By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

March 23, 2004


Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken successfully transferred their megaselling debut CDs to the concert stage at Savvis Center on Sunday night and, judging by the reaction of their adoring fans, they are anything but false idols, at least for now.

Clarkson, the 2002 "American Idol" winner, and Aiken, the 2003 runner-up, each performed for about an hour before a crowd ranging from the very young to the not-so-young - and including lots of moms and daughters. It was Clarkson's turn to go on first, and she hit the stage in hip-hugger jeans and an orange T-shirt reading "Dirrrty South," strumming a guitar to the opening of "Low" from the "Thankful" CD as the spotlight found her.

A highlight of the early part of her set came when she sat up on the piano for a reworked and effective version of "Beautiful Disaster," followed by the jazzy "Stuff Like That There," the song that introduced her to the audience and judges on "American Idol."

After a costume change to black top and black fedora, the Texan sang the only unexpected tune of her set, a hard-charging take on Reba McEntire's "Why Haven't I Heard From You."

She finally got the crowd to its feet - by invitation - midway through her set and closed with a rousing "Miss Independence."

Clarkson is the more musically adventurous of the two, and although she seemed totally at ease and in control during songs, she was oddly self-conscious and giggly during between-song patter.

Aiken, in contrast, is a natural entertainer. He entered the arena from the back, singing Mr. Mister's '80s hit "Kyrie" - the first but not the last unusual song selection for the North Carolina native.

And it was clear whom the crowd really had come to hear. They were on their feet from the opening note as he sold the music from his "Measure of a Man" CD.

With self-effacing humor, some simple but playful dance steps and a boatload of personality, Aiken cherry-picked his CD - "Perfect Day," "I Will Carry You," "No More Sad Songs," "Invisible" - and included a birthday sing-along for a fan and a cell-phone call to another fan's kin in Toronto.

Later, a medley began with the CD title song and veered into cover territory: Sting's "Fields of Gold," Leo Sayer's "When I Need You," James Taylor's pre-"Sweet Baby James" tune "Carolina in My Mind" and, of all things, Prince's "When Doves Cry." It was a welcome detour into other textures and tempos.

Aiken closed with "The Way" and returned almost immediately with Clarkson for a duet on Journey's "Open Arms." And then it was over. No phony encores, but no extended bows and thank-yous, either. The house lights simply came on - to some grumbling from the audience.