By Chaz Lipp
Now that the most interesting, distinctive contestants have been eliminated from American Idol – Qaasim Middleton last week and Joey Cook this week – season 14 has become a very dull place indeed. Clark Beckham continues to impress and remains the most consistent contestant. Each of the Top 7 performed two songs (“American Classics,” voted in by viewers) on the April 15 broadcast that eschewed special guests and other nonsense in favor of focusing squarely on the contestants.
Resident fashionista Quentin Alexander revealed himself to be more of a diva than his showy, style-over-substance performances even suggested. In a truly embarrassing display of petulant immaturity, Quentin railed against the very concept of American Idol by calling the bottom two “wack.” Newsflash, Quentin: someone gets voted off every week. And if you make friends with the very people you’re competing with, yes they may be eliminated before you. After delivering a generally well-received first performance, Quentin sulked like a spoiled child, decrying the fact that Joey Cook in particular had landed in the bottom two.
He could’ve enjoyed the moment and been grateful to his fans for voting for him, but instead he decided to speak his feelings. Maybe with age and experience, Quentin will learn the very basic truth that yes, being true to yourself and speaking your mind are important – but outbursts have their time and place. This was spectacularly ill-timed on Quentin’s part, as was his direct confrontation with Harry Connick, Jr. following Connick’s wise admonition. Connick, a multi-media showbiz pro and certainly someone from whom each contestant can (and should) learn a great deal, suggested (in so many words) that Quentin forfeit his place in the competition if he finds the process so “wack.” In a People interview right after the show, Quentin further embarrassed himself by declaring Connick “disrespectful.”
Sadly, if anything, Quentin’s outrage may have only cost Joey votes in the despicable Twitter “fan save” that has now become a mainstay of American Idol. Yes, instead of going by the actual weekly vote count, Idol now puts the fate of the bottom two specifically in the hands of Twitter users in the Eastern and Central time zones only. Quentin’s tantrum was largely due to Joey’s inclusion in the bottom two and fickle voters may have possibly associated her with his behavior when deciding to whom they should direct their sole Tweet “save” vote.
“Why Do Fools Fall in Love” – 2.5/5
“Proud Mary” – 3/5
Tyanna has the most technically accomplished voice in the competition. Each of her performances tonight was polished and professional. Keith Urban suggested “more edge” is needed from her, and I tend to agree. Jennifer Lopez was reserved in her praise, especially of the first performance. Harry asked if she had ever watched Frankie Lymon perform “Why Do Fools,” and Tyanna not only admitted she hadn’t, but looked as if she’d never even heard Lymon’s name before. This is understandable to a point, given Tyanna’s age, but it also points to how much seasoning she needs. She’s good, but she has yet to break out with a truly distinctive performance. “Proud Mary” was a so-so approximation of Tina Turner, further showing that Tyanna has not yet found her own voice.
“Superstition” – 4/5
“Moon River” – 2.5/5
Clark offered some impressive guitar playing on “Superstition,” accompanying his riffing with scat vocals. Harry said it was “about as good as you could do that song,” which out of context could be either negative or positive, but quickly followed it with “I have no critique.” Keith rambled on senselessly about how Clark should hold his guitar lower, basically trying to convince Clark to risk feeling uncomfortable for the sake of looking cooler. Speaking of cool, there was nothing remotely hip about Clark’s old-fashioned warbling on “Moon River,” during which he revealed some uncertainty in his lower range that definitely needs strengthening. Harry took him to task for not playing more inventive piano chords, which is hardly fair given that Idol remains a singing competition.
“Piece of My Heart” – 3/5
“Beat It” – 1/5
Some Janis-lite from Jax with a game rendition of “Piece of My Heart” that was fairly solid without being especially memorable. She put some grit into it and received praise from both Harry and Keith about her timing with the band. Her Michael Jackson cover was memorable for all the wrong reasons, with Jax squatting down to indulge in fan interaction while sacrificing accurate pitch. The arrangement favored the Idol house band, concluding with a guitar solo rather than a Jax vocal showcase. This was the low point – performance-wise – of the entire night. This wasn’t Idol-worthy by any stretch.
“American Girl” – 3.5/5
“Only the Good Die Young” – 3/5
Nick has a pleasant voice. I never really felt he connected strongly in previous weeks, but he stepped up his game considerably this week. His Tom Petty tune stayed faithful to the original and was probably the most confident Nick has ever sounded. He got great feedback from all three judges. He surprised everyone by going the other direction completely with his second song, reinventing a Billy Joel classic as a slower, more introspective piece. Keith applauded it as a “10 out of 10.” Jennifer was “loving it the whole way through.” Harry was more mixed but complimented Nick for “an adventurous arrangement” and “for trying something different.” I thought it was a bold move, though it did feel like it ended before it had a chance to really get started.
“Are You Gonna Go My Way” – 1.5/5
“The Sounds of Silence” – 3/5
In his pre-recorded video, Quentin promised to change things up by rocking out. He then came out aping Lenny Kravitz in an absolutely joyless, emotion-less performance that was completely lacking conviction. It’s time to stop giving Quentin a free pass based on his wardrobe. Harry pointed out it was the band that was actually doing the rocking here. If this is Quentin’s idea of rocking out, he should go back to his dour balladry. Well, that’s exactly what he did in his second, superior, performance. Harry got on his case again about pitch problems – but Harry gave a pass to singers who had far worse pitch issues tonight (Jax, specifically). “The Sounds of Silence” wasn’t his best moment, but it was in Quentin’s limited comfort zone so it worked better than the rock posturing.
And the bottom two are Joey Cook and Rayvon Owen…
“My Funny Valentine” – 2/5
“Somebody To Love” – 4/5
Joey sounded vocally strong on “Valentine,” but her timing was so far off it would’ve been a train wreck had Rickey Minor and the band not so skillfully compensated. It sounded like she came in at least a bar early and then had difficulty regaining her place in the form of the song. To her credit, she was obviously aware of the problem (her frustration and uncertainty showed on her face) but yet she maintained her composure and brought surprising power to her delivery. None of the judges mentioned any of the timing issues (though I can’t believe Harry didn’t notice). Joey rebounded with one of her best-ever performances, turning the Jefferson Airplane classic into a barn-burning bluegrass stomper.
“Long Train Runnin’” – 2.5/5
“Always on My Mind” – 3.5/5
Rayvon did a grooving, smooth R&B take on the Doobie Brothers hit and it was lively but bland. Keith suggested Rayvon needs more “edge,” while J-Lo said “way to step it up.” Harry took issue with the song choice, but noted Rayvon’s “amazing voice.” It was his second song that probably won over the Tweeters. It was almost certainly Rayvon’s most emotional performance yet – “I’d say fantastic,” enthused Keith.
Technical skill seems to be trumping character this season of American Idol. Early on in the season the judges decided to shun Adam Ezegelian. Last week we lost the fiery Qaasim Middleton. Now we have to say goodbye to the unpredictable Joey Cook.
American Idol Season 14 Top 6 Images: FOX