Rexall Place, Emdonton - November 25, 2008

MIKE ROSS - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 5:39 AM ET

EDMONTON - The success of Carrie Underwood has underscored a special kinship between American Idols and country music.

Notice the similarities: Country music often values celebrity over artistry, which is the very basis of American Idol. Country stars don't often write their own material. American Idols don't often write their own material.

Moreover, American Idols in a rock or pop vein may be compelled to write their own songs beyond their debut albums to prove their "cred," but the resulting music often fails to catch on due to their lack of experience and songwriting expertise.

Country stars are under no such constraints. The genre is supported by squads of professional songwriters who churn out genetically engineered hit tunes by the dozens within small bunkers located in Nashville office buildings. Why write the perfect song to express your deepest thoughts and emotions when you can pick it?

Most importantly, country stars are completely devoted to their fans, and often say things like "without you, I wouldn't be here!" American Idols likewise wouldn't be here without their fans - in a much more literal, mathematical way.

So does Carrie Underwood have the best of both worlds or just two versions of the same one? There's a lot to love about the 2005 American Idol winner - her voice, her perky personality, her attractive yet chaste image on stage - but sadly, her show at Rexall Place last night also bore many of the negative hallmarks of both country music cliches and American Idolatry.

For all its glitz, the concert was depressingly predictable. There was the dramatic entrance - rising from a fog-shrouded stage, which is getting as cliched as the third-song ballad - to the tune of Flat on the Floor.

And there was the fact that the third song was a ballad, Wasted, a real cry-in-yer-beer heartbreaker. She really wailed on it, too.

She wailed on every song, sparing little opportunity to prove to the crowd that, yes, she is one heck of a singer. Three years later and she's singing for the judges - you, the fans without whom she wouldn't be here.

Let's move on. There was the adorable child brought on stage to sing All-American Girl, and the expected crowd reaction from changing it to All-Canadian Girl. There was a particularly obnoxious video interlude to accommodate another costume change (each less sexy than the last): All witness Carrie's Rise to Fame. See Carrie sing for the troops, see Carrie show concern over those less fortunate, see Carrie on Oprah, but most importantly, see Carrie win all those trophies on those fabulous awards shows!

The whole infomercial was an ego stroke of the highest order - another trait of American Idols and country superstars. She's been famous for what, three years? Even country legends with 10 times the experience don't milk their own "triumphs" this slavishly.

And overriding all, there was the hatful of sentimental, maudlin, manipulative lyrics that pass for emotion in commercial country songs.

Second song in, Some Hearts - the title track from her debut album - was a strange hybrid of alternative rock and country music, featuring oddly-chorded verses you never hear in a country song and a major key chorus you'd never hear in a rock song. Meanwhile, anthropomorphized human hearts are getting all the right breaks, have the stars on their side, having it so easy and are just getting lucky - "even hearts like mine."

Later came Crazy Dreams, a funky, un-country groove framing a set of platitudes about how crazy dreams can come true (just the good ones, hopefully; wouldn't want Charles Manson's crazy dreams to come true again).

The song was accompanied by a video montage of roadies setting up for another massive Carrie Underwood show. The message is clear: This is the sort of "so glad to be famous" song that American Idols specialize in. Likewise for the rollicking Checotah - which is less an ode to the small Oklahoma she's from than a "look how far I've come" kind of song. Needless to say, Underwood delivered more spine-tingling Star Search moments in these songs, too. But it was nothing compared to ballads like I Know You Won't, as in "you say you'll call, but I know you won't," delivered with tragic drama not exactly in harmony with the event depicted, or maybe it is, knowing some women.

Underwood did mention she was single and "looking" last night, as she strode down the catwalk collecting flower bouquets - mainly proffered by little girls. So if you go on a first date with Carrie Underwood and you don't want to call her the next day, then don't say you will, OK?

Underwood drew 11,000 fans to Rexall Place last night, by far the most that any Idol - American or Canadian - could attract. Just two albums and three years as a superstar and she's got the diva thing down pat.

Whether it's a country diva, an American Idol diva or an inseparable combination of both is anyone's guess.


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