Image by Shannon Sturgis

Cody Belew

Kris Allen has never met Cody Belew. With both singers in their early 20s and both from nearby small towns in small Arkansas, the lack of their encounter surely must be against all odds.

And Allen wasn’t in the audience Friday night for Belew’s concert at Wildwood Park for the Arts. Considering Allen is some kind of star now, the odds of that were pretty favorable.

Count him lucky for missing the show. Hearing a few bars might have knocked the American Idol right off his pedestal.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve got to tell you that Belew -- Cody, as I call him -- is a friend of mine. Little Rock’s a little city. But Friday night was the first time I’d seen him perform, besides for an acoustic set at a house party last summer before we’d met. He was good then, but nothing to blog about.

“That’s not really what I do,” he told me later, once we became friends. So I went to see him play at The Afterthought a few weeks afterward. Full house -- couldn’t even get in the door. I couldn’t make the shows at Cajun’s Wharf and on the Arkansas Queen that followed. I might have missed the show at Wildwood -- a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas -- had he not cajoled me into it.

It was a departure from his normal act with The Mercers, so I hear. Six singers backed him up. He had a drummer, pianist, guitarist, trombonist and saxophonist. Professional lighting foreshadowed the stardom that certainly waits for him, judging by the reaction of audience members. Grown women kicked their legs above waist level while seated. People stood up in the aisles and danced. Catcalls were many and so creative that one cracked the singer up, who replied, “Will you be quiet so I can sing?”

And boy, can Cody sing. I’m no music expert, and this is my first concert “review,” but I was struck by his range and the strength of his voice. His opening note in Tina Turner’s “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” was warm enough to tingle ears and melt hearts. He does all the runs and tricks of any skilled vocalist -- better even than many stars who have had fame bestowed upon them, I’d say. But it’s his stage presence and good looks that will make him Arkansas’ next big thing.

At one point during the show, the lights turned a devilish red and the music started sounding immoral. Cody began bantering, charming as he went, eventually mentioning a show on HBO about a swamp.  “Anybody ever been to Bon Temps, Louisiana?” he asked, getting at least some affirmative shouts. “No, you haven’t!” he shot right back. “For all you know that’s made up.” He was talking about True Blood, a show about vampires. “And do you know what vampires do?” he asked. “Suck your blood,” was the popular response, but Cody teasingly reminded them the show was for the kids. “They bite you,” he said.

He continued, drawing laughs and building anticipation before finally launching into “Trouble,” wiggling as he went. At the striking of a certain chord he popped a button open on his shirt and the audience erupted like it always does when it’s eating out of an entertainer’s hand. I just had to shake my head. All along I’d thought he was just a normal guy. Well, I say that, but I never thought he was “normal” like Allen, who I confirmed had never met Cody via text message.

“He probably wouldn’t like me,” Cody said. “We’re very different.”

“Ya think?” I texted back in reference to the “very different” part.

“Hahaha. I doubt he’d try and tackle 'Lady Marmalade',” a song he belted out Friday along with ones by Patti LaBelle, Prince, Chaka Khan, Annie Lennox and others. Although the music on his first album, Paradise, is quite different, it’s the soulful ‘60s and ‘70s songs that he’s become known for around here. Expect to see him perform more of that at Cajun’s Wharf on Thursday, December 9.

And expect big things out of him; things that will take him beyond Arkansas. I’m just a friend of his. Take that for what it’s worth.