[Since resident “American Idol” expert Rodney Ho is on vacation, I covered Elliott Yamin’s performance at Smith’s Olde Bar on Sunday night. As a 14-year Richmonder, I’ve followed Elliott’s career since his first hometown visit on “Idol” and still try to keep up with him.]
Most “American Idol” fans will agree that season five mined the strongest lineup of talent to come from the show.
Yeah, everyone has their favorites, but it’s hard to argue with a year that produced a rough-n-tumble rock star (Chris Daughtry), a beauty queen balladeer (Katharine McPhee), a country darling (Kellie Pickler) and idiosyncratic winner, Taylor Hicks.
But for many, the heart of that season was Elliott Yamin, the mighty-voiced soul man who zoomed from karaoke singer in Richmond, Va., to scrappy underdog on the show.
A third-place finish gave Yamin enough leverage to produce a debut album that spawned a No. 3 album and a platinum single in “Wait for You.”
Since that 2007 album, Yamin has worked hard on the road – especially in Japan, where his popularity keeps growing – recorded a second album (“Fight for Love”) which demonstrated his polished maturity but fizzled sales-wise and participated in fun stuff this such as this.
At his well-attended Smith’s show Sunday, the singer took the opportunity to perform several new songs from his upcoming third studio album (not including holiday releases), “Gather ‘Round,” which was released earlier this year in Japan and should be unveiled in the U.S. sometime between November and early 2012.
Backed by a stellar three-piece band, Yamin plowed through the funky swing of “Self Control” and vocally danced around the wah-wah guitar driving “Living on Borrowed Time.”
He’s always had a knack for making new songs sound old, injecting them with a vintage soulfulness from his organic growls and rich voice. Whether he was bringing fans back to the beginning with the glossy soul of “One Word” and the gutsy ballad “Train Wreck” or rifling through new material, his authenticity could never be questioned.
Yamin’s hometown crowd – well, adopted hometown, since he was born in California – will be pleased to know that two new songs focus specifically on Virginia and Richmond.
Yamin told the crowd that when he was on “Idol,” he knew that Richmonders were supporting him but had no idea to what degree thanks to the infamous “Idol” bubble. He said he wrote the song “Virginia,” a gospel-flecked ballad, “so people know how close I keep it to my heart.”
He also pays tribute to the old days with “Downtown,” an R&B head-nodder about The Boulevard, a main street in Richmond where Yamin lived for awhile and noted, accurately, that despite the lack of a TV in his apartment, he could always look out the window for plenty of entertainment.
There is an aura of affability about Yamin, and his love of performing and singing is always palpable in his live performances. Maybe by the time this third album arrives, the greater public will remember why they fell in love with him.