‘Idol’ alums team up for Pops at symphony

The Phoenix Symphony opens its 2013-14 Pops season this weekend with one of its poppiest programs ever: “Symphony Idol,” which stars three alums of Fox TV’s “American Idol.”

LaKisha Jones, the fourth-place finisher from Season 6 and a big-time belter, will sing her trademark showstopper, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from the musical “Dreamgirls,” along with tunes made famous by Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Alicia Keyes and Celine Dion (“I Will Always Love You,” natch).

But she will also get outside her comfort zone in one trio with fellow “Idol” alums Haley Scarnato and Matt Giraud on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

“This is my first time even hearing this song,” she says. “I’ve never even heard of it. So it’s definitely different.”

Jones and Scarnato competed in the same season, so they already know they have good chemistry.

“I love Haley,” Jones says. “We were on tour for three months, and she’s originally from Texas as well. She’s from San Antonio. She’s just such a down-home girl, very sweet.

“You know, people loved seeing her legs on ‘Idol,’ but I know that the symphony world will love hearing her voice.”

Post-“Idol,” Jones coached the contestants on MTV’s reality show “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” and performed on Broadway in the cast of “The Color Purple.” The latter led to orchestra gigs with John Such Artists’ Management in New York, which put “Symphony Idol” together.

The Phoenix performances will be conducted by John McDaniel, music director for Broadway shows including “Catch Me If You Can” and “Grease.” He also served as producer and composer for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” during its six-year run, so he has plenty of experience working with celebrities.

“The people who came through that door,” McDaniel says. “You know, one day it’s Liz Taylor and the next day it’s Elton John, and then it’s Tony Bennett and then it’s Rosemary Clooney and then it’s Madonna. I got to work with all of my idols who I grew up with, Barry Manilow and Billy Joel, and these people would call me on my home machine. There was a lot of returning calls to Chaka Khan and Dick Van Dyke. It was crazy. But so fun.”

McDaniel also has worked with Broadway legends Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley on concert tours.

“A lot of my career has been supporting these really strong women, and something in my temperament just seems to work well with that,” he says. “I’m pretty even-keel, and I enjoy the divas. I really do.”

He describes pops programming as a way to “regenerate the audience for live (symphonic) music.”

You might even say a show like “Symphony Idol,” which recasts familiar tunes in the lush light of strings and oboes, is an adult version of “Glee.”

“We’ll end the whole concert with ‘Don’t Stop Believin’,’ which I believe they did on ‘Glee,’ so there you go,” he says.