- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

What signifies a superstar? (A) a multiplatinum-selling album; (B) adoring fans; (C) a single sobriquet; or (D) all of the above?

The correct answer, of course, is D.

For proof positive, look no further than Usher.

Riding the wave of his current colossal best seller, “Confessions” (5 million copies sold to date), the Tennessee native rolled into the District’s MCI Center Friday with his Truth Tour.

In a stage arrival befitting a deity, the 25-year-old pop music sensation (with perfectly chiseled abs and pecs) descended to the multilevel set amid a cloud of smoke, gigantic video screens and Broadway-caliber dancers to hold court for 90 minutes before thousands of mostly female fans, who ranged in age from 8 to 80.

They got more than their money’s worth.

From the opening number, an energetic “Caught Up” (from “Confessions”), Usher ruled his roost with precision choreography and a self-assured (make that cocky) stage presence — more than expected for someone who has a hit album and his face on a BankFirst MasterCard.

Never mind that apparent bugs in the sound system made his delivery barely audible. His legion of adoring fans shrieked, stood and swayed throughout the performance, and they knew every word.

Following “Caught Up,” Usher turned retro, dipping back to the recent past for a trio of songs, “You Make Me Wanna” (from 1997’s “My Way”) and “U Got It Bad” and “U Don’t Have to Call” (both from 2001’s “8701”).

The bulk of the show’s material, however, came from “Confessions,” a public unburdening of past transgressions — rumored to have occurred during his three-year relationship with Rozanda “Chili” Thomas of the group TLC, although both have denied it — that not only has been good for Usher’s soul, but obviously for his wallet, too, from the looks of his diamond-encrusted necklace bearing the letter “U.”

Winding through several hits (and nearly twice as many wardrobe changes), Usher offered up the title track, “Bad Girl,” the sexually explicit “That’s What It’s Made For” and the tender ballad “Burn,” an ode to accepting lost love.

The upbeat party anthem “Yeah!” his collaboration with rappers Lil’ Jon and Ludacris — complete with patriotic red, white and blue confetti — brought the concert to a rousing close.

Preceding Usher, producer-turned-rapper Kanye West (whose client list includes Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Mos Def and Britney Spears), served up a far less scripted and a more soulful presentation, with “We Don’t Care,” “All Falls Down,” “Through the Wire” (a play on and tribute to “Through the Fire” by fellow Chicago South Sider, singer Chaka Khan) and “Jesus Walks,” all from his hit debut, “College Dropout.”

Every concert with multiple acts has a sacrificial lamb. Here, it was scantily clad Waldorf, Md., native Christina Milian, whose hit, “Dip It Low,” barely registered applause from concertgoers as they made their way into the arena.

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