By Chaz Lipp
I don’t know about anyone else, but I consider the so-called “Fan Save” during Top 8 week of American Idol to be a deeply troubling development. I don’t really care what happens on The Voice or any other show. Idol has never sprung anything like this on viewers and it seriously compromises viewer/voters’ ability to trust the show from here out. In case you missed it, host Ryan Seacrest announced that viewers would be Tweeting during the final commercial break of the show who they thought should stay or go out of the bottom two. Obviously, that meant that most of the country would not be able to participate since the show airs live only in the Eastern and Central time zones. Mountain, Pacific, and whatever zone Hawaii is in be damned.
It’s not just that the rest of us weren’t able to participate. It’s that we, as a nation of viewers, already voted someone off last week. Regardless of the various theories flying around about what the Idol producers were hoping to accomplish with this stunt, they’ve effectively ruined the legitimacy of the vote tally. Season Two winner Reuben Studdard delivered the results envelope to Seacrest, but it didn’t matter as much this week. Daniel Seavey and Rayvon Owen were the bottom two. One received the lowest number of votes, but now we’ll never know who. The actual elimination was decided by viewers in only two time zones who happened to have Twitter accounts and who were willing to jump on to Tweet who should stay. It’s a total crock and honestly it has killed my enthusiasm for a season of Idol I had heretofore been enjoying.
Anyway, rant over. Onto the performances of Kelly Clarkson songs, mentored by the original Idol herself.
Nick Fradiani – “Catch My Breath”
Following the confusion incited by Seacrest’s announcement of the “fan save,” things only got worse when ultra-boring Nick was announced as the first safe contestant. Keith Urban praised Nick’s lower vocal range, but that’s exactly what hurt him the most during this typically dishwater-dull performance. The song seemed to be in too low a key for Nick, who only came to life during the choruses – and even then he sounded too desperate to impress, shouting the lyrics unconvincingly.
Jax – “Beautiful Disaster”
Jax is an interesting and unpredictable contestant. She followed up her best week yet with a so-so rendition that was subdued to the point of sounding a bit uncertain. Her thin delivery brought to mind her Adam Sandler tune from a couple weeks ago, only lacking that performance’s charm. This time around Jax was drowning in drama and it came off a bit contrived.
Interrupting the flow of the competition was a group performance of Clarkson’s “People Like Us” that had all the depth of a Brady Bunch sing-along number.
Tyanna Jones – “Mr. Know It All”
Tyanna was her usual reliable self with this confident, aggressive performance. I don’t think there’s anything particularly distinctive about Tyanna, but her voice has a pleasing tone. Judge Harry Connick Jr. definitely was onto something when he cited the lyric “you don’t know a thing about me” as being too true. We don’t know and maybe Tyanna herself, at the tender age of 16, hasn’t figured out who see wants to be as a vocalist.
Joey Cook – “Miss Independent”
Joey does, in fact, have a very strong idea of who she wants to be – and she rebounded in a big way from last week’s Cyndi Lauper disappointment. She reworked this early Clarkson hit as a flapper girl-era, jazz-tinged swing tune. In a way, the costuming and staging was just as much a case of play-acting, dress-up as ‘80s night last week. The giant mic hiding Joey’s face didn’t help either. But the most important element – her vocal – was entirely convincing and wound up being easily one of the night’s best.
Pausing the competition again, Kelly Clarkson came out to sing her latest hit, a forgettable ditty called “Heartbeat Song.”
Quentin Alexander – “Dark Side”
Right on, Harry Connick Jr. – you called it. Quentin is the guy whose outfits make more of an impression than his vocal technique. The biggest one trick pony of the season continues to earn fan adulation for his drama-laden dirges, but I’ve yet to figure out what so many viewers find so entrancing about him. His vocal was far from pitch perfect, but overall this was actually a step up from his Phil Collins mess last week.
Qaasim Middleton – “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
Let me first say, I am still a Qaasim fan and supporter. He made the brave move this week of continuing to tone down the theatrical energy of his performance style. His reinvention of “Stronger” in the form of a Prince-type seduction ballad was a perfectly acceptable choice. We got to see flashes of Qaasim’s indomitable confidence throughout his rendition. That said, this was ultimately a poorly executed vocal that only spotlighted some of the elements his detractors routinely attack him over. The falsetto was thin and frequently out of tune. I’m hoping this doesn’t kill his post-“judge’s save” momentum because I’d love to see Qaasim return to fearless form next week.
More from Kelly Clarkson, who this time performed her original audition song, “At Last.” I don’t like the way they continue to kill the flow of the competition with these intrusions week after week. At least this was a knockout performance of a classic song.
Clark Beckham – “The Trouble with Love Is”
Clark couldn’t have chosen a Clarkson song more perfectly suited to his abilities. He wowed Kelly during rehearsal and certainly wowed judge Jennifer Lopez with his performance. Clark is a great singer and this was another strong week for him. His upper range has a tendency to sound a bit shrill and almost choked at times, something that will likely improve with more experience. But at this point in the competition he has really emerged as a dark horse frontrunner to win the whole thing.
Daniel Seavey – “Breakaway”
Daniel finds himself in trouble for the first time, forced to sing for the ridiculously unfair “fan save.” Without being a fan, I’ve defended Daniel in past weeks. He’s young but looks so much younger, making him an easy target for a disproportionate amount of criticism. But here his vocal was truly a mess. Anyone tuning in for the first time would have to wonder how he managed to get past the audition phase based on this.
Rayvon Owen – “Since U Been Gone”
Rayvon was also in contention for the “fan save” and ends up earning it with this solidly performed reworking of the Clarkson mega-hit. Rayvon has a reliably pleasant-sounding voice and agreeably affable personality, but he has struggled with defining himself. This probably isn’t going to help him much in the long run, but at least it was technically sound.
Let’s hope, hope, hope we’ve seen the last of the “fan save.” With any luck, the show will return to letting the actual votes decide the outcome, not two time zone’s worth of Twitter users scrambling to participate in a last-minute revote.
American Idol Season 14 Top 8 Images: FOX