Around 7:50 p.m. last night, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Clef Hanger stood in front of a group of people in the Franklin St. nightclub Players and announced that the bar had drink specials. Soon, he added, his bow-tie-wearing, all-male-a cappella group would host its winter concert. Attendance was encouraged.
Though the smells of stale beer and cigarette smoke from evenings of clubbing past hung in Players’ air, this was no normal bar night. Clefs, friends and strangers gathered to watch former Clef Hanger and UNC masters student Anoop Desai perform on American Idol. The owners turned off the strobe lights and sequestered the approximately 100 Desai fans into a small corner of the club. Beside a few round tables, stools and booths that lined the windowed wall overlooking Franklin St., they stood, awaiting their local vocalist made good.
A few hardcore American Idol fans—including one woman who explained the entire show’s process to another, looking away in mock distraction—gathered for the night, but the attendees were mostly college-aged men and women, save for a reporter and a camera man from FOX 50. He shone a blinding light across the crowd of argyle sweaters and North Face fleeces.
Desai was the clear reason for the rendezvous. Several in the crowd even sported buttons with a red and blue graphic of the hometown idol, fashioned after Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama image. A current Clef even wore a white T-shirt with the hopeful graphic underneath a black blazer. Interestingly, none of the females chatting up the Clefs sported Desai paraphernalia.
Not long after the Clef’s plug for his upcoming gig, or just before the show began, the crowd doubled, chattering incessantly until Idol host Ryan Seacrest flashed onto the projection screen. Through the first half of Jackie Tohn’s opening set, the crowd cut to near-silence. Someone in the back broke the quiet: “She’s acting like she’s in a strip club.” Her friend responded, “I like her shoes though.” “I don’t,” said another.
Between segments, The Clef Hangers crooned and swayed to their songs, singing The Fray’s new one, “You Found Me.” It ran into one of Seacrest’s monologues, and everyone in the room noticed. The crowd cheered for half a second when the Clefs were done, distracted by the possibility of this being Desai’s big moment. Indeed, nervous chuckles from friends penetrated the silence as his video montage began. Desai appeared, giving new life to Monica’s “Angel of Mine.” He closed his eyes, threw his head back and let loose at just the right moments. With his performance, he reminded this crowd that the song didn’t sound good when they were in middle school just because they were in middle school.
The judge’s lukewarm opinions jarred onlookers like a slap in the face, eliciting “Ohs” and bellowed expletives. Simon’s “too serious for you” claim was greeted with several “bullshits,” as if this was a basketball game, and he wore black-and-white stripes. But the crowd’s real allegiance hit hardest when most of the crowd fled after his performance. Few people were listening, anyway. Simon’s endorsement, Seacrest’s sermon or no, Desai was the winner of their evening.