the show.  A rotating cast of judges included lil’ Stevie Tyler from Aerosmith, Jenny from the Block, who perfectly leveraged her judging chair into new music opportunities, and even Ellen DeGeneres.

The watchable train wreck of brutal and honest Simon Cowell, goofy Paul Abdul and people pleasin’ Randy Jackson looks like a dream team in comparison.

Only Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest provide a bridge to the past.    And Ryan, ageless as his mentor Dick Clark, is now a whopping 38 years old after starting his Idol gig in 2002.   That means he is entering judge’s age territory, the spot reserved for 4o and 50 somethings judging semi-professional artists in their teens and early 20s.     Nicki Minaj of the indeterminate age around 30 is the baby of the new group.  Joining Seacrest, Nicki and Jackson (56) are 42 year old Mariah Carey and 45 year old Keith Urban.

American Idol changed American music.  Carrie Underwood rules Nashville like a Narnian frost queen while Kelly Clarkson has taken her big voice talents to dance pop and abandoned any attempt to define herself artistically.   They’re joined by artists who have had lasting success,  including Fantasia, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert.  And uh, well, that’s really about it right now.

And therein lies the problem.    American Idol’s ratings have been falling for five years. The show has been a top 5 show since 2004, but up until last year, you could have said “number one or number two since 2006”.   The competition has clearly taken a bite.  So have the familiar story lines.  But Idol’s biggest problem may be its appeal to the music buying masses.  Fans can undoubtedly tell these folks apart, but could you handle the task of putting songs or faces with the names Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips?   Your hint:  Scotty sings country.  Kris is country.  And Lee worked in a paint store, kind of like Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever.

Which brings us to Kris Allen at the strip mall, which is unfair since Jammin’ Java in the DC suburbs is an intimate 200 person club in the middle of one of the country’s most prosperous areas.  And while Carrie and Kelly play for 20,000 and Lambert and Hudson play for 2,000, Kris Allen didn’t sell out his 200.

He is a charming singer, a man you could listen to for a long time, and finding nothing offensive, be motivated by more than a tune or two.   And yet with two Top 20 singles to his credit, Allen dipped often into the Idol gimmick of re-interpreting popular songs.  David Guetta’s Titanium became a well done folk shuffle while medleys included songs like When Doves Cry and fun.’s We Are Young combined with George Michael’s Faith.   Allen’s band was in good form and augmented by a new member after the Idol winner broke his arm in a car accident several weeks ago and can’t play guitar.

Still, one looks at an artist like Allen with a max gross of under $6,000 for this gig, even counting Meet & Greet ticket upgrades,  and wonders if Idol built the wrong artist or the public is simply tired of Allen, Cook & Company’s pleasant tunes.   Allen is a smart performer as befits his veteran status, and watching any artist support themselves while living their dream is great.    nd Allen is still young enough to talk about remembering his father listening to Garth Brooks’ The River, a comment that made me feel older than Yoda.  Have a look at the video for a beautiful version a capella version of the song following this piece.

We’ve long ago stopped idolizing the winners.  Even the judges are suspect this year.

Perhaps Idol tumbles to become a Top 10 show, still an entertainment juggernaut.

But the competition’s winner from three years ago shouldn’t be playing a small venue four doors down from Jerry’s Subs.