RALEIGH -- Wednesday night, a gamut of show-business possibilities played out on stages across the Triangle. Raleigh's NC Museum of Art had a show by country-rock singer Lucinda Williams, whose current balance of respectable commercial success and critical respect would be the envy of any artist. In Chapel Hill to the west, meanwhile, the much smaller nightclub Local 506 had Sanjaya Malakar -- still trying to wring what he can out of a seventh-place finish on "American Idol" four years ago.
And in between, Raleigh's RBC Center played host to the official "American Idol" concert tour, starring 11 performers who would all like a career arc closer to Williams than Malakar. Years from now, maybe some of this year's finalists will get there. But while these kids seem likable enough, chances are good that this is the last you'll hear of most of them.
If nothing else, the "American Idol" tour represents one last victory lap within the show's protective cocoon before the participants scatter to the stages of cruise ships, casinos, state fairs or whatever other fate awaits. A few of them should just head in that direction and get it over with, especially this year's crop of guys.
Paul McDonald was once again a black hole, especially when he skipped. Casey Abrams should be forbidden from ever again attempting any kind of scat/beatboxing, upon pain of death. Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine" is a song that's almost impossible to ruin, but James Durbin certainly gave it the ol' college try. And warbly ol' Jacob Lusk proved yet again that he is not, repeat not, the second coming of Luther Vandross.
As for the gals, Pia Toscano came across better live than on television (while also showing impressive balance on heels that looked like a couple of broken ankles waiting to happen). Then there's Lauren Alaina, this year's runnerup, who has a decent voice but almost no presence. Third-place finisher Haley Reinhart showed more vocal prowess and charisma than the rest of the field combined; it was interesting that she, rather than Alaina, got the penultimate performance slot.
Of course, this year's big question mark is what will happen with Garner homeboy Scotty McCreery, who won the competition back in May and has been trying to convince country radio that he's not just a deep-voiced party trick ever since. As his fellow finalists performed, McCreery spent most of the opening set in one of the arena boxes. When security walked him through the concourse to a tunnel beneath the stands to get backstage, it elicited shrieking squeals worthy of Beatlemania from about 50 camera-wielding girls who had staked out his door.
Actually, the locals probably wished they'd gotten more of Scotty Wednesday night. Every reference to him or flash of his countenance on the video screens drew huge roars from the sold-out crowd. But he didn't appear onstage in the flesh until two hours into the evening, doing all his big numbers from the show -- Montgomery Gentry's "Gone," Thompson Square's "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" and, of course, Josh Turner's "Your Man" (a song he must be truly sick of by now).
Scotty sang fine and showed an onstage ease that will serve him well. And he represented the hometown as you might expect, coming out for the finale medley in a Carolina Hurricanes jersey. For one night, at least, Scotty definitely owned his hometown.
But how long he can hold the nationwide mainstream's attention will depend on his debut album, which he's been working on during the tour. Right before Scotty came onstage Wednesday night, the video screens played clips of all 10 "American Idol" winners being announced in an NFL Films-style treatment, with lots of dramatic pauses and slow-motion interludes. Watching that, it was sobering to ponder how many "Idol" winners already seem done.
Glory can be fleeting -- just ask Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze or Taylor Hicks. But we'll find out, in the long run.