Call it a double shot of "American Idol" by the Bay.
Having endured the latest crop of contenders during the American Idols Live! tour stop on Sunday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, fans of the popular TV series had the chance to experience the original model -- "American Idol" champ No. 1, Kelly Clarkson -- on Wednesday at the Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord.
And the two experiences couldn't have been more different.
While Idols Live! was an uneven, perplexing affair, which left one wondering how the Fox TV show continues to draw high ratings, Clarkson's outing was an absolute joy to behold.
The 30-year-old Texan simply gets better with each passing year. Now 10 years removed from her "Idol" victory, during the inaugural season of the show in 2002, Clarkson boasts an incredibly diverse and appealing songbook as well as the know-how to get the most out of her material.
Yes, without a doubt, voters got it right that first year.
Clarkson's most impressive trait is her ability to connect with the audience. In Concord, she was magnetic, grabbing the crowd's attention with the fun first number ("My Life Would Suck Without You") and only tightening her grasp as she moved through a variety of numbers during her hour-plus set.
Yes, it only lasted a little over an hour, which probably didn't make some fans happy. That's understandable. Yet, the upside to the short set was that it was completely devoid of filler.
Backed by an eight-piece band, which included three female backing vocalists, Clarkson went from "My Life Would Suck Without You" -- a love song for the 21st century, if there ever was one -- right into the rich power ballad "Behind These Hazel Eyes." She'd then follow with two standout track from last year's "Stronger" — "I Forgive You" and "Dark Side" — before jumping into a great cover of "We Are Young" (the smash hit from the band fun., featuring singer Janelle Monae).
And she definitely was having fun on this night. Clarkson was in incredibly good spirits, perhaps because she'd just spent two off-days from the tour exploring Northern California.
"I've been in Napa," said the singer, who was thrilled that her tour itinerary allowed her the time to sample the offerings from the local wineries. "Best job ever!"
The winery jaunt, of course, was only one of many things that have made her occupation so rewarding. Others include singing the national anthem at this year's Super Bowl (which earned her rave reviews), staying active on TV shows (such as "The Voice" and "Duets"), cowriting a song for boy-band One Direction ("Tell Me a Lie") and expanding her fan base to include country music fans.
She accomplished the latter with "Don't You Wanna Stay," a duet with Jason Aldean featured on the mega-popular country star's 2010 album, "My Kinda Party." That song was a highlight of the Concord show, as the soprano crooned her part alongside a giant hologram of Aldean.
Clarkson then took a bit of a gamble -- and it paid off big time. She has a tradition of asking fans, at the meet-and-greets before shows, what song they think she should cover that night. One fan at Concord wanted to hear her do Katy Perry's recent Top 10 hit "Wide Awake," and Clarkson was game. From what I can tell, it was the first time Clarkson had performed the cut and the off-the-cuff rendition was electric.
The show was actually a co-headlining date with the Fray, which, of course, raises one question: In what part of the universe does that moderately interesting piano-rock troupe deserve equal billing with Clarkson? Maybe in the band's native Colorado, but certainly not in Concord, where fans simply endured the Fray's set while waiting for Clarkson to take the stage.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.