By Chaz Lipp
The good news is, unlike last week, American Idol held the elimination announcement until the end of the show. This way we got to see three performances from each off the remaining four, with the suspense of who was voted off building throughout the night.
Round One: Scott Borchetta’s Choice
Rayvon Owen – “Want to Want Me” (Jason Derulo)
Smooth and characterless, this was not a memorable way to open the show, nor one of Rayvon’s best performances. The first of several poor choices by Borchetta. Each of the judges – Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez – loved every second of it.
Clark Beckham – “Beautiful Day” (U2)
What? This was a head-scratcher of a choice by Borchetta. He made a big deal about how Lee DeWyze released it as his Winner’s Single (a version widely panned and largely ignored by the public). Clark mumbled something about being in “good company,” but didn’t sound like his heart was truly in it. It turns out to be one of Clark’s most awkward, stilted, unconvincing performances of the season.
Nick Fradiani – “Because the Night” (Bruce Springsteen)
Borchetta’s best choice, Nick did his usual good job with it – even if it still traded on his generic blandness. I don’t know if Nick is passionate about what he does, but he has never fully convinced me he’s deeply feeling what he’s singing. This came pretty close though.
Jax – “My Generation” (The Who)
Keith called it “friggin’ awesome” and proclaimed it Jax’s best ever, as did Harry. I’m not a fan of Jax in “rocking out” mode. This song isn’t taxing from a melodic standpoint, which is where I feel Jax shines. I heard Hilary Duff do this song and, even though it was pretty limp, it was still better than this. Later on in the night, the judges accuse Jax of leaning on the Idol band’s skill, but she did the same thing here (i.e. her facing off with drummer). When she shouted “American Idol this is our generation!” – wow, talk about cringe-worthy.
Round Two: Hometown Dedications
Nick Fradiani – “Back Home” (Andy Grammer)
Harry said, “Sometimes I don’t think a critique is even warranted and this is one of the cases.” C’mon man, it’s your job. It was pretty good, but it wasn’t that good. Keith liked seeing how proud Nick’s dad seems to be. You know how it is these days, Idol is all about the warm ‘n fuzzies. Nick continues to walk away with the contest by virtue of being predictable and boringly earnest.
Clark Beckham – “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bad” (Otis Redding)
Perhaps not as raw as it could’ve been, Clark none the less scores himself a nice comeback with this soul classic. Harry and JLo are impressed, but Keith wants more “angst.” Honestly he’s kind of right – this felt a bit too mannered – too planned out. It was good, but I’m not sure about changing “this loneliness won’t leave me alone” to “His Holiness won’t leave me alone.” I’m not a fan of putting evangelical twists on songs that didn’t have them to begin with. In fact, I have to dock (pun intended) him a bit for that lapse in taste.
Rayvon Owen – “As” (Stevie Wonder)
Though this Stevie Wonder epic is the kind of song in which the backing vocals are almost as important as the lead, Rayvon managed to easily deliver one of his very best performances of the season. From a purely technical standpoint, Rayvon can sing circles around all the others in this top four. But too oftenin past weeks he didn’t connect on an emotional level with the material he was singing. This time he did.
Jax – “My Immortal” (Evanescence)
Harry and JLo loved it, but Keith was rather rudely left out of the feedback this time. At any rate, Jax is always better when she’s focused and singing something melodic. Give her credit for going soft and low key, but it was also a little too dry to be memorable.
Round Three: Judges’ Pick
Clark Beckham – “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” (The Weeknd)
I think the judges were trying to give Clark something along the lines of what he did for his “gravy” song last week – a slow-burn, sexy, slinky soul ballad. This is probably Clark’s best moment of the night, though it’s plagued a bit by some pitch problems. But the conviction is there and it’s a good impression to leave on voters for the final round before next week’s finale.
Rayvon Owen – “You Are So Beautiful” (Billy Preston)
Harry liked the way Rayvon and the musical director reharmonized the song. I wasn’t as happy, but it was admittedly a creative approach that brought something new to a simple song. I don’t believe Rayvon connected emotionally with it the way Taylor Hicks (or even Danny Gokey) did. But the judges, of course, all loved it. But who are we kidding? At this point the “judges” are clearly just cheerleaders.
Jax – “Misery Business” (Paramore)
I take that back. The judges apparently aren’t above criticizing because they decided to get kind of tough with Jax here. It was their song choice and she didn’t do what they wanted with it. But honestly I felt this was Jax’s shining moment of the night. It was up-tempo and energetic, but scaled back from Paramore’s hard rocking approach – enough so to let Jax do what she does best: sing melody and find nuance in the song. The judges all wanted a Xerox of the original – which seems the polar opposite of what Jax does best (remember “You Give Love a Bad Name”?).
Nick Fradiani – “I’ll Be” (Edwin McCain)
Again, Nick delivers what is apparently in vogue on Idol this season, more than any previous year: dull competency. I feel like I say the same thing about Nick week after week, but I have to say it’s simply because Nick really does the exact same thing week after week. And it’s working for him. He is the ‘90s-era Adult Contemporary rock equivalent of Scotty McCreery’s country crooner. And we all know how well predictability and ‘playing it safe’ worked out for Scotty.
I knew it was hoping for too much for Nick to get booted. Instead, the “comeback kid” Rayvon Owen is kicked to the curb. Next week we’ll see Nick, Jax, and Clark battle it out (on Tuesday night; the first of the two-night finale). Personally, I’m hoping for a Jax and Clark Top Two.
American Idol Season 14 Top Three Images: FOX