by Sherry Lipp
If you care about American Idol you probably already know that Nick Fradiani took the season 14 title, beating out runner up Clark Beckham. If you care about Idol – and probably even if you don’t – you also know next season will be the last. After 15 years it’s hard to imagine TV without it, but then again the cancellation doesn’t come as a surprise. The ratings have been in a downward spiral for the past few seasons. Idol still does get decent ratings, when compared to other shows, but it no longer stands out in the crowd. By hyping a final season they can improve their chances of going out on a high note rather than fading away.
About halfway through the finale host Ryan Seacrest announced the three current judges, Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban, will be returning next season. I’m guessing this on-air revelation was to immediately curtail speculation that former judges Simon Cowell and Paul Abdul (for some reason I never saw Randy Jackson’s name mentioned), would be brought back. Personally I’m glad the current judges are staying, but that doesn’t mean Idol couldn’t use a little Simon Cowell.
This show is in “play it safe” mode and in that sense it has lost a lot of its fun. Even this finale was about as basic as it gets – more on that in a minute. There are a couple of problems that led to this season feeling lackluster. Nothing really against Fradiani, but he basically won by be consistently no bad. He has a fine voice and is a fine performer, but really where is the wow factor? Where were those big moments? Idol no longer requires the contestants to take risks or stretch themselves. Those that do are almost guaranteed to get voted off. You might think that’s the fault of the voting audience, but that’s not entirely so.
The judges are excited about everyone. True criticism is far and few between and oftentimes don’t have a whole lot to do with the performance. Instead we get things like, “wear your guitar strap lower,” or “you need to move around more.” Even Connick, who often emphasized musicality, would give a pass to pitch problems if he liked the energy of a performance.
The problem is the judges have too much of an emotional attachment to the contestants because they are more involved in the selection process. In the past the judges picked the top group that would go into the live competition and leave the rest up to the voting audience. Now the judges have a wildcard save at the beginning, and they can use another save during the competition. They want to be right about who they picked and that makes them less likely to rake someone over the coals for a bad performance. But gold stars all around don’t do a lot to drive the contestants to improve themselves.
The season 14 finale was the epitome of that play it safe stance. Consisting almost entirely of musical performances, the show steered away from the humor and surprises that made previous finales memorable.
Clark Beckham and Nick Fradiani join Fall Out Boy for “Centuries. “ It was an energetic opening, but it played more to Nick’s strengths than Clark’s.
Tyanna Joes joins The Jacksons for a medley of their hits. Tyanna did a great job of holding her own and basically having to fill in for Michael Jackson on these songs.
The top six girls perform a medley of “We Are Family,” “Le Freak,” “I’ll Be There,” “Good Times,” and “Rapper’s Delight” with Nile Rodgers and Chic. Nile Rodgers doing his own version of “Rapper’s Delight” was my favorite things about this performance – sorry girls!
Ricky Martin performs his new single “Put it Down,” and then is joined by the top six guys for a medley of his hits. Kind of a strange choice for the boys group performance. I couldn’t help but hope that William Hung would make an appearance when they got to “She Bangs.”
Adanna Duru with Janelle Monae on “Yoga.” I felt sorry for Adanna on this one. She was basically a backup singer and no real effort was made to showcase her at all. She was basically just there.
Jennifer Lopez joins Price Royce and Pitbull for a performance of “Back It Up.” I think it’s cool all three of the judges can get up on stage on perform. This one’s not really my thing, but it was fine.
Joey Cook performs “Cool Kids” with Echosmith. I thought this was a good fit for Joey, but I would have liked to have seen her do something a little her own style. It would have been cool to see her with accordion again.
Next up is Keith Urban performing his song “Even the Stars Fall 4 U.” I have never listened to Keith Urban, but I couldn’t help but think of Harry telling people not to sing in accents that are not their own. I wonder what he thinks of Keith’s twang?
Rayvon Owen duets with Jamie Foxx on “In Love By Now.” This was definitely one of the best matchups of the night. Rayvon got to show off his vocal skills and Jamie Foxx let him pretty much own the stage. It was a really nice performance.
The annual tradition of Ford giving the winners a new car continued with Nick and Clark each receiving a new Ford Focus. They also got to give a Focus to their “mentors.” Clark’s was his pastor and vocal teacher. Nick’s mentor was his friend and bandmate, who looked to be about the same age as Nick – I’m not saying he can’t be a mentor, but seriously how much more experience could he have had?
And now for possibly the most cringe-worthy performance of the night – Daniel Seavey with New Kids on the Block. This was just awkward. Daniel looked like he was in the way half the time, he obviously didn’t know any of the songs, and why did they make try to learn the moves NKOTB have been doing for the past 25 years?
Quentin Alexander joins Vance Joy for “Riptide.” This was okay. It wasn’t much of a duet, but I thought it was a good performance.
Qaasim Middleton with Chris Brown and Pitbull on their new song “Fun.” This was not the kind of thing I was hoping they would have Qaasim do. He didn’t get to really show off his great performing chops. Kind of like Adanna he was swallowed up by everything else that was happening on stage.
Up next is the much-hyped duet between Jax and Steven Tyler. Well first Tyler did a solo performance of his new country single “Love is Your Name,” which I really liked. Then Jax, who had been standing in the audience, joined Tyler on stage for a rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” Jax was clearly excited to be sharing the stage with Tyler and made the most of it. I wish they had segued into an Aerosmith song, but this was one of the most fun performances of the night.
As the show finally moves toward its conclusion the top two each have their duets. Each of them performed a song they had done earlier in the season. Clark performed “Takin’ It to the Streets” with Michael McDonald. Clark sounds great, McDonald…not so much. Nick performed “Back Home” and “Honey I’m Home” with Andy Grammer. I liked this performance, it was upbeat and a good for Nick to go out on.
For the final musical performance of the night it’s the three judges doing “Diamonds” and “Locked Out of Heaven.” Lopez takes the lead vocals with Urban on guitar and backing vocals. Connick is on piano and unfortunately does not sing a note. Couldn’t they have started with Harry singing at the piano and then had the other two join in? One of my biggest disappointments has been that we have never seen what a great musician and singer Connick truly is.
And finally we have a winner. Congrats to Nick Fradiani on being the 14th, and penultimate, American Idol winner.
See you in January for the 15th and final season of American Idol.
American Idol Season 14 Finale images: Fox