REVIEW: Nick Fradiani at Musikfest Cafe shows he’s no ‘American Idol’ — and is better off for it

Nick Fradiani’s concert Monday at Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest Center in Bethlehem showed he’s essentially not an “American Idol,” despite winning the penultimate 14th season of the show in 2015.

And he showed why he’s better off for it.

In a free show planned for the Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks stage but moved indoors because of lingering rain, Fradiani played a 17-song, 90-minute show that – unlike “American Idol” — was heavy on his original music, with just six of the songs covers.

That immediately showed the flaw in “Idol” forcing contestants to play all covers while trying to find the best original artists. Many of the new songs were better than anything Fradiani ever did on “Idol” — and way more distinctive, showing what talents he really has.

He opened with “Beautiful Life,” his 2015 Top 40 hit – a soaring, belting performance with him on acoustic guitar – as he was all night — backed by a four-man band that included members of his band Beach Avenue, with which he had a run on “America’s Got Talent” in 2014, as well as his father, Nick Sr.

In all, Fradiani played seven of the 12 songs from “Hurricane,” his August debut (and only album, as he has left Big Machine Records) and two from what he says is an upcoming EP he plans to release this summer, and nearly every one was better than anything he did on “Idol.”

He recast “All On You,” his Top 30 pop hit from last year, as a country song, with twangy pedal steel guitar, cajon drum and a falsetto chorus. “Nothing to Lose” was very good, as was the title track, though the latter, heartfelt and intensely performed, seemed stylistically far closer to co-writer Jason Mraz than Fradiani.

That emphatic performance pervaded Fradiani’s show. Even on less successful songs such as the reggae/doo-wop number “Howl at the Moon,” he looked and sounded as if he was giving his all. Same with the main-set closer “Love…

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