|Jesse McCartney's hit songs were met with screams of adulation in Lowell on Wednesday night. (ellen harasimowicz for the boston globe)|
LOWELL - It's difficult to say whether it was the abominable sound system or the 2,800 screaming preteens that overwhelmed the voice of "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday night. Most likely, it was both.
The 18-year-old singer, best known for winning the sixth season of the talent search, did her best to get personal with fans despite speakers that made her sound like she was singing into a sock, and the fans themselves, who were so excited that they couldn't stop wailing "We love you!" and screaming her lyrics.
Still, during brief moments of moderate peace, Sparks managed to shine. Her live renditions of radio singles "One Step at a Time," "Tattoo," and "No Air" (which she performed just fine without Chris Brown) proved what the crowd already learned from "Idol" - that the young Sparks can belt it out like the best of them and has no need for pre-recorded vocals.
Looking very "High School Musical" in her conservative jean skirt and top, Sparks paid homage to her inspirations with covers of the Alicia Keys hit "Fallin' " (Sparks was the opening act on Keys's last tour), and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." The highlight of the set was her cover of Patty Griffin's "Let Him Fly," which pleased the many moms in the crowd and silenced the youngsters, who, for a few minutes, actually cared to listen.
But after intermission it was clear that most of the audience had come not for Sparks, but for her coheadliner, heartthrob Jesse McCartney, formerly of the boy band Dream Street and the short-lived television drama "Summerland," which also starred a young Zac Efron. Now 21 but still looking 17, McCartney (no relation to Paul, in case you were wondering) charmed the crowd in a prom-ready sparkling suit, and performed suggestive renditions of tunes from his latest album, "Departure," which, to boil it down, is more Justin Timberlake than Jonas Brothers.
Standouts included the lively break-up song "How Do You Sleep?" and an earnest performance of the now-four-year-old single that launched McCartney's solo career, "Beautiful Soul."
To allow for a brief costume change, which had McCartney trading his suit for a Fonz-like white T-shirt and black jacket, the pop star's back-up dancers sang Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," occasionally bringing up the house lights so fans could scream that they were indeed Jesse's women.
McCartney went on to perform the song "Oxygen," a bonus track on the "Departure" album, and chose one lucky fan (who covered her mouth, shaking with disbelief) to join him on stage.
His big closer, of course, was the hit "Leavin'," followed by an encore duet with Sparks that had the duo flirting and snuggling as they sang Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel." It's possible the young crowd didn't even know it was a cover.
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.