There is something to be said for the teen idol. Though seemingly shallow, artists like Davy Jones, Leif Garrett and, most recently, the Jonas Brothers have introduced generations of teen and pre-teen girls to the world of popular music. Building that kind of early enthusiasm in a young audience is an important cultural function, a role that Jesse McCartney was born to inherit. His All-American good looks and rakish charm seem to tap into the psyche of young women on an almost primal level. Needless to say, his slick stage show was continuously drowned out by the shrieks and high-pitched screams of an infatuated audience.
Decked out in a sparkling, slate gray suit and gold-rimmed sunglasses, McCartney launched into the early portion of his set, which showcased the undeniably urban, Timberlake-lite sound of new disc “Departure.” The sonic update translates well onto the live stage mainly due to the exemplary drum and synth arrangements. Who knows how much of the set McCartney sings — he appeared to be lip-synching through much of it — but drummer David Haddon and keyboardist Gerald Haddon created a pulsating and dynamic frame that added a dash of excitement to the predictable pop song structures.
“American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks, though billed as a co-headliner, was cast in a subordinate role — opening for McCartney with a far less elaborate show. Sparks’ set list was an uneven hodgepodge of material culled from the “AI” competition and her self-titled debut. The young audience seemed to lose focus during some of the cover tunes (Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Alicia Keys’ “Fallin'”) and the thinner moments from her album were painful to behold (“Freeze” “Virginia is for Lovers”). Backing band played competently, but did not add much in the way of interesting arrangements or captivating solos. Sparks excelled during the mid-tempo ballads, notably on hit-single “No Air.”
McCartney and Sparks joined forces for the last song of the night, a frolicking rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”