So, Adam is theatrical. This is a given. It’s his background, it’s his first love and it informed his Glam Nation Tour in every aspect, from song order to costuming. And during his time on American Idol, he was called over the top and Bat Sh*t Crazy, or people were jealous of all the staging he got to do – the obvious “favoritism” he got from the producers.
But next to what we saw last night with James Durbin, Adam was a model of restraint and elegance.
We have all spent time refuting that claim of favoritism, although I actually think it did exist – just not from the producers. What Adam did was ASK. What would be the worst that would happen? “Sorry, Adam, we really can’t do the rotating camera thing.” “You can use the stairs, but we’re not going to light them.” “BLUE lights? Really? AND a chair?” Okay, this is sounding really dumb because none of those effects are expensive, difficult or time-consuming for the stage crew. Just writing them down makes me wonder where the BSC claims came from. On second thought, I know. It just wasn’t the staging.
Yes, though, I think there was favoritism. I think the stage crew and the band LOVED him and were willing to do whatever he wanted them to do – make lightning coincide with violins? SURE! Find him just the right chair? NO PROBLEM! Modernize “Born to Be Wild”? YES! Which is why they told him they had lifts and fog machines available for the finale – they loved him and wanted him to have all the neat toys. But that’s Adam’s personality and sweetness, and has nothing to do with the producers. (Later on, they let him bring his own lasers.) They also loved him because he challenged them to do their best. Just as the best competitor will lift up the others, the best performers lift up those around them to match them. The best want to play with the best.
But next to James, Adam got NOTHING. James got flaming pianos, and fog machines and comic opera costumes (Adam saved that for his own tour, but he’s also known for how he dresses) and world-famous guitarists and a DRUM-LINE. And everyone takes it as, “Look how insane James is! Look how he asks for this amazing, theatrical staging, straight from the visions in his own mind, and isn’t it great?”
Part of it is that people always do demand more, so after seven years of relatively plain staging – a microphone, a stool, the background on the screen, maybe a band – Adam’s use of what was available was surprising and original. But since Adam DID make the most of what was already there, subsequent performers needed extras, such as Crystal’s didgeridoo and Lee’s bagpipe – things that weren’t already there. And note that they got them, too. And after that, James needed to go even bigger and badder. There’s a reason Adam brought those lasers – even he needed to go a bit further in his return engagement. Although one has to note that he took it WAY down this year.
Here’s the real thing, though. Adam did the staging because he likes it and he’s good at it, and because it made him stand out and enhanced his performances, but if you play his Idol performances with just audio, you’re still blown away by his vocal ability. Adam recognizes that his voice is the main thing. He also knows that too much staging takes away from it. If you’re paying attention to the burning piano, you don’t hear the singing.
James has a terrific heavy metal voice. He’s also good for the real HARD rock. He wails it and it works. But once he gets down to a lower register or tries to sing anything with actual melody (such as “Uprising”), something gets lost and he sounds flat. Which is odd because there’s a pre-Idol video of “Baby, I’m Amazed” where he sounds pretty decent, and apparently his iTunes downloads are good, too. Maybe it’s just live performances, I don’t know, or being on the Idol stage.
And, honestly, while the effects and things do hide some of his vocal flaws, I think he IS doing them because he CAN – because he was told he could get whatever he wanted and, like a kid in a candy shop, he’s taking advantage of it. (Note, I think the same thing happened with Adam and FYE’s vocal effects. No one is immune.) That is, James is having fun. The thing of it is, James doesn’t have enough stagecraft to realize that it’s hurting him and making him seem ridiculous. That it’s just too much and distracting.
Adam has used the visual overload – it’s what happened in part for the AMA performance. He KNEW he was off-pitch, and was fighting to get back on through most of the performance, and then the staging was too complex (kid in a candy shop, again) and to top it all off, he FELL. So he just went with the whole thing, knowing the visuals (which I don’t think he realized wouldn’t play for a guy in prime time because his mindset was Zodiac) would distract from the rest. But Adam has stagecraft in his bones after all his years in theater and knows how to use it. He also learned a lot from that performance, and not just what flies on TV.
And it still all comes down to the fact that on Idol and the Idol tour and his own tour, Adam used the visual effects to enhance his performances, not distract from them. And that he never needed to use a drumline (or a set of bagpipes or a didgeridoo) to enhance the sound. He never wanted to distract aurally from his own voice, and never needed to.
James is young. He can be taught. Or he can stay where he sings the best.