“American Idol” appears to have legs. The third edition of Fox’s talent show continues to rack up impressive ratings. But will the performers launched by the show have similar lasting power? The current tour by last year’s winner, Ruben Studdard, doesn’t answer that question. It’s a reasonably paced hour, but Studdard is a bland, treacly performer who turns everything he sings into a homogenized, Hallmark Hall of Fame version of R&B. That his current single, “Sorry 2004,” has an expiration date can’t be a good sign.
A rotund, unthreatening teddy bear of a man — his body is as heavily padded as the “Idol” Wednesday night results show — Studdard has a honeyed tenor that doesn’t stray far from the style of Luther Vandross.
That underscores the biggest flaw of Studdard — and all the “Idol” performers, for that matter. For a show that showcases interpretive performers, very little emphasis is placed on interpreting lyrics. Instead, the singers are rewarded for steamrollering through songs with power, held notes and melismatic runs. They hit musical notes; they miss emotional ones.
It results in an evening that hits its emotional tone early in the diluted new jack swing of “Can I Get Your Attention” and “What If” and stays there. He tells the aud he wants to return to the slow dance, but his attempts to essay ballads range from his limp cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Daydreamin’ ” to the over-the-top bathos of Leon Russell’s “Superstar.”
The lame scripted dialogue, with its repeated calls not to “give up on your dream” and simple stage moves (miming a free throw for “Take the Shot,” conducting the background vocalists) reinforce the evening’s canned impression.
The only time Studdard breaks out is during a short gospel segment late in the show. His singing turns freer as the mannerisms drop away and he starts leading the crowd like a tent show preacher; it’s the only time all night he really connects with his material. That energy and enthusiasm remain on “No Ruben,” as he claims his newfound fame and fortune won’t change him. But it’s short-lived, as he returns to the overblown affirmation of “Flying Without Wings.”