"American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi made it look easy Friday night as she staged her first-ever public singing performance at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa.
After the set at the Music Box, where she'll encore at 8 tonight, DioGuardi told me she replied, "I don't want to do this, I'm scared, I'm nervous," when the subject of performing live was first broached by her management team. But her turn certainly belied those sentiments.
Sitting on stools set up in front of a living room arrangement complete with lamps and plants, DioGuradi and her sole accompanist, acoustic guitari player Mitch Allan (of the rock band SR-71) took the seemingly sold-out audience on an intimate and engaging trip through DioGuardi's relatively brief, but ultra-impressive, career as a pop composer.
If she was unnerved by her situation, she did a grand job of hiding it. The Westchester County, N.Y. native was cool, calm and collected--as well as warm, humorous and thoroughly engaging--as she perforrmed such smash hits as "Sober" (which was recorded by Pink), "Walk Away" (Kelly Clarkson) and "Pieces of Me" (Ashlee Simpson).
More to the point, the no-frills format etched into crystal clarity a couple of interesting points. The first is that DioGuardi is a pretty darned good singer. She may lack the range of so many of the artists for whom she's written, but her mid-range vocals were generally on-point (and really not "pitchy" at all, to use an "A.I".-forged buzz word) and surprisingly adept at communicating the emotions contained in the lyrics. I'd go so far as to say she is a better singer than some of those who have recorded her material. If nothing else, her vocalizing Friday proved she has the legitimate chops to make life-or-death judgements about others' singing abilities.
The other point is that, as a rule, her songs are actually better than they appear in the recorded versions that have earned DioGuardi great riches as well as numerous Grammy nominations. Completely stripped of their often-shlocky drum-machined, Auto-Tuned arrangements, songs like "Terrified" and "Taking Chances" actually were given the chance to stand on their own merits, and not those of some knob-turning didgital wizard.
DioGuardi certainly doesn't need to gig to pay the rent, but if she does decide to perform more often, she can do so without fear of failure.
***Backstage, DioGuardi was as nice and genuine as she was during her set. We chatted about a variety of subjects including her future as a live attraction and her fantasy musical partner.
On whether she'll do more live work: "I see myself doing it if people like it. If people really like it, and learned something, I'd do it."
On who she'd love to have as a collaborator: "I want to work with Prince. He's kind of my 'go-to guy' who I'd like to work with. (He's) a pretty amazing guy."
On her musical influences: She credited her parents for raising her on the sounds of the "Rat Pack" (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, etc.), and her grandmother who exposed her to Broadway musicals. But, she added, "What really interested me a lot melodically was church. All those songs go so high. This is why I write these songs that are so damned high."
On whether she'd like to try her hand at Broadway composing: "I've thought about it, but I haven't found the right story. If I'm gonna take it on, I want it to be great. I don't want it to be trivial."
By the way, if you're wondering why I didn't ask her anything specific about "American Idol," it's because I was pretty sure she would have been as bored being asked the questions as I would have been asking them.