There were plenty of signs, during its 12th season on TV, that “American Idol” was on the decline, and Monday night’s “American Idol Live!” show at the Agganis Arena, one of the tour dates that wasn’t canceled for lack of sales, didn’t exactly dispel the idea. There were a lot of empty seats. The production values felt perfunctory.
On the other hand, it was clear, from the crowd, that “Idol” has a devoted following among the 12-and-under set. And maybe this is how the show functions right now: as the televised gateway to a starter concert, featuring 11 nice, striving American kids (the show’s top 10, plus viewer-choice contestant Aubrey Cleland), who pour their hearts into two hours of karaoke.
The second act offered the most star power, beginning with Beverly native and clear crowd favorite Angie Miller, who sat atop a grand piano, then used it to play her original song, “You Set Me Free.”
All of the singers acknowledged that this was Miller’s night — the arena seemed packed with partisans and Beverly High School graduates — but the crowd was kind to everyone, sometimes deservedly. Devin Velez, robbed on the show this season, poured his pipes into “Somos Novios (It’s Impossible).” Kree Harrison smiled more in one night than she did all season and commanded the arena; she came across much better live than on TV. Candice Glover’s voice dominated the rest; it’s not surprising that she won.
Still, there was something cheesily charming about the first act, which was heavier on group numbers and more fully in tune with “Idol’s” inner corniness. The guys’ version of Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven,” complete with solid-color suits and miniature thrusts, felt utterly disarming. So was Curtis Finch Jr., who falsettoed far and shamelessly on Mars’s “When I Was Your Man.”
Earnest and aggressively PG, while pretending to be edgy, is the “Idol” sweet spot. But there are limits to what you can do with that recipe. At one point, Miller joined Cleland, Amber Holcomb, and Janelle Arthur for a cover of “Blurred Lines” that might, in more skilled hands, have come across as a rebuke.
In this case, though, it felt more like a particularly unpleasant “Kidz Bop” single. Holcomb even looked sheepish when she sang, “What rhymes with hug me?” Here’s hoping the tweens in the crowd were thinking she meant “bug.”