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ISSUE 117 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/30/2004

Clarkson, Aiken idolized

By Brigit McGuire
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 30, 2004

Thousands of screaming teenagers. Hundreds of overpriced souvenirs. Six gratuitous key changes. Three fresh-faced, cynical Oles. Two American Idols.

On April 16, three fairly musical St. Olaf students -- representing the bachelor of music major, the Cantorei Choir and the St. Olaf Band -- left campus in their best teenybopper tops and glitter makeup, prepared to scoff at some of the newest representatives of the pop-music world.

Destination? The "Independent Tour, in which Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson -- made famous by the popular reality TV show "American Idol" -- showcased their bubblegum-pop repertoire before fans whose phone-in votes brought about their initial success.

As the three students representing St. Olaf took their seats in the crowded stadium of the Xcel Energy Center, they were dissonantly greeted by the opening act, Beu Sisters.

The seeming claim to fame of this group was their ability to perform endless gyrations in skimpy tank tops while failing to blend vocally or remain on pitch. For the three Oles in the audience, the situation looked grim.

Luckily, hope materialized in the form of the backup singers for Clay Aiken's set, who began the cover of Mister Mister's "Kyrie Eleison." The crowd rose to its feet as Clay's powerful pipes soared through the Center. Entering from the audience, Clay made his way to the stage through thousands of screaming teenyboppers, soccer moms and three (now excited) Oles.

Aiken performed a diverse set of music that included selections from his recent album, "Measure of a Man," as well as covers of artists ranging from Sting to Prince. His warm, winning voice wrapped around the notes with ease, showcasing his impressive range.

Aiken's musical choices -- especially a medley of covers in which he ridiculously embellished several other artists' songs -- seemed like musical grandstanding. Overall, however, his performance went off without a hitch, and he more than won his audience over with his undeniable vocal talent and boyish Southern charm.

Kelly Clarkson's set came next, and she, too, gave a winning performance. Particular highlights included a slower, piano accompaniment-only version of "Beautiful Disaster," as well as a new song from her second album, "Don't," which spoke to the millions of people who have ever experienced unrequited longing in supposedly platonic relationships.

Clarkson was at her best in these slower, contemplative moments. Her fans know she can belt, but in this concert, Clarkson showed them that she can connect with them on a personal level of shared emotion and experience.

Although the cynical St. Olaf musicians had come to the Independent Tour expecting to have fun with Clay and Kelly, they had not expected to be impressed with the Idols' musical integrity. Yet, in the end, even they, musical Oles that they are, had to admit that the two displayed commendable vocal technique in a genre that is too often tainted with misguided attempts at vocal agility and sexual affectations.

Their musicality, combined with their approachable, winning stage personalities, made Clay and Kelly's concert an event worthy of the musical Oles' time.

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