There has to be something special about Leah LaBelle. Why else would journalists, record execs, tastemakers and other industry vets gather in a small room off the main bar at the Tribeca Grand on a muggy, 90-plus degree New York day? As the room filled (and the temperature rose with each new body) complimentary Qream was given out as her producers, Pharrell, Jermaine Dupri and L.A. Reid, took turns gushing about the talented one-time American Idol finalist-turned-YouTube sensation about to perform. And, boy, did Leah live up to their mile-high hype.
Taking the stage in a body-hugging white top (and equally curve-hugging black leather short shorts), she led off with the appropriate "So Hot." Flanked by a full band and backing vocalists/dancers, it was evident that Reid and Co. had made sure that Leah's package was finely tuned. Not a step, beat or note was missed during this or the following song, "Mr. Scissors."
"Let's get a little nasty," she said as she surprised the audience with a cover of Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl." Her cover was serviceable, though it was the first time that her nervousness showed, with her repeatedly flubbing the lyrics during the chorus. She rebounded, however, with her ballad "What Do We Got to Lose." The song really resonated with the audience as heads nodded and fingers snapped along. Even Pharrell and JD were singing along.
Next up was the hood-tastic "Box Chevy," an ode to the kind of car that Leah needed her man to drive. While obviously a commercial smash-and-grab, it was definitely a fun moment in the show, with Leah interacting with the audience more than she had throughout her set. Her single "Sexify" brought the show to a close. While her performance of the seduction instructional was great, it was her unexpected interpolation of Pharrell's "Frontin'" that got the most crowd reaction. Mentor Pharrell gold-tooth grinned as he heard her put a short spin on the new classic before jumping back into the groove of her own hit.
"She just got down, Jack!" Pharrell said as he took the stage after her. Judging by the people who'd stopped fanning themselves long enough to give her a resounding round of applause (and some even begging for more), it was hard to disagree with him.