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.
I get a little antsy when we get to the point in the competition where contestants are singing multiple songs in a week because I feel like Idol history has shown that we are guaranteed to get at least one less-than-stellar performance from each of them because they are not used to having less rehearsal time. Generally, it’s the first performance where they falter, for whatever reason. Some say it’s a by-product of the producers choosing who performs when and saving the best for last, others say that the contestants realize that it’s their last chance to impress in the second round or that they are performing well in response to feedback they didn’t like. This can make for great performances, like Haley Reinhart’s “I (Who Have Nothing)” in Season 10, which is why I tried to take tonight’s first round as a warm up and the second round as the real make-or-break round. So let’s see how they did and who really used the two songs to their advantage:
First called safe: Tyanna Jones – “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers) – I definitely liked the bubbly feel of this song choice. It felt like a throwback to the old Tyanna from the semi-finals who could deliver an upbeat song with ease, which is something that not a lot of contestants can do. That said, I felt like the band drowned her out and because her voice isn’t super powerful in her upper register (which is where this song mostly sat) it kind of washed her out. Just as a word of advice: Her killer performance of “Stay” last week was in her lower register and she brought the house down. Maybe a return to that is in order? Rating: B-
Second safe: Clark Beckham – “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder) – I love the way Clark started this routine with some very Stevie-esque scatting. It immediately set his version apart from the many versions the show has seen over the years, especially Phillip Phillip’s who many people already compare Clark too. Clark, like Tyanna, suffered a bit from how loud the band seemed to be. (Listen, I get it, the band is great but we’re hear to vote on the contestants so turn it down a little and let us hear them sing). That said, it was great to see Clark go uptempo for the first time since “Takin’ It To The Streets” and do a much better job of it. His soulful, bluesy tone was a good fit for this song. Rating: A-
Third safe: Jax – “Piece of My Heart” (Janis Joplin) – I cringed when the song choices were revealed earlier in the week and I saw that Jax had chosen this classic which doesn’t lend itself to being tweaked at all. But Jax played it smart and delivered a straight-up-the-middle version that highlight the pristine highs and raspy edge to her voice all at once. She dialed back the cheese factor from her previous performance and showed, whether accidentally or not, a tinge more emotional and musical maturity than I was expecting. It’s performances like this that make me think Jax is a viable artist that, given a bit of polishing, people could really respect. Rating: A-
Fourth safe: Nick Fradiani – “American Girl” (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) – I’m not entirely on board with the praise the judges gave Nick after this performance. I don’t think this performance showed he’s “radio ready”. Moreso, it showed he’s ready to work as a mediocre Rob Thomas cover artist. His tendency to choose uninspiring songs and just shout them while hammering away at his acoustic guitar betrays the experience that we keep being reminded that he has. That experience is an asset because unlike some of Season 14’s (and Season 13’s) younger crop, he should know his voice and limitations and pick better songs, but so far that’s not the case. As I’ve said in week’s past, I want something Nick can sink his teeth into emotionally because when he does that, it’s really great. Rating: B-
Fifth safe: Quentin Alexander – “Are You Gonna Go My Way” (Lenny Kravitz) – The Quentin/Kravitz comparisons write themselves and while, yes, I agree with Harry that the band felt like a Mach Truck behind Quentin and that he didn’t do anything to distinguish his version from Lenny’s, I don’t know that I expected to. Sometimes you just have to give in to the comparisons and sing the song. I think Harry’s comment was a gesture to the fact that Quentin has been known to put his own spin on otherwise predictable song choices, so for him to play it safe on his first performance might jar his fanbase a little. Rating: B-
Speaking of jarring Quentin’s fanbase, Quentin looked quite upset following his performance so Ryan proceeded to ask him what was wrong. When Quentin answered that the Bottom 2 was “whack” because two talented singers (both of whom are friends of Quentin’s) were there, that triggered a response from Harry Connick Jr. Harry very clearly stated that Quentin could be the one going home and called him disrespectful for calling the competition (“the hand that feeds him” in Harry’s words) “whack”. Quentin, after some pressured from the Powers That Be, returned to the stage and clarified his statement, saying the results and not the competition were whack. I think, in the end, I agree with both men. Although predicting that Rayvon would be in the Bottom 2, it’s hard to see anyone there at this stage of the game and, naturally, that causes some frustration. But as Harry said, the contestants know what they signed up for. It’s a competition, people go home every week, and whether that’s them or not, the contestants need to handle themselves accordingly. I found it interesting that when we returned from commercial, Quentin’s demeanour had completely changed.
