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American Idols turn in an uneven symphony show

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LaKisha Jones, above in a 2007 show, performed with the WSO Friday.

GARY MALERBA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

LaKisha Jones, above in a 2007 show, performed with the WSO Friday.

For fans of the TV hit reality series American Idol, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest pops concert, Symphony Idol, should have been a dream come true.

Unfortunately, this American dream didn't materialize, going up in a puff of smoke despite all the players' best efforts.

Friday night's program of pop, rock and jazz classics, conducted by WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano, featured three former Idols from the popular show: LaKisha Jones (last appearing with the orchestra in March 2012), Haley Scarnato and Matt Giraud.

For those who keep track of these things, Scarnato and Jones were among the top 10 finalists, with the latter placing fourth in season 6. Giraud came in fourth in season 8.

After a peppy Symphony Idol Overture, the three vocalists took the stage for the opening number, Duke Ellington's It Don't Mean a Thing. There was so much reverb on their amplified voices, the show could have been called concert in a cave. Only the words of the rock-solid Jones were heard clearly over Scarnato and Giraud's swinging harmonies.

There were other challenges. This particular trio, selected by the producers for their obvious rapport with each other and sense of showmanship, have been touring the show for a while.

They've already appeared with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony and Spokane Symphony, among others.

But when a music stand is dragged onstage for Scarnato and Giraud while singing backup for Jones' I'm Every Woman from The Bodyguard, it's like, hello -- haven't they had ample opportunity to learn the material? The same sad stand remaining in place until intermission became a further distraction.

Admittedly, Canadian chanteuse Céline Dion's My Heart Will Go On, from Titanic, will always be a tough act to follow, inviting comparison and scrutiny with every note. Scarnato did her best, albeit with a country twang. The iconic ballad is rife with true emotion and the willowy singer never fully connected with its heartfelt message.

Having said all this, there were still highlights. Likely some of the mixed-generation audience remember Jones blowing the roof off two years ago for her rendition of Proud Mary. Well, Mary has gotten even prouder, with the dynamo performer shimmying and shaking -- and yes (move over, Miley), even twerking while seeming to channel soul queen Tina Turner herself.

Even with a suspected head cold, this former Flint, Mich.-born bank teller is a powerhouse who sells every song with her stratospheric pipes and an innate ability to communicate -- and more importantly, connect -- with her listeners.

Also showing her versatility, she later held the crowd rapt during the second half with the ballad I Will Always Love You, made famous by the late, great Whitney Houston. It would have been enough to have this Idol carry the entire show.

Giraud also convinced us Georgia really was on his mind in his convincing cover of Hoagy Carmichael's enduring hit, backed by a rhythm section. He dug hard into his bluesy piano solo while also displaying an impressive falsetto.

You don't really expect hecklers at a symphony concert, or usually polite audience members inspired to flail and dance wildly in the aisles. Yet we had both in this uneven, unusual concert, memorable for so many reasons.

Symphony Idol repeats at the Centennial Concert Hall tonight at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2014 B5

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