OAKLAND – I was old enough. I just wasn’t there or any where close for that matter when Janis Joplin took the stage 42 years ago at the Fillmore West or Winterland or the Avalon Ballroom in The City.
But I was there a couple of weeks ago when Allison Iraheta took the stage at the Oracle Arena.
Music purists would certainly laugh you off the stage if you tried to say this was Janis reincarnate. So, I went looking for any similarities – birthdate (no), birthplace (no), family background (no), journey through the recording business (resounding no).
Joplin made that magical ride from obscurity in Texas to eventual fame in SF aboard her psychedelic Porsche. Iraheta walked onto the Oracle stage after riding that sanitized AI digital/text messaging/on-line voting journey that ironically commenced with a tryout in SF.
Then I remembered why this 17-year-old from L.A. carried me back four decades. Pretty simple: the voice, the stage presence.
That night at the Oracle she probably didn’t even need an amplifier to be heard at the back of the arena. To say she “belted” out Joplin’s “Cry Baby” would be a fericious understatement.
Then you talk to her and you drift off to wondering if this is what Joplin would have been like.
Her eyes are darting here, there and everywhere.
The voice is just as raspy talking as it is vocalizing.
The hair just as red.
The opinions just as honest.
The most difficult part of the show for her?
“Oh, the song choice without a doubt,” she said. “I mean disco, come on? The Rat Pack, what’s that? And the Grand Old Opry! Not even good old country music, my God!”
But that voice and stage presence got her through the competition with “Hot Stuff” (disco), “Someone to Watch Over Me” (Rat Pack) and “Blame It On Your Heart” (Grand Ole Opry).
“I got a lot of help with the choice of those songs from Adam Lambert). He was a huge help to me,” she said.
That voice you heard on AI was being cultivated when she turned 9 and the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants started sowing her own musical roots singing at a local L.A. Latin supermarket.
So, did all that preparation wash away the nerves as she competed on AI week after week?
“Are you kidding, man?” she said, “I was scared to death. I was scared getting up there. It really wasn’t until I got into the Top 10 that I settled down. Actually the goal was just to make it to Hollywood Week. I never thought I would make it to the Top 10. But I was lucky enough and just grateful that I made it that far.”
Week after week, the four AI judges lauded Allison’s performances, except for one…
“I never really got bad critiques from the judges,” she said, “except for the week that Simon said I was ‘boring.’
“Cause I know I’m not the boring type. I’d know if I was. You don’t know me that well to say I was boring. Come on, dude!”
During the run of the show – April 27 to be exact – Allison turned 17. Studying music and being involved in singing since she was 9 and now spending the better part of her high school years in the unreal world of AI, at least a portion of her youth has evaporated.
Does she feel like that part of her childhood has been lost?
She looked kind of quizzical and responded, “Well, I just signed a contract with Jive and after the Tour I’ll be recording.”
Sounds like something Joplin might have said.
Allison sings “Cry Baby” on AI: