By Chaz Lipp
I ranted about the “fan save” last week so I won’t go on about it again, accept to reassert my opinion that it’s the suckiest element the show has introduced in 14 seasons. I cared about one of the contestants in the bottom two this week – Qaasim Middleton – and as a West Coaster I was not able to Tweet in support of him. Of course, it’s not just sour grapes about not being able to participate – it’s that I can’t stand the idea of the last-minute, impromptu revote to begin with. The votes have already been cast; let them fall as they may. Okay, I ranted a little again. But what else can I say? I hate the “fan save.” And I hate that Qaasim won’t be part of the Top Five national tour, which host Ryan Seacrest officially announced tonight (the first season they haven’t let the entire Top Ten go on tour – I sure hope they return to using an actual live band this year).
Onto the performances – everyone had to do Billboard Hot 100 hits (who knows from what time span; it appeared that it had to be from this century or something)…
Jax – “Poker Face”
Jax and Joey have always shared a sort of retro-vibe in the vocal styling, but Jax really leaned on that side tonight with this Lady Gaga reinterpretation (more on that when we get to Joey). Honestly I didn’t care for it at first, but looking back it was one of the better performances tonight. To point out a specific example of where her overly-stylized delivery didn’t work was how she half-spoke the line “Check this hand/Cause I’m marvelous.” It made me cringe, if I’m telling the God’s honest truth. But Jax has a lot of self-confidence and this wasn’t all bad by any means. Harry Connick Jr. gave her good advice by reminding her that there’s more to reinventing a song than simply changing the tempo and groove. He didn’t feel it, and neither did I initially – but it stood out in retrospect.
Nick Fradiani – “Teenage Dream”
Jennifer Lopez felt Nick made this Katy Perry hit his own, but Harry was quick to disagree, correctly pointing to some pitch problems. Let’s put it this way, Harry’s jokey rendition of the song was the most fun moment during Nick’s segment. I’m not sure how Nick keeps sailing through week after week. He’s not distinctive in anyway and when he tries to kick up the intensity, he always loses some control over his vocal.
One of the tonight’s guest mentors, Jason Derulo, performed his latest single – one of numerous interruptions to the flow of the competition.
Quentin Alexander – “Latch”
Suddenly Harry decided to praise Quentin’s “look” after suggesting last week that it was all he really had going for him. Keith Urban thought it was a great, while Jennifer felt the drums were initially overpowering. I haven’t ever counted myself a Quentin fan, as I do feel he’s all style and no substance. But he did break out some capable falsetto singing here that showed some much-needed diversity in his overall vocal approach.
Now the other guest mentor, country group Florida Georgia Line, took their turn at grinding the pace of the competition to a halt.
Joey Cook – “Wrecking Ball”
I’ll say upfront that I’m a big Joey fan and I love her genuine quirkiness, as well as the passion she invests in her performances. But this week was my least favorite performance by her, mainly because I feel like she sold out her unique personality. In her pre-performance video clip, she claimed this was a “make or break week” for her and a chance to show that she belongs on the contemporary charts. After the judges offered a unanimous “meh” reaction (“I got bored towards the end,” said Harry), Joey muttered something about not being suited for Billboard. Oh yeah? “Miss Independent” and “Fancy” were big hits of this century, too, and she scored with both of those. This Miley Cyrus blah was Joey Cook taking everything we love about Joey Cook out and replacing it with nothing. This was disorienting to watch – a lifeless, disconnected Joey. I hope she bounces back.
Clark Beckham – “Make it Rain”
Every week I become a bigger fan of Clark’s and tonight was no exception. His vocal on this Ed Sheeran song was exceptional and easily claimed “best of the night.” J-Lo loved it musically but wasted a bunch of time criticizing what she apparently perceives as a lack of fashion sense. I hope Clark pays it no mind, they’re already got a clothes horse in this race (Quentin, of course). Harry focused almost entirely on Clark’s guitar playing, which he found distracting. It was, in fact, fine – and entirely secondary to his great vocal, which is ultimately what counts.
Another interruption, but at least this time it was by a former Idol contestant – Jennifer Hudson. She and Iggy Azalea did their new hit “Trouble” and it was a lot of fun actually. They should have these two mentor sometime.
Tyanna Jones – “Stay”
The judges loved her and it was hard not to be impressed. Tyanna stated upfront that she wanted to display some maturity and depth. She also said this Rihanna song was dedicated to her grandmother. Though she was freely crying by the time the song ended, you’d never know it from her vocal – Harry noted that Tyanna “held [her] emotions in check” and “did an amazing job.” Best week yet from Tyanna? Yes.
And now the bottom two compete for the repulsive “fan save.”
Rayvon Owen – “Set Fire to the Rain”
Keith said, “That was a guy singing for his life,” and he wasn’t kidding. Rayvon invested a great deal of emotion in this Adele favorite. J-Lo didn’t think it was the right song choice, Harry asked “We know you have incredible chops, but what is your gravy?” Meaning he doesn’t quite get a true sense of Rayvon’s style. Neither do I.
Qaasim Middleton – “Hey Ya”
Qaasim has been one of my favorites this season. I remember writing early on that Qaasim was coming across with such confidence and conviction, people might think he’s a ringer. Harry said a few weeks ago that when people ask him what he’s looking for on Idol, he tells them it’s Qaasim. The tide turned on him though and he lost a lot of support as the competition wore on. I think it shook his confidence and left him over-thinking his approach (much like Joey seems to be doing lately). Anyway, he did a great job with this Outkast hit, delivering not only one of his strongest vocal performances but also showing us his great stage presence.
Unfortunately, Qaasim’s energy wasn’t enough to win over the people on the East Coast who were actually allowed to take part in the Twitter revote. Rayvon stays for at least another week.
American Idol Season 14 Top 7 Photos: FOX