ATLANTIC CITY - Season 9 of American Idol was widely criticized as a disappointment in terms of both ratings and talent.

The May 26 season finale was the lowest-rated for the reality series since its inaugural season in 2002. And last week, the last several stops on the annual American Idols Live tour, which showcases the previous season's Top 10 finalists, were abruptly canceled.

But the crowd that packed the 5,000-seat Mark G. Etess Arena at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort on Saturday night did not seem to care.

And even though the Idol fans were able to watch the contestants perform for free on television just a couple of months ago, many paid as much as $96.50 for a ticket to see them perform many of the same songs again. That is more than it will cost to see Rob Thomas ($95), Bill Cosby ($95) or The Black-Eyed Peas ($92.50) when they come to Atlantic City later this summer.

Fortunately, the singers were significantly better Saturday night than they were on the show - yes, even Tim Urban.

Tenth-place finisher Didi Benami kicked off the concert with sultry renditions of The Rescues' "Lay It On Me" and Idol-alumna Katharine McPhee's "Terrified." She was not as energetic as a typical opening act, but her voice was soft, sweet and a refreshing change from the headline-hungry pop divas that too often dominate today's music scene.

The bespectacled Andrew Garcia followed with outstanding covers of Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning" and his take on Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," which he amazed the judges with during Hollywood Week, then failed to live up to thereafter.

Katie Stevens and Siobhan Magnus infused energy and tempo into the concert with covers such as Christina Aguilera's "Stronger" and the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," respectively. And yes, Idol fans, Magnus did end "Paint It Black" with the ear-piercing note that repeatedly earned her praise on the show.

Between those performances, Urban - who was easily this season's weakest contestant - was greeted by screaming teenage girls as he performed the Goo Goo Dolls' "Better Days" and Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." They were pedestrian versions of both songs. But in fairness, Urban did not butcher them like he did so many songs during his shockingly long tenure on the show.

After the diminutive Aaron Kelly showcased his country side with covers such as Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis" and Rascal Flatts' "Fast Cars and Freedom," all six lower-tier performers joined forces with an impressive rendition of "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus.

Decked out in a three-piece suit, "Big Mike" Lynche brought the crowd out of intermission with a three-song set that included covers of India.Arie's "Ready for Love" and the version of Maxwell's "This Woman's Work" that made American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi cry on air.

Making the guitar look like a toddler's toy, Casey James and his flowing-blond locks brought the crowd to its feet with dazzling songs such as the Black Keys' "I Got Mine," a duet of Bryan Adams' "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?" with Lynche and the cover of "Don't!" that earned him a hug from Shania Twain herself.

The crowd stayed on its feet for Season 9 runner-up Crystal Bowersox, whose renditions of the 4 Non Blondes classic "What's Up?" and the Melissa Etheridge hit "Come to My Window" had people dancing in the aisles.

Bowersox, who was under the weather but sported a set of newly enhanced chompers, then brought the crowd to its knees with an emotional version of the Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions' anthem "People Get Ready." She fittingly ended her set with Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart."

Anyone who was still in their seats when Bowersox left the stage jumped to their feet when the first chord of Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze's first single "Beautiful Day" rang out. The former paint salesman's take on the U2 song actually had a much different, and better, sound than the version he performed on the finale.

DeWyze's raspy yet powerful voice then led the crowd through an electric-guitar laden cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man," his chill-inducing version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and rocking covers of the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose's "Treat Her Like a Lady" and "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon.

The American Idol contestants ended the show by taking the stage together for a medley of "My Life Would Suck Without You" by original Idol Kelly Clarkson and, much to the delight of the New Jersey crowd, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life."

For those fans who could not afford the pricey tickets for Saturday night's show, don't worry. If your favorite idols from Season 9 ever return to Atlantic City, chances are tickets will be much cheaper.

Last season's winner Kris Allen is scheduled to perform in Atlantic City in August. Tickets for that show are selling for less than $40.

Contact Robert Spahr: