'American Idol' Tour: Backstage and in the Crowd as Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez and Crew Roll Into Philadelphia (Video)
With only two more weeks to go, season 11's top 10 settle into their set and new lives as celebrities and tell THR what's in store for their own future as well as Mariah Carey's. Plus: what was Jermaine Jones doing in the parking lot?
Philadelphia is called “The City of Brotherly Love” and for good reason. Even ousted American Idol contestants like Jermaine Jones are greeted with open arms.
Such was the case on Monday night, when the gentle giant himself was spotted outside of South Philly's Wells Fargo Center taking pictures and signing autographs with fans of the Fox show. Yes, he even posed with yours truly (and my Idol Worship devotee and deserving daughter, Amanda). A quick chat revealed that he got together for a pre-show dinner with Joshua Ledet the previous night, while after the show, he serenaded enthusiastic crowds as they exited the latest stop of the American Idol Live tour.
“I have been hanging out with [the top 10] and enjoying them while they are in town,” said the smiling Jones, who put his legal troubles (the ones that got him disqualified from the show) behind him last month. “I built a friendship with them. It was a great show and I am very thrilled to be here and support them.”
It was that kind of night, which began early on backstage as Idol’s cutest couple, Deandre Brackensick and Jessica Sanchez, enjoyed quality time in the catering area and the petite Hollie Cavanagh carefully organized gifts from fans by the tour buses outside.
The mood in the arena was spirited as well. Erika Van Pelt, a native of Rhode Island, was treated like a Philly girl for her gutsy, stripped-down version of hometown hero Pink’s “Glitter in the Air,” (in a backstage interview, Van Pelt -- whose hair is back to blonde with blue-green streaks -- said she's thrilled to be doing the song, especially considering she had planned to perform Pink on the show the week after she was eliminated).
In a town revered for its love of classic rock, Elise Testone owned the room when she recreated her greatest Idol moment with a blistering rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Worth noting: the Wells Fargo Center is mere miles from where the mighty Zep rocked the stage -- and the world -- at Live Aid in 1985.
Similarly, Colton Dixon’s plaintive turn performing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” evoked memories of when Joel sat at his own baby grand piano and sang that very song at the Spectrum over a decade ago. For his part, Ledet drew his umpteenth standing ovation as he dropped to his knees for the show-stopping “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World," and entertained plenty of hugs from over-enthusiastic mothers and girls post-show.
Sanchez, who introduced Ledet and Brackensick as her two “best friends” before launching into a rollicking cover of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” happily signed autographs and expressed excitement about new judge Mariah Carey, telling fans she will be singing on the show next season with refreshing enthusiasm. Even Phillip Phillips (sporting some new facial hair and soaking up plenty of post-Olympics love from the crowd) tried to go native -- he had a wicked cheesesteak craving, he said, and every female in the room wanted to treat him to a date at Pat’s Steak's (whiz optional).
Heejun Han said the vibe of the tour has been amazing, but with only 14 shows left on the trek, he's excited to go home, see friends and family and get on with his post-Idol life.
“I am working on an album and developing some television material,” he told THR before the show. “I’m really comfortable in front of the camera. If I can pursue both at the same time, it would be an awesome experience.”
Han is clearly a fan favorite. He was the first Idol out to meet throngs of autograph seekers post-show, and stayed the longest making connections with every age group. Ever the jokester, he deadpanned, “I don’t care,” when asked about Carey joining the show as a judge to enormous laughs from the group. But when it comes to his music and direction, Han gets serious.
“I want to bring something fresh to the table with songs about true love,” he said. “I want to be the go-to guy for romantic movies, and for Disney animation with songs about true love and fairytale love… beautiful songs so girls can go, 'awwww.'”
Country contestant Skylar Laine, whose set was well received in Philly (her performance of “Stay With Me” by The Faces hasn’t lost a beat since she debuted it on the show, and a duet with Cavanagh on Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It” was just as fun), said she loves having the opportunity to rock out every night, as well as meet fans that follow her on Twitter. Laine was fully in her element interacting with eager Philadelphians, even snuggling a fan’s puppy and taking a few moments to talk pooches (Laine has a Pitbull at home).
As for a future album, Laine said that she's working on songs with writers in Nashville and promises her music will be more in the style of southern rock-country rather than pop. However, she's quick to note that she has a definite idea of what she wants on record.
“I don’t want my first song released to be about how country I am,” she said, adding that her goal is to be the “girl version” of country singer Justin Moore. “I want to sing what people love, but I also want to sing what makes me happy,” she said.
She said that although the writing process is progressing quickly, she still doesn’t have a record deal.
“19 Entertainment is holding right now, because they want to get really good songs to take to the record labels, so we are recording a few more," she said. "We’re working on it.”
As for future seasons of Idol, although Laine said Carey is a good addition, she's still holding out hope for Brad Paisley. “They never had a country judge, and he is such an awesome musician,” said Laine. “I love him ... His Play CD is so amazing, and he really would know what he’s talking about. Maybe in the future there will be a country judge.”
Van Pelt, who is writing new songs and eyeing a career in musical theater, is pulling for rumored addition Nicki Minaj. “I happen to be a Nicki Minaj fan," she said. "She’s not everybody’s taste, but if nothing else, it's going to help bring a different twist to the show."
Van Pelt added that she would have “loved” having either lady on her season. “Hollie and I were just talking about this,” she said. “I would have loved to have Nicki there. This is going to be a good season. There are a lot of changes being made in the inner workings of the machine, and it will be good for the show."
Watch a clip from Tuesday night's show of Sanchez rocking "Proud Mary" with her "Ikettes," Brackensick (who gains more fans each night with his dance moves) and Ledet: