By Chaz Lipp
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: American Idol shouldn’t include novelties like David Hasselhoff medleys or group performances at the expense of farewell performances to those voted off. We lost two contestants tonight and neither was given a proper sendoff. No highlights reel and no final song. Just because the save has been used, there’s no real reason they can allow a dignified exit.
As usual, Idol offered a mixed bag as the Top 9 explored the music of the ‘80s. Interestingly, some chose to revel in the kitschy side of the era. Treating the theme like a costume/nostalgia party isn’t necessarily the best route to take. The best performances of the night transcended the era in which the original songs were recorded.
Daniel Seavey – “You Make My Dreams” (Hall & Oates)
Young Daniel kicks it off with a bouncy, good-natured jaunt through a crowd-pleasing hit. One of the more vilified contestants this season, Daniel gets a disproportionate amount of criticism. At least he’s not boring, which is more than can be said about some others in this year’s batch. But he is getting predictable. This was another overly facile yet competent performance. It won’t win him new fans, but it’s doubtful any existing fans will stop voting for him based on this.
Quentin Alexander – “In the Air Tonight” (Phil Collins)
Quentin has a firmly established fan base and seems to get a pass no matter what he does. His approach, which consists of a lot of posing in outlandish garb while looking extremely sullen, doesn’t vary much from week to week. More thought goes into his wardrobe than his performance. His voice is usually pleasant, but to my ears there is a distressing lack of passion. I hoped this Collins classic, one of the strangest and most dramatic of ‘80s hits, would bring him out of his comfort zone – but it didn’t. Harry Connick Jr. seemed to recognize that Quentin is getting repetitive.
Joey Cook – “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (Cyndi Lauper)
I’m a big Joey fan and it was a real relief when her chair turned green. Going into ‘80s night, I immediately thought Cyndi Lauper would be just the ticket for Joey. But I was thinking more along the lines of “I Drove All Night,” or maybe “True Colors,” or “Time After Time.” Lauper herself has revamped her breakout hit with a blues-tinge, so it’s not like there was nothing that could be done with it. To be fair Joey threw in a reggae-lite section, but this was just not an inspired night for her. It was a bit indulgent, what with the frenetic bopping around and shiny costume, and Joey wound up losing a lot of her identity in the process. Let’s hope she regains it next week.
Tyanna Jones – “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (Whitney Houston)
Much like Joey, Tyanna chose to focus on light, frothy fun and came up with one of her weaker performances. Much like Joey, Tyanna chose a heavyweight ‘80s icon but didn’t choose one of her most challenging songs. More troubling, Tyanna had trouble staying on pitch during the verses, which tested her lower range. It was as if nailing the sing-along chorus was all she was focused on.
Jax – “You Give Love a Bad Name” (Bon Jovi)
A week in the bottom two seems to have reinvigorated Jax as she reinvented the Bon Jovi stadium rocker as a piano-driven power ballad. This song served as the key moment for Season 6 runner-up Blake Lewis, whose studio version beat-boxed its way into the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100. But Jax went a completely different direction and came up one of the night’s true highlights. Harry, along with Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez, all felt her vocals were drowning in the arrangement, but perhaps the live mix was improperly balanced. It sounded fine on TV, even during the rhythmically-inventive, stop-start section that mentor Boy George cautioned her against.
Nick Fradiani – “Man in the Mirror” (Michael Jackson)
After a bland but competent reading of the self-empowerment anthem, Harry told Nick that what makes him great is his humility. Nick couldn’t agree more, bringing into question just how modest the guy really is. Dull is actually more like it, at least as evidenced by this characterless, easy listening take on an iconic song.
Salt-N-Pepa came out to do “Push It,” yet more time that could’ve been used to give those voted off a suitable farewell.
Clark Beckham – “Every Breath You Take” (The Police)
Amidst all the ersatz “fun” of ‘80s night, leave it to Clark to focus simply on delivering a great performance of a great song. Sitting at the piano, Clark displayed his musicianship yet again as he subtly reworked the chords, lending a hint of gospel blues to the Police classic. Even taking instrumental prowess out of the equation, Clark’s controlled, impassioned vocal was simply the most spectacular moment of the night (if not the season so far). This unaccompanied performance set the bar for everyone else.
Qaasim Middleton – “Addicted to Love” (Robert Palmer)
Qaasim is perhaps the most polarizing performer this season; a true “love him or hate him” contestant. I happen to love him and cannot understand why he’s had to endure so much hate. Actually, I do have some ideas, but I don’t care to get too deeply into them (it’s a big enough – and troubling enough – topic to require a separate article). The judges appreciate him and rightly used their one save last week when Qaasim inexplicably wound up with the least votes.
Qaasim has aggressive confidence and a commanding presence, and for various sociological reasons, that persona puts off a lot of people in America. Not liking someone’s voice or style is one thing, but the vicious attacks against Qaasim by so many viewers (and even some professional reviewers) strong suggest there is more at the root of the dislike than a simple difference of taste.
I felt bad seeing Qaasim sacrifice some of his unique personality in favor of a lot of mild-mannered grinning during his performance and overstated humbleness before and after he sang. Ultimately I’d rather see Qaasim be himself and let the votes fall where they may, than see him cater to the people who don’t like him (who are so closed-minded, he’s unlikely to win them over anyway). This wasn’t his best week (though he did sing the song quite well), but he’s the most dynamic performer of the bunch and definitely deserves to continue.
Rayvon Owen – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Tears for Fears)
Rayvon emerges victorious from a bottom three that also included Adanna Duru and Maddie Walker. Adanna had been surging, displaying real fire and passion. She’ll be sorely missed. Rayvon seemed to be attempting a Tears for Fears impression here and it ends the night on a somewhat stupefying note. He has an easy-going personality but that’s what always carries over into his performances. Where’s the heart and soul? What kind of artist does Rayvon hope to be? The judges seem to be urging him to figure that out each week, but he hasn’t made any progress in defining himself.
American Idol Season 14 Top 9 Images: FOX