It s a true pop-cultural coup for Charlotte:

Madonna one of the most famous, most revered, most controversial recording artists on the planet brings a tour to the Carolinas for the very first time on Thursday night, more than 30 years into a career that s spawned dozens of hit songs.

Tickets went on sale in February, and fans were so ecstatic that the Material Girl was finally materializing here that ... they bought some. Then later on, they bought some more. A few here, a few there, through the summer, into the fall. Nine months later, tickets to catch Madonna s MDNA Tour at Charlotte s Time Warner Cable Arena are still available. And not for nosebleeds, but really good seats.

In many ways, this is unconscionable. This is a show on track to join her 2008 tour among history s top 10. It s a show that has sold out in almost every city it s been to in New York and Los Angeles, but also markets similar in size to Charlotte, like New Orleans and Las Vegas. It s a show that Pollstar has reported is averaging 33,200 people.

So Madonna can t sell 15,000 tickets here? She s never been here. Not to Charlotte, Raleigh or Greensboro, not to Columbia or Charleston.

The easiest explanation is high prices. Including service fees, it s $192.10 for the cheapest ticket; to sit in better seats, with a date, you ll pay about what it costs to fly from Charlotte Douglas International to her current hometown of London and back.

Another hurdle Madonna faces: Many fans seem to think that, at age 54, she s past her sell-by date.

She s too old to be doing her risque act, says Cheryl Ryan, 45, of Matthews, who says Madge was a major part of my growing-up years but is skipping the concert. It seems like she s trying too hard. I don t know why she keeps trying to be so young. I just don t think she s got it anymore.

But hey, everyone else has been forking over the cash. Why the hang-ups here?

Perhaps, for whatever reason, she s just too sexy for the South although this would surprise me, since we re not nearly as repressed as, say, Abu Dhabi, where she sold out an arena in June.

But I have another theory. Since we are on the tail end of the North American leg of the tour, we ve had access to reviews from all the other cities. It s possible fans who were undecided did their research, and felt like it wasn t a must-see.

We know, for instance, that it involves guns and violence and church-bashing. We know she trots out her 12-year-old son, Rocco, at one point, and moons the crowd at another. We know the two-hour set focuses on new stuff from an album ( MDNA ) that has been met with widespread indifference, and that it largely avoids the nostalgia many fans no doubt yearn for.

Most disappointingly, we know that Madonna is still a major diva. Every ticket for every U.S. show has been imprinted with a start time of 8 p.m., yet in every city, she has tested the patience of her fans. The earliest she s shown her face? 10:30. Just last week in Detroit, she didn t appear until 10:45.

Is she just better than us? said Stephanie Sawyer, 38, of Charlotte, who is going to the show with six girlfriends but feeling a bit put out by the prospect of waiting so long for the show to start. Is that why she feels like she can just show up whenever she gets there? ... She has us hostage, we paid the money, I ll get there when I get there. Is that the mentality?

There was a glimmer of hope on Monday, when the arena announced on Facebook that Madonna will be out at 10 p.m. here. But we ll believe it when we see it. After all, why would Charlotte be deprived of an extra half-hour to shop for concert tees and jumbo beers?

And whether it s 10, 10:30 or 10:45, concertgoers will be up well past midnight. They re still going to have to give the sitter a nice tip for sticking around so late. They re still going to have to either struggle to keep their eyes open at work Friday, or fake an illness and stay home (even though their co-workers won t be fooled, since they ve been talking up the concert all year).

For better or worse, this is the price they ll have to pay to see Madonna s first and perhaps last Charlotte show. Well, not including whatever they dropped on those tickets ...

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