This left us with a bottom two of Rayvon Owen and Joey Cook. As I said last week, it was hard to predict who would be in the Bottom 2 with Rayvon (again) because we hadn’t really seen any of the other six in danger, so as much as I didn’t like seeing Joey there, I wasn’t entirely surprised because I knew she was polarizing amongst Idol fans. So then, the Bottom 2 sang:
Joey Cook – “My Funny Valentine’ (Babes in Arms OST) – I get what JLo was saying where Joey wasn’t her usual safe. The way she looked down during the delivery of some of this songs most potent lines might have left people cold, but the performance itself wasn’t bad. I did cringe a little when Joey found that same middle range of her voice that did her no favours during the chorus of “Wrecking Ball” but the lows and highs were where they needed to be. This song is another one that has been done extremely well by other contestants over the years, but I think Joey’s voice was different enough to set her version aside. Rating: B
Rayvon Owen – “Long Train Runnin'” (The Doobie Brothers) – While I loved (seriously loved) Rayvon’s choreography with the backup singers and I think this song is a pretty cool one for Rayvon, I just felt like he didn’t fully embrace it with his voice. Perhaps his focus on the dance moves made him sacrifice the usual polish he puts on every note, but I think that made the performance slightly forgettable and, had this been what the Twitterverse was voting on, Rayvon probably would have been packing his bags. Rating: C
After that, the five safe contestants were called up to sing again in a different order, which went:
Clark Beckham – “Moon River” (Frank Sinatra) – This song, which finds it’s origins in the classic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was an interesting one to pick. On one hand, everyone knows it and it’s lovelorn mood suited Clark’s new look (the slicked hair! the suit and tie!). I also loved the lower end of Clark’s voice, which is something we’ve hardly ever heard this season but now I’m craving more. Outside of that lower register, the performance got a little shaky because at times it felt like Clark was speaking rather than singing, but he definitely channeled Frank in a way that had me agreeing with JLo’s strange “smooth and creamy” comment. Harry’s quip that Clark was “maybe the only musician left in the competition” was an interesting one because while it isn’t entirely true (Jax plays piano, Nick plays guitar, Joey plays her squeezebox…) it did communicate to the other contestants that Clark is at another level and they all need to step it up. Rating: B+
Tyanna Jones – “Proud Mary” (Creedence Clearwater Revival) – This performance felt much more like the Tyanna we know and love. The song was uptempo, she had the energy she was lacking in the first performance and it felt fun, which is something that Idol is often lacking. I mean, yes, they’re competing for a major recording contract, but they also just kids singing songs. Tyanna also gave this song, another one which has been overdone on Idol, a few unique turns that made it her own and saved it from being an unmemorable blip in the night’s proceedings. Rating: B+
Nick Fradiani – “Only The Good Die Young” (Billie Joel) – I am in agreement with Harry that I didn’t love the arrangement on this song. Something about Nick’s staggered delivery made the song lose it’s usual desperate vibe but, that being said, Nick injected it with his own medley of emotions and sang it really well and that’s what I’ve been asking for from him for weeks, so I have to give him props for that. Hopefully he can continue to learn from this. Rating: A-
Quentin Alexander – “The Sound of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel) – Quentin came on stage far more composed for his second performance and while Harry hammered home the “focus on your pitch” point yet again, I really didn’t think he had enough missteps to discount the fact that this performance was pretty emotional perfect. It was a return to Quentin’s moody, dark form and in a way that made sense and didn’t feel like he was falling back on his old ways, so kudos to him for keeping things fresh and original. Hopefully this was enough to wipe the Idol voters minds clean of the debacle earlier in the show. Still, I don’t think that confrontation will make or break people’s opinion of him. Quentin’s a rebel and we knew that, so seeing him tell Harry off (something a lot of fans likely want to do) probably isn’t a fatal flaw. Rating: A-
Jax – “Beat It” (Michael Jackson) – Like I said before with Tyanna, Idol sometimes sacrifices fun for melodramatic ballads and, like Harry said, this performance was fun, if nothing else. It suited Jax’s age more than a lot of her other performances and while it wasn’t vocal perfection by any means, it did show off a Hayley Williams of Paramore-esque hiccup in her voice that I think her young fanbase will like. It was a cool, edgier performance, just not a very substantive one. I think next week she needs another sweet, heartfelt one to earn back some of the casual voters who are likely looking for a home now that the finale is around the corner. Rating C
Then the Bottom 2 sang again before the Idol Fan Save voting lines were opened:
Rayvon Owen – “Always On My Mind” (Willie Nelson) – There’s no doubt that this was a smart choice for Rayvon to end the night with knowing that he needed to compel people to vote for him. He’s been in this situation before so he knew what he had to do and with this performance, he gave us the emotion and those buttery smooth vocals that the first performance was lacking. I think Harry hit it right on the nose when he said that Rayvon is, at heart, a ballad singer and while I don’t want anyone in this competition to get fixated on one style of music, those songs have been where Rayvon skills shine. Rating: B+
Joey Cook – “Somebody to Love” (Jefferson Airplane) – Like Jax’s Joplin choice, I was dreading Joey’s rendition of this song because I could not see her handling another uptempo song after a few missteps over the past few weeks. Still, she busted out her instrument of choice (an electric banjo?) and gave the song a folksy kick that made it something in her wheelhouse. After Rayvon’s performance, I was worried about her, but this performance made it pretty even going into the five-minute timeslot for the Idol Fan Save. Rating: A-
Like last week, tonight’s voice came down to personal preference. Those who preferred Joey’s throwback quirky style, best demonstrated on her “Fancy” cover a few weeks earlier would cast their vote for her. Those who preferred Rayvon’s soulful ballads, best demonstrated tonight on his “Always On My Mind” cover would vote for him. And, in the end, the results indicated that split. Ryan announced that the safe contestant had only 52% of the vote and, for the third time, told Rayvon Owen he would be returning next week. I, personally, voted for Joey and thinking cutting someone as quirky and original as her is a loss for this talented Idol crop going forward, but I can understand how Rayvon won over her. Next week, expect Rayvon to be in the same position, despite a strong showing this week and joined, possibly, by Quentin. Talking back to the judges, even when the Idol audience agrees, never works out for a contestant.
Anyway, I’ll now leave it to you. Vote for your 3 favorite performances in the box below and let me know in the comments what you thought about the night’s proceedings. See you next week for Idol’s “Arena Anthems” theme!