I was 15-years-old when I realized I was too old to continue trick-or-treating, and I can pinpoint the exact moment when it happened.
My friend and I, the two holdouts of a Halloween crew that used to be four or five people deep, decided to head out for the night on our own. We were determined to continue the time-honored and truly fun tradition of wandering around the neighborhood, seeing who would give out full-sized chocolate bars and who had the audacity to offer up boxes of crayons in lieu of candy. Even if it wasn’t “cool,” it was still fun. I had settled on a half-assed hippie costume (my plan of going as Zach Galifianakis’s character from “The Hangover,” a true sign of the times, fell through at the last minute) and we made our way down the street around 8 p.m.
We slowly started to realize that most homes had shut down for the night, turning off their decorative lights and bringing in their candy bowls, as 8 p.m. was just about bedtime for most of the regular trick-or-treating crowd. We found a few homes still offering treats and felt relatively pleased with ourselves for staying true to what we felt was the best part of Halloween. Then, things changed. Or, at least, for me they did.
We knocked on the door to one house and a woman answered. As she turned around to reach for the bowl of candy she yelled up the staircase in a sing-song voice, “teenage boys, there are teenage girls at the door!” My blood ran cold. I did not want a teenage boy, no matter his level of cuteness, seeing me in my barely-a-costume costume, with my brown hair peeking through my plastic-y blonde wig and my oversized tie-dye shirt and tan vest (from my mom’s actual hippie years) all but covered by a blue North Face fleece. I quickly but kindly thanked the woman, grabbed a piece of candy from the bowl and bolted before a teenage boy even made his way to the top of the stairs. As I ran-walked away from her house, it hit me: They were home because they didn’t go trick-or-treating. No one my age still goes trick-or-treating. I can’t do this anymore. I’m too old.
Why am I now telling this story in the middle of August nearly nine years later? Because I had a very similar feeling again last night at the 2018 “American Idol Live!” tour.
I should have known better this time around, but I’m a sucker for a spectacle and the tickets were pretty cheap in comparison to the down payment on a condo I had to put up to see Beyoncé and Jay Z two weeks prior. I also had this tiny hope in the back of my heart that the concert would bring me the same glee and excitement it had in years past.
You see, the “American Idol” summer tours used to be my thing. My first-ever big deal concert was the season four show. While most people were there to see Carrie Underwood, I was excited for Nadia Turner, the pony-tail Mohawk-wearing rock chick with a voice that, in my opinion, should have earned her the “American Idol” title. I still have a pin with her face on it that I excitedly purchased at the merch stand. From the minute the show started at the then-Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., I was amazed; the people I watched sing on TV for weeks were right there! And they were singing for me! At one point Constantine Maroulis, the guy from that season who realized smoldering at the camera really brings in the votes, said he loved us, the crowd. That completely and totally blew my little 10-year-old mind.
From then on I was hooked, determined the catch the tour every summer. It became a right of passage; summer wasn’t over until the Idols came through town. I touched the hand of season six’s Vote-For-The-Worst fave Sanjaya Malakar. I saw people throw bras onstage for season eight’s Adam Lambert, which he quickly threw back. (Not a joke, that actually happened.) In a moment of quiet I yelled “I love you!” and long-forgotten season 9 winner Lee DeWyze, actually heard me and said, “I love you” back. (Don’t judge me, my options for a hunky guy to fangirl over were limited that season.) As the interest in “Idol” waned amongst my friends and classmates, I was still there every season, obsessively watching the show and securing my tickets for the summer tour.
The last concert I went to was season 11, won by Philip Philips in a move that I called from his first audition in episode one. It was a few weeks before I left for college, and the nostalgia of it all wasn’t lost on me. That season seemed to be the last one people really paid attention to, and even then it was a much smaller audience than in its heyday. Even though I still watched the show in the seasons that followed, I stopped going to the tour, largely out of disinterest. It seemed like a lot of people felt the same way; the tours grew smaller and smaller to the point where season 14’s got cancelled (ostensibly due to poor ticket sales) and they didn’t even bother with one for the series’ final season on Fox.
When the series made its not-so-surprising return on ABC earlier this year, I was skeptical but hopeful that it could still be worth a watch. And much of it was, from the seemingly-out-of-left-field brilliance of Ada Vox, a drag queen with vocal range for days, to the general existence of Michael J. Woodard, a bowling alley worker with a darling voice and even more darling personality. There were still plenty of moments that felt like the played-out clichés that tended to take over the show’s later seasons, but those little glimmers of excitement and originality kept me watching and probably compelled me to press “purchase” on tickets for this concert several months ago. While Ada was not going to be there (in a strange but probably financially sound move, they decided to only take the top seven on tour instead of the top ten or twelve as had been the case in previous seasons), Michael J. was, and I hoped a rousing performance from him would get me through the later sets from the less interesting performers that actually made it close to winning the whole thing.
