In a downtown Los Angeles cafe so hip they ask if you want to sit at a table or on a couch while you’re eating, the singer on stage has a face that’s immediately recognizable. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to some of the more memorable American Idol contestants who didn’t seek the big contract or chase pop stardom after their season concluded, this city provides the answer: they might end up with a career as varied as playing regular live gigs around town, writing and recording independent music, teaching voice lessons to children, or going into schools and promoting bully prevention. Or in the case of American Idol singing waitress Devyn Rush, all of the above.
She takes the stage on this Saturday night in front of a retro microphone, accompanied only by a stand up bass and piano. The songs she performs on this particular evening range from current radio tunes to classic standards, and they all receive jazz interpretations. If not for the urban redevelopment decor and the trendy food items on the menu, the music might lead one to think they’d been transported back into another era entirely.
At one point in the evening, the songs are straight out of the 1940s. At another point, Rihanna’s rote pop song Only Girl In the World is turned into a soulful expansive number. There’s a couple sitting on the couch nearest the stage who can’t seem to get their story straight as to whether they’re on their second date or they’ve been together four years, and they end up becoming part of the stage banter. Midway through the show one of her young vocal students arrives with her parents, and she’s invited to be a part of the performance on a song which is much older than the two of them combined.
If it’s an about face from the tightly structured corporate sheen and pop tendencies of the television show which gave Devyn her big break, this evening’s performance does serve to highlight her versatility across genres, a trait which the show always insisted was virtuous. At some point the audience requests start coming in, and they span from as evergreen as a Whitney Houston ballad to as incongruous as the Hanson song Mmm-Bop. As she interprets one request after another into respectable jazz, one is prompted to ask how it’s possible she even knows the words to all these songs. And come to think of it, who knew Mmm-Bop had other words in it?
However that turns out to be part of the fun, seeing how these various songs could be reimagined as jazzy numbers from a bygone era – given all the more context once you learn that the singer spends the rest of her time working with children in various capacities. American Idol is set to finally end its fifteen year run, but the stories of what its contestants have gone on to do after the show will be with us for some time to come. But Devyn Rush just may be working on the most unique of those stories yet.