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Some Time Among the "Idols"

By admin Published: August 23, 2009

The "American Idol" tour came through Cleveland today, and I ambled up to the press event this afternoon. A few notes about how it worked, and what came of it, after the jump.

I had interviewed Danny Gokey awhile back for an advance story on the tour, which ran in Thursday's Beacon Journal (and is on Ohio.com), so I could have taken a pass on today's event. But this was still an opportunity to meet other performers. And there is always insight to be had from sitting in the same room with someone, as well as a chance to become a face to a performer I may have to interview again down the road. Not that I assume I would be remembered; in fact, considering what these young people have to go through, I'd be impressed if they remembered much of anything today.

They had ridden into town from Pittsburgh today, then had various business to do, including interviews and a meet-and-greet, then had the concert and finally were going to hit the road to Columbus tonight. Tomorrow will be a day off before they play in Columbus on Tuesday night, but it's still a bit of a grind. "It's what we do every day, the same routine," Allison Iraheta said. "Everything's the same." There's lots of time sleeping on the bus, or watching things. Anoop Desai mentioned they had been watching the first season of "True Blood," Michael Sarver recalled "Step Brothers."

This press event today lasted about an hour. Five of the performers -- Desai, Sarver, Iraheta, Adam Lambert and Scott MacIntyre -- met with reporters in round-robin fashion; I was seated at a table and the performers came to me, or to other tables with other reporters. They were unfailingly nice folks, very easy to talk to, and consistently interesting. It's an awkward process on both sides, since they are repeatedly asked some of the same questions in short order, and I was at once trying to cover some of the same ground with each (plans post-tour, music they're listening to), but also to pay attention to what they had to say, so it's not all a formality. Still, it offered a sense of who they were beyond the confines of "American Idol," and each in different ways made clear that what you saw on TV wasn't a full portrait.

For one thing, seeing them in person is a reminder of how young they really are -- at least, young from my gray-haired point of view. Very mature, very composed (although also freely bantering and rough-housing with each other) but still young. And they can see a big world stretching ahead of them; 'Noop's moving to LA to further his music career, Adam's album should be out in November; Adam, Allison and Scott all talked about writing songs.

And, for the old guy here again, there's a music gap. "Idol" traffics so heavily in songs recognizable to a wide range of viewers -- which means a sizable dose of oldies. Their own taste is, as you would expect, strongly contemporary and wide-ranging; Scott noted that on the show he had been pegged "the adult-contemporary guy," not long before talking about his fondness for Jimmy Eat World and "punk pop."

Each interview was no more than 10 minutes, but you can gather a lot of string in a pretty short time, especially when you and the person you're talking to are both focused and used to the system. (I remember years ago doing a rapid-fire interview with an actress in which we covered a lot of ground very quickly. When we finished and I noted how swiftly it had gone, she said, "Do you know how many of these I've done?" And she was just talking about that show, on that day.) Now the problem is to figure out what I'm going to do with the information. I hadn't really planned to do a full print story, but there may be something there. If nothing else, I'll do some themed notes here.

Today's theme: What are you listening to these days?

Anoop Desai -- Jazmine Sullivan's latest album, the new Maxwell, Keri Hilson. "The music that she writes -- a lot of it is in my vein, but what makes it is the production. ... As a singer on the show, you don't get to experiment a lot with the production, and that's part of the sound I'm looking for."

Allison Iraheta -- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Keisha Cole, Kings of Leon.

Michael Sarver -- "Been listening to Robin Thicke. I love his soul. A lot of Rascal Flatts. A lot of Michael Buble. He relaxes me. ... That's why it's interesting that anyone thought they could pin me down to one genre." Still, he plans to focus on country for the time being, although he's aiming for country with a dose of soul.

Adam Lambert -- Peaches, Lady Gaga, Muse, IAMX. "He's a British artist. He's amazing. ... He used to be lead singer for the electronic group the Sneaker Pimps. He's had a couple of solo albums out and they're great. ... The production's really interesting. It's electronic but it has an organic-ness to it. It's melodic and vocal at the same time. ... It's kind of dark and theatrical but yet there's a beat to it."

Scott MacIntyre -- Jimmy Eat World, Matt Nathanson ("someone I just discovered"), John Mayer and "I'm listening to Scott MacIntyre. I do that a lot. ... I released six independent CDs before 'American Idol' and they're still floating around out there." He also has some new tracks on his MySpace page.

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