‘American Idol’ finalists get ready to hit the road

[4 July 2009]

By Peter Larsen

The Orange County Register (MCT)

BURBANK, Calif. — Face to face at twin pianos, Matt Giraud and Scott MacIntyre strike the opening chords of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and playing in unison the two “American Idol” finalists start to sing the Journey classic.

They trade lines about small town girls and city boys, and as the song unfolds the rest of this year’s Top 10 Idols join in more or less in reverse order of their finish.

Michael Sarver and Megan Joy trade verses, then Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai, Allison Iraheta and Danny Gokey take their turns.

As the song nears its end, Adam Lambert lets loose with one of those high swooping runs that him enough support to make the finals and finish second.

And standing in the back, almost unnoticed in comparison to some of the bigger personalities in the room, is Kris Allen, the most modest of “Idol” champions, taking his turn in the song but leaving most of the attention to the nine singers he bested.

The American Idols Live Tour opens July 5 in Portland before heading south to Los Angeles on July 16 and Ontario a day later. As preparations for the 50-city started to wrap up, the Idol singers opened their Burbank rehearsal studio to a handful of reporters for a speed-dating-style round of interviews.

Rotating around the room in pairs, the Idol singers talked about where they’ve been — the whirlwind, life-changing months on the TV show — and where they hope they’re headed now that the Idol kiss has been bestowed upon them. A few even offered a sneak peek at what they’ll sing on tour, though others decided to keep that a secret for now.

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BIG BROTHER, LITTLE SISTER

Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta move around the room with the easy comfort of siblings, joking around and poking gentle fun at each other.

“I think both of us have wanted to do this for a long time,” says Allen, the soft-voiced 24-year-old from Conway, Ark. “For me since I was 13, and for Allison even longer.”

As champion, he automatically gets the biggest career boost, and says he’s currently working on picking songs for his debut album to come out later this year.

“We’re pretty much in the beginning stages, but I feel like it’s going to be a pop-rock thing, kind of what I did on the show,” he says.

Iraheta, whom the judges seemed to pick at week after week, sometimes more for her quiet personality than her big rock ‘n’ roll voice, also has an album deal, and is following much the same course as Allen now.

“It’s definitely going to have a rock edge to it,” says Iraheta, the 17-year-old from Los Angeles who finished fourth. “It was really hard having themes each week, so the album is going to be a lot more of me.”

The tour will take them out before more live fans than the show ever did, and both said the thought of that gives them a bit of anxiety from time to time.

“I’m scared,” says Iraheta, who has added streaks of purple and magenta to her already insanely red-dyed hair. “I’m superexcited, but scared.”

Allen, who could not be more down-to-earth if he was a farmer, says he’s looking forward to the opening night for the memories it will create.

“I think it’s going to be one of those moments that you’ll never forget,” he says. “Walking out there to all those people who are there to see you? It’s going to be special.”

What they’ll sing: Allen says one of his songs in the show will be the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” a switch from the version of “Come Together” which he did on the show. Iraheta says she’ll be reprising her TV performance of Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby.”

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ROCKER GLAM, TATTOOED MA’AM

Though Allen won the show, you’re forgiven if you forget that and think Adam Lambert did.

More than almost any Idol contestant before him, Lambert was the one you talked about: his far-ranging falsetto, his rock-‘n’-roll fashion, and an edgy musical style that left few watchers on the fence: you either loved it or hated it.

And so it was on press day, with Lambert probably the one Idol reporters wanted to talk to the most, which made you almost feel a little sorry for his interview partner, Megan Joy, the young mom from Utah with the tattooed arm and a retro-styled voice.

“I feel like I was preparing for this all my life,” Lambert says of the future that’s quickly unfolding for him. “I’m not a very patient person, so I kind of like the accelerated pace, that everything is happening all at once.

“It’s more instant gratification for me,” he says, grinning cheerfully while dressed in the kind of outfit you’d expect: a gray leather jacket with metal studs, silver snakeskin boots, hands adorned with multiple rings and black fingernail polish, along with earrings, a lightning bolt necklace and a variety of studded leather bracelets.

He’s in the studio when he’s not preparing for the tour — along with Allen and Iraheta, he’s the other Idol to have already inked an album deal. He’s in the media almost constantly — this week, disavowing the release of demo songs he did a few years before “Idol,” earlier this month on the cover of Rolling Stone, talking about everything from his music to his sexuality (he’s gay, but then he figured you’d already guessed that.)

“I don’t think it was surprising,” Lambert says. “I would assume most people knew, or assumed it. I didn’t try to hide it, I just didn’t’ want to make a big announcement (during the show). And the response has been really positive.”

For Megan Joy, finishing ninth gives her a shot at realizing a few dreams — an album, maybe acting or modeling too, she says — but so far all those plans are just tentative, things she says she’ll pursue further once the tour is done.

“I’m hearing things, I have some opportunities,” she says. “I love my life — it’s too fun!”

