In 13 years of “American Idol,” only two contestants have made it back from the precarious wild card spot all the way to the finale: Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken and Season 13 runner-up Jena Irene.
Now Irene, winner Caleb Johnson and the other top contestants of Season 13 will show their stuff at the Saenger as part of the “American Idol Live! Tour” at 8 p.m. Friday.
It’s a greatest-hits-style revue of Season 13, with a few twists, Irene said.
“It’s pretty much the highlights of the whole season. So for me, I get to do songs like ‘We are One,’ which is my original song, and then I get to do ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ because that’s what a lot of people remember from my snippet of the season.
“But with group performances … they might have been solos on the show, but we made them into group performances,” Irene said.
Now that the fierce competition is over, the top 10 finalists are working together to put on the tour, Irene said.
“I play the piano for one of my songs, which is cool,” she said. “I also sing backup for at least four other contestants on the show, and it’s cool to be a part of their performances.
“Me and Alex (Preston), for my last song, we play drums together. We all work together. ... and it’s actually a really good show!”
For Irene, who only recently graduated from high school, the nationwide tour has been her first chance to travel while honing her craft without fear of weekly elimination.
“I think the fact that the stress of the competition is over (makes it) so much more enjoyable to just go out and travel with your best friends,” she said. “And I get more comfortable onstage every single show because I’m more willing to try things out without the cameras in my face, and I’m not going to be judged right after.”
While Irene is enjoying the tour, she knows it marks the end of an experience that changed her life forever.
“It’s definitely kind of a sad, bittersweet moment, because this is the last leg of ‘American Idol,’ ” she said.
“It’s been such a big part of our lives for so long. … I think a lot of us are planning on moving to either Nashville or LA, but regardless of what happens in the near future, I will definitely want to keep in touch with everyone,” Irene said.
Though she has been too busy to do much songwriting lately, Irene’s excited about turning her recent experiences into music and letting fans know her as a songwriter as well as a singer.
“I really haven’t gotten a chance to write much because I’m on tour and I literally just got back from the finale and everything … but my repertoire from before ‘American Idol’ is pretty big, and there are a lot of new things I want to write about now that I’ve been through this whole experience,” she said.
For Irene, the most moving moment of the tour was when she came face to face with a group of devoted fans who had sung her praises on the Internet and elsewhere.
“They were like a mini-street team for me, so to meet them outside after the show was probably the coolest moment ever,” she said. “To actually meet the people that supported you for so long and to see them continuing to support you after the show is a really cool thing.”
The show will please more than just diehard Irene fans, however. The variety of performers and songs seems designed to satisfy all musical appetites.
“All the contestants are so different in terms of their musicality and genre,” Irene said. “There’s something for everyone, so even if you might not like country a lot, there’s rock ’n’ roll and there’s electronica. It’s all there. … No one in the top 10 is the same. That’s why it’s such an interesting show.”