American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi has made her affinity for the word artistry known. During Idol performance nights, she throws the term around like she’s endorsing it. In fact, there are times on the show when it seems that she’d rather a contestant be a master of artistry than of being able to sing in tune.
But once upon a time, American Idol wasn’t about being a guy with a guitar or making an arrangement so original that the song is barely recognizable. Back in the early seasons of Idol, before this evolution occurred, the show was just about singing the ever-loving heck out of a good song.
Despite what insight Kara might have into the music industry, there is still a market for just plain awesome vocalization. The Timeless Tour, starring Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, which stopped in New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom last Wednesday night, was a throwback to these Idol days, as well as a throwback to the days when songs were merely meant to be sung. The concert was a musical journey through the popular songs of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Each decade featured solos and an extensive medley, as well as cute comedy bits about Clay’s sexuality and Ruben’s intimidating size.
When you rolled the whole thing together, it was hard to pinpoint a highlight for the show. The dominantly Motown 60s medley was a good vehicle to let Ruben soar, not just in voice, but in personality, which didn’t show up nearly as much on Idol as it does live on stage. Bridging the decades of the 60s and 70s, Ruben also gave a fabulous and relevant performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Me,” with a brief interlude of “What’s Going On?” Ruben’s introductory statement about how much these songs still mean today resonated through his voice.
The energy in the room only built as the 70s medley began. Everyone was on their feet right from the opening with “Night Fever.” Snippets from songs like “Turn the Beat Around,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” and “September” kept the dancing steady for the near ten minute duration of the medley. But Clay’s awesome belting of “More Than a Feeling” was the piece that moved any still seated audience members to their feet in a standing ovation.
The 80s began with a long televangelist skit in which Pastor Ruben tried to heal Clay of his “lackofrhythmitis.” Whether the disease was cured or not was unclear, but it didn’t matter as Clay concluded the bit with a moving rendition of “When I See You Smile.” Then the audience could get back to the dance party with the 80s medley. “Eye of the Tiger,” “Rhythm of the Night,” and “Footloose” were among the fun, feel good songs in this segment.
The 90s medley was mostly tongue in cheek and silly, with hits like “This is How We Do It,” “The Right Stuff,” and “Baby Got Back.” There were still some vocal gems hidden throughout that Clay, Ruben, and their backup singers, Casey Thompson and Quiana Parler, brought beautiful harmonization to, such as “End of the Road,” “I Swear,” and “One Sweet Day.”
After all, harmonization was what this tour really exceled at. There was the harmonization between the two stars of the show and the two backup singers, who got their share of solo time. There was harmonization between decades of music, all brought to life within one two hour period to please fans who, amongst themselves, span generations. And then there was the harmonization between former Idol competitors, between a winner and a runner up, who get along so well and whose fans respect them both so much, that the fact that they were once pit against each other is almost completely forgotten.
And all of these harmonies strung together make sweet, sweet music.
Catch Clay Aiken on tour starting this February promoting his latest album, Tried and True. Check out tour dates here!