What they’ll sing: Lambert says he’ll perform a David Bowie medley of “Life on Mars,” “Fame,” and “Let’s Dance,” “arranged with an electronic sound mixed with the original style.” Megan Joy says she’ll sing Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own.”

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THE PIANO MAN AND THE DIVA

For Scott MacIntyre, the legally blind pianist from Phoenix, it’s hard to believe what Idol has done for him, but oh so wonderful that it has.

“I think the entire experience still feels like a surreal dream to me,” he says as he makes his way around the room with Lil Rounds, the R&B-styled belter from Memphis. “All of the fans coming up and giving you hugs, giving you kisses.

“The funniest thing is walking through a mall,” MacIntyre says. “If you walked 20 feet behind me you’d hear a murmur: ‘Scott, Scott ...’

“But it’s very humbling that people want to know you and to hear your music.”

Rounds described much the same reaction upon returning to Memphis, where she lives with her husband and three young kids.

“At first people will stare, like, ‘Do I know you?’” Rounds says. “And then they’ll say, ‘Where do I know you from?’ And I’ll say, ‘Um, maybe on “Idol” this year.”“

For MacIntyre, Idol is opening doors to all kinds of musical opportunities, not just an album (he’s released others on his own) but also for his songwriting and production skills.

Rounds says she’s focused on making and then selling a ton of records, though at home, the little ones sometimes have a hard time understanding.

“My daughter Tamia already told me when I told her I had to go back out on tour, ‘Mommy, why do you have to do that? I thought you were done.’” Rounds says.

“I told her, ‘Well, mommy has to go back and work a little more so your Christmas can be really fabulous this year,’ and then she says, ‘Oh, well go ahead!’”

What they’ll sing: Neither MacIntyre nor Rounds wanted to give up a song they’ll do on tour, though he said it will be mostly singer-songwriter material, with a touch of British pop, and she promised to draw heavily from the songbook of the leading ladies of R&B.

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THE ROUGHNECK AND THE WIDOWER

Michael Sarver barely made the Top 10 — he finished tenth, in fact — and so of all the Idols working around the room he almost seemed the most grateful to be there.

“Before we go on, I plan to go to the farthest seat from the stage, to get a sense of what it’s like,” says Sarver, who worked as a roughneck in a Texas oil field before making it on the show. “Because I think we need to see what that’s like, and make sure they have a good show. I really do.”

He is, though, a little nervous about his role as the first Idol to go on stage (they typically sing in reverse order of finish, saving Allen for last), especially the possibility that he might forget what city he’s in and blurt out the wrong name.

“I’m going to try real hard not to say the wrong city, but to God’s honest truth, I have thought about it a lot,” he says, laughing.

His partner for the day, Danny Gokey, a church music director from Wisconsin, at one point seemed like a likely candidate for the finals, before Allen passed him by, leaving Gokey to finish third.

Besides his strong voice, Gokey had a compelling personal story: his wife had died not long before he auditioned, and he wasn’t shy about sharing that story over the course of the season.

“I wouldn’t have changed it for anything,” Gokey says of his decision to be so open about his loss. “Because it brought me hope to talk about it.

“It contributed to my faith in God,” he says. “Because only he could take a bad situation and make it good. And I constantly hear messages from people about how they found hope or a reason to live again.

“I’m glad I was able to rise up and not be defined by the situation, but to use it to define myself.”

What they’ll sing: Gokey says he’ll do the late Michael Jackson’s “PYT,” while Sarver kept his songs secret, though he did say they’re numbers he didn’t do on the show.

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THE SINGING SURVIVORS

Both Anoop Desai and Matt Giraud used a few of their extra lives on the course of the show: Desai when the producers decided to have a Top 13 instead of 12, allowing him to make the finals, and Giraud when the judges used their veto power to save him from elimination.

And so they’re having fun now, joking around with each other, and generally acting like they can’t believe they’re still here.

“It’s insane,” Desai says. “Every day when we come to rehearse here we pass by the Kodak Theatre and the hotel where we stayed for Hollywood week.

“And every time we pass that hotel I think, ‘Wow,’ and it seems like such a different time (back then). I count myself lucky every day to be a part of this and to have my life changed like this.”

Giraud, who says it all feels like fun, never yet like work, agreed.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself,” he says, shaking his head in wonderment.

Both hope it leads to bigger, permanent careers in music.

“I want to be a pop star,” Desai says, “that’s what I want to do. I want to make music that people want to listen to and love.”

Giraud says he simply wants a regular life on the road and in the studio.

“My dream has not really come to fruition yet,” he says. “I feel like I got everything I wanted from ‘Idol.’ I got to play piano on stage, I got to meet the mentors.

‘“But I want to go out and play my music every night, to be in a club or a theater night after night,” Giraud says.

What they’ll sing: Giraud says he’ll do Ray Charles “George On My Mind,” while Desai says he’ll do Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/107632-american-idol-finalists-get-ready-to-hit-the-road/