Our writer and Idol expert, Andrew Rogers is back this season covering the popular FOX reality show, “American Idol“. The pressure is on and the stakes are high as the musical competition searches for a real superstar in its fourteenth year. With weekly recaps discussing the contestants’ performances and choices, Rogers looks ahead at what’s in-store each week in his exclusive Idol recap series.
A common complaint on Idol is that some contestants (like this season’s frontrunner, Clark Beckham) are too quick to delve into the oldest years of the Idol catalog for some inspiration. The reason it matters is because whoever wins this show has to be “radio ready” and be able to compete with the big names on the Billboard charts. Essentially, that is what Billboard Hot 100 Night was meant to show us. Can Idol’s best compete with the Industry’s best? Let’s find out…
First called safe: Jax – “Poker Face” (Lady Gaga) – I understood what Jax was trying to do with this arrangement and while I appreciated her trying ti give a new spin to the track, it felt like it lacked her usual commitment. Part of why her Bon Jovi covered work so well which, arguably wasn’t as good of an arrangement as this, was her commitment to it and maybe just straight up better vocals. I felt like this was a bit of a half-step backwards from Jax’s usual form and, while normally I don’t comment on a contestant’s appearance unless I think it matters to the voting, the bad tanning job someone did on her face was just distracting. Rating: B-
Second safe: Nick Fradiani – “Teenage Dream” (Katy Perry) – Nick kind of suffered from the same issues as Jax this week. His rearrangement of the song was decent enough and suited him, but his vocal’s sounded strained in part and the performance itself lacked any emotion or commitment, which has been a common problem for Nick this season outside of his rendition of “Man in the Mirror”. I know he has the looks and experience to probably keep him safe on a half-decent performance like this, but I want more. I want him to strive for better. Rating: B-
Third safe: Quentin Alexander – “Latch” (Disclosure feat. Sam Smith) – I think Quentin chose a great song for him from the list this week. It was uptempo, which was a welcome change, it wasn’t as dark and moody as usual and it suited his voice. There were definitely some pitch problems, both in his falsetto during the chorus and otherwise, but no more or less than Nick or Jax had, except with a bit of a more interesting song choice behind him. I think Quentin will do well going forward to keep Harry’s “vocal technique > performance” critique in mind and try to find the right balance. Don’t get lazy with either part. Rating: B
Fourth safe: Joey Cook – “Wrecking Ball” (Miley Cyrus) – I did not know what to expect when I heard what Joey was singing and even moreso when she seemed to keeping the original arrangement. There were some really sweet spots in her vocal’s on this performance, almost little dips that make a word or line more interesting. The chorus on the song exposed some of her vocal limitations but I do appreciate that she picked a song that people probably wouldn’t have expected from her. Still, I prefer when Joey is on form that when she’s grasping for a foothold like she was in this performance. Rating: B-
Fifth safe: Clark Beckham – “Make it Rain” (Ed Sheeran) – As usual, Clark rose above the middling-in-the-B-range pack and delivered one of the best performances of the night. The other good thing about this performance is he chose an Ed Sheeran song and maintained his usual bluesy soulfulness that the voters seemed to be eating up. He proved his style of music is plenty modern and he improved upon the feedback Kelly gave him last week without seeming so rehearsed. I will be interested to see if he’ll avoid doing another slow jam type of song next week to keep the audience interested but as it stands, I don’t think he’s having a problem with that so far. Bonus points for jamming on that electric guitar. I suspect we might see him sing John Mayer’s “Gravity” at some point this season, maybe during the judge’s or mentor’s pick round. Rating: A
Sixth safe: Tyanna Jones – “Stay” (Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko) – Tyanna had an absolute return to form on Wednesday night’s show. She came into this competition a front runner for a reason. All of her performances seemed to show that she knew her voice so well for someone so young, but the last two week’s seemed to shake that impression. Tonight, her vocal choices showed that she knows exactly where to steer a song to bring out the best in it. Quentin could learn a thing or two from her that sometimes it better to avoid the glory note and just give us a sweet run that sends chills down your spine. Were the some bumpy parts? Sure. But she had the commitment that Jax and Nick were lacking, as demonstrated by the tears she shed when the song was over. I think she too thought her mediocre performances were going to do her in and getting the chance to deliver another great performance was all she needed to be back in the game. Rating: A
Which left us with this week’s bottom two, both of which have been there before: Qaasim, who was previously saved by the judges and Rayvon, who received the twitter saved last week.
Rayvon Owen – “Set Fire to the Rain” (Adele) – Rayvon ditched his usual falsetto spin on his songs to give us a straight up the middle rendition of this song. There were parts I loved (the glory note at the end, the emotional intensity of it all) but parts I actually cringed at (the arrangement when it hit the chorus with those drums, the flat notes that seemed to plague Rayvon throughout). I think Rayvon suffers from the same thing that many of his competitors have this season: it seems to be either pitch or performance, but not both. Up until this week, it’s been all pitch and last week he found out how to align that with his performance skills. This week he dropped the pitch for the performance. Find the right balance again Rayvon, before it’s too late. Rating: C+
Qaasim Middleton – “Hey Ya” (Outkast) – Qaasim chose the perfect song for himself. I mean, before I even knew who was singing what, I saw this song on the list that the American Idol instagram posted and knew it would be him. I think he suffered from, again, a lack of his usual bombastic commitment to his performance, but his cheeky dancing still have me grinning. I might chock that up to his nerves, but when he was singing for the save a few weeks ago, he wasn’t afraid to go all out. Oddly enough, his vocals in the bigger parts of the song seemed more in line than in the quieter, spoken parts but I think that, again, might be a lack of attention to the little details on his part. Rating: C
In the end, I don’t think either contestant made a great case for saving themselves like Rayvon did last week. It was all a matter of preference: If you preferred Rayvon’s buttery smooth vocals, you’d give him another chance and if you preferred Qaasim’s performance style, you’d go for him. In the end, Rayvon earned his second Idol Fan Save from twitter in as many weeks, but I think next week he’ll likely find himself in the same position. What intrigues me is which of the other contestants will join him since none of them have ever been in the bottom group. I think whoever Rayvon is up against though will likely earn more votes than him for the save, but we’ll have to wait and see. It could depend on the performances during next week’s “American Classics” theme. The exciting thing about this Top 7 (which is pretty rare over the course of Idol history) is that each of them has had one or more standout performances, so next week is really going to come down to how the votes stack up and who delivers a good performance. Make it count, contestants.
Until then, let me know what you thought of the show, including the results and guest performances, in the comments and which performances were you favorites in the poll below.