WILKES-BARRE TWP. – The juggernaut that is "American Idol" just keeps rolling along.
Judges may come (hello, Mariah Carey) and judges may go (goodbye, Steven Tyler, J.Lo and Randy Jackson), but the televised singing contest shows no signs of slowing down. After 11 seasons, it is still one of the highest-rated TV programs of the year and it is still able to crank out future stars to join the ranks of past contestants such as Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert on the way to bigger and better things.
After seeing the 10 finalists from the past season in concert at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Thursday evening, it is a pretty safe bet this year's crop will keep the winning streak alive.
Headlined by ultra-popular champion Phillip Phillips and runner-up Jessica Sanchez, the top 10 from Season 11 brought the music of Adele, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars and even Led Zeppelin to Wilkes-Barre Township for a somewhat small but nevertheless very enthusiastic crowd.
After an opening number that featured the entire top 10 sans Phillips, eighth-place finisher DeAndre Brackensick was the first to the stage, electrifying the audience with Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster (Jammin')."
From there, it was a fast-paced, non-stop parade of almost-famous singers belting out the top tunes of today (and a few from yesterday). The road show is pretty much like the TV show, without the drama of the competition, of course. Ryan Seacrest was even there (via video) to introduce the finalists.
Tenth-place finisher Erika Van Pelt did an overly dramatic rendering of a Pink song called "Glitter in the Air" under a gigantic disco ball -- if I didn't know better, I would have thought the song comes from some highfalutin' Broadway show. Van Pelt was used much better later in the show as a background vocalist on songs such as Bruno Mars' "Runaway Baby" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," and on "Moves Like Jagger" along with Hollie Cavanaugh (fourth place), Joshua Ledet (third place) and Colton Dixon (seventh place).
After nice showcases by ninth-place finisher Heejun Han on John Legend's "Green Light" and Elise Testone (sixth place) on Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" and Adele's "Rumour Has It," the stage belonged to Dixon for three songs.
Hard to believe from the screams of those present that Dixon finished seventh, but he scored big with Switchfoot's "Meant to Live" before moving to the piano for one of his own songs ("Never Gone") and the Billy Joel classic "Piano Man." Colton told the screaming fans that he has signed a recording contract and will have an album out "really, really soon."
After the intermission, Sanchez took over for a great version of Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had," followed quickly by an equally impressive version of Prince's "How Come U Don't Call Anymore?" with Ledet and Brackensick on backing vocals. The trio then pulled off what may have been the highlight of the entire evening, doing "Proud Mary" Ike & Tina Turner-style.
Fifth-place finisher Skylar Laine followed with Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead" and "Stay With Me" by the Faces, before giving the stage over to Cavanaugh for "Rolling in the Deep" (backed by Testone and Van Pelt) and Demi Lovato's "Give Your Heart a Break."
Ledet scored big with great versions of Bruno Mars ("Runaway Baby") and James Brown ("It's a Man's Man's Man's World") and stuck around to join Sanchez on "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)."
Then came the moment many in the audience were waiting for -- first-place finisher Phillips, who came out with his acoustic guitar for a pumped-up version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." He followed with two more crowd-pleasers before treating the audience to his own "Home," ably backed by Dixon and Brackensick.
All 10 then took the stage together for the first and only time all evening for the finale "Glad You Came."