And it did, but not in the way I expected. Previous “Idol” tours fit a pretty predictable model: open with a group number and then each contestant (starting with the 10th place finisher) would get a 2-3 song solo set with the occasional group number or duet tossed in. The whole thing would end with longer sets from the final two and then another full group number. They were held in arenas (filled by arena-sized crowds) with production values worthy of the “superstars” “American Idol” claimed to create. This was not the case this time around.
Instead of being in a large arena, the show was in a much smaller theater. There were patches of empty seats on the floor/orchestra level (where I sat) and things appeared to be even more sparse on the balcony level. Instead of big L.E.D. screens featuring flashy graphics and close-up shots of the performers, there was one static set piece, a large apparatus with the “Idol” logo prominently featured, that would light up in different colors and patters throughout the show. The format was switched up, with solo numbers from contestants coming in no particular order. The norm for previous tours I had attended was a full backing band, but this time there was just one guy alternating between piano and guitar, and the other contestants would provide various forms of backup (vocals, instrumentals) for their colleagues throughout. The whole thing was hosted (another new development) by Kris Allen, who you may remember as the runner up in season eight except no, wait, he somehow beat Adam Lambert and won. He sang a few songs of his own and during his set mentioned how he had won the show nearly nine years ago which was totally fine and definitely didn’t leave me feeling like the husk of a woman in the wheelchair from that episode of Spongebob where they sell chocolate. Transitions between songs were either made up of awkward small talk by whomever had just finished singing or by the stage going completely dark, leaving the audience to talk amongst themselves. The whole thing could be best compared to a talent show at a performing arts high school with very rich donors.
There was a part of me that felt a little bad for the performers, who had missed the heyday of the show when they would have gotten the full VIP treatment, but they certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. Singing almost entirely songs that they did over the course of the season, everyone seemed to be giving it their all, and the crowd generally responded in kind. There was one woman in particular, she looked to be in her 50s or 60s, who stood for nearly the entire show (most people stayed seated other than a few select moments) dancing like her life depended on it. I had a panicked vision of me in 30 years in her place, low key creeping out the much younger performers who could clearly see her and began commenting on her presence in their on-stage banter, but I like to think I would never actually do that. Right? Right.
Anyway, there were two standouts in my mind, who seemed to be doing the most and having the most fun doing it. That would be Michael J. Woodard (of course) and Catie Turner, the human manifestation of Tumblr who actually has a really impressive voice. While the other contestants were generally giving us more of the same, these two brought such energy to every moment they were on stage. Even when they were serving as back up singers for someone else’s song (and they did that a lot) you could look at them at any point and tell they were having the time of their lives. I would have loved just a whole hour of their antics, but unfortunately we aren’t given everything we want in life.
The thing that surprised me the most out of the whole event were the demographics of the audience. There were some things I expected given the way the season had gone (the crowd was overwhelmingly white) but instead of it being entirely tween girls and their moms, there were a significant amount of middle-aged couples there with no children. I had worried I would be on the older end of the crowd, but really I ended up being somewhere on the younger end of the middle. There were also a fair amount of people there in their 20s and 30s that appeared to be like me, in that they had grown up watching and loving the show and just weren’t quite ready to quit it yet. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in that regard.
So did the concert take me back to my memories of “Idol” tours past? In small ways, yes. There was one moment during one of the “stage goes dark” transitions where just as the lights came back up you could hear Michael on the microphone say “it’s me again” and I felt a little jolt of the happiness the concerts and my favorite performers in them had given me when I was younger. It was still fun to see the people I had rooted for on the show in person. But there were more moments that felt out of my grasp, like I couldn’t connect to in the way I once had. In those moments I felt a bit like the older person watching all the kids have fun while feeling slightly out of place. Like a 15-year-old who didn’t want anyone her age to know that she was still trick-or-treating even though she still liked doing it.
It’s certainly possible that I would feel differently if any of the contestants were old enough to legally rent a car, and that’s why I haven’t fully ruled out attending another “American Idol Live!” tour at some point in the future. While there were moments last night that made me feel a bit aged and uncool, I still had some fun. And again, I’m always down for a little spectacle.
What do you think? Do you have anything you still love even if it makes you feel old to love it? Did you hear about the insane and dumb new things coming to the Oscars? I have some serious thoughts on that, and I’ll get into them next week. In the mean time…