By Aly Semigran
Updated May 18, 2009 at 10:48 PM EDT

In a bad economy, are pop-radio festivals the way to go? After all, you do get to see six or seven acts in one go — and considering prices for single-act shows lately, $100 might sound like a bargain. But New York metro area top-40 station Z100 held their annual Zootopia festival at New Jersey’s Izod Center this weekend, and besides getting my ear drums blown out, I started to wonder if you really get that much bang for your Benjamins.

I’m sure much of it depends on just who’s on the bill (I’ll admit I was, uh, indifferent to Jesse McCartney), but isn’t the thrill of seeing live music the unpredictability of it all? With pop radio concert shows, everything feels dishearteningly familiar.

The squeaky-clean McCartney opened the evening and had the tween girls in hysterics with songs like “Leavin” and “Beautiful Soul.” Soulja Boy followed with a rapid-fire set that included the inescapable hit “Crank That,” much shirtlessness (a move Flo Rida also borrowed), and him asking the crowd to take their cell phones out, then walking off the stage without so much as a “Thank you” or a “Goodnight, New Jersey!”

The All-American Rejects stepped in to give rock fans a much-needed break from pop and hip-hop — or so I’d hoped. AAR’s live performance (including some of their best-known hits, from “Move Along” and “Dirty Little Secret” to a Shatner-esque dramatic reading of the recent “Gives You Hell”) felt just as over-choreographed as any young pop starlet’s set, and it’s hard to enjoy anything that involves 25 minutes of lead singer Tyson Ritter’s best Aldous Snow imitation.

Ciara came next, and while it’s hard not to be impressed with her dance moves, the vocals are underwhelming in concert (and, let’s face it,”Love Sex Magic” feels slightly less magical and sexy without JustinTimberlake). Kelly Clarkson, on the other hand, sounds near-perfect live. Even after hearing “Since U Been Gone” 500 times, I still get chills when she hits those crazy high notes. Granted, her onstage asides (mostly generic county-fair banter) should be kept to a minimum, but the original American Idol champ was still the highlight of the night.

The Black Eyed Peas landed the coveted last spot in the three-hour show, and while the Peas are a well-oiled machine together, they were no match for Clarkson’s set. It all felt a bit outdated, especially when Fergie started throwing money around (literally) during “My Humps.”

So maybe this lineup didn’t quite fit my style (the median age was around 16), and I really got sick of being asked how New Jersey was doing tonight, whether I was having fun yet, and to make some noise. But I can see how if this is your thing, you would get your money’s worth. What do you think Music Mixers? Were you at last night’s Zootopia, too? Are these radio concerts way fun or just way lame? I can’t hear you!