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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

American Idol XIV – Top 4: Hometown Glory

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.

The defining feature of Season 14 seems to be that the contestants are all unique in their own right and the remaining four are no exception to that rule. Rayvon brings his almost spot-on buttery tone every week and, when he brings the emotion to back it up, he can really kick it into high gear. Clark brings an old-time soulfulness that makes you wonder how he could ever had been just another busker on the streets of Tennessee. Jax brings her modern mix of pop-punk edge and feather-delicate piano ballads that could feasibly chart with the likes of Pink, Paramore and Christina Perri, while Nick‘s experience has given him a consistent sound that he seems to grow into more every week. Needless to say, I still felt like the competition was wide open coming into tonight, despite what the judges and mentor Scott Borchetta had to say. The end of this season will come down, as it has all season, to the individual performances on any given night. So let’s delve into those one by one before we talk about the night’s results.

For the first round, the contestants sang songs chosen by Scott Borchetta:

Rayvon Owen sang “Want to Want Me” (Jason Derulo)  I get that Rayvon has some killer range, but I wasn’t of the opinion that this was the perfect uptempo song for him. After telling him all season to focus on delivering authentic emotion, this song choice felt like a cop-out on Scott’s part. Like, hey, Jason Derulo is kind of like Rayvon, so let’s just roll with it. The end result was a little anti-climatic. Maybe Rayvon needed more production on the stage, or maybe he just needs to figure out how to perform uptempo songs without seeming like he’s showboating the entire time, but I really just felt like this was the wrong song choice. Maybe something by Bruno Mars would have landed a little better? | Rating: C+

Clark Beckham sang “Beautiful Day” (U2) – Not sure what JLo was hearing when she said that Scott was 2 for 2 after Clark’s performance, but I thought again that this was a terrible song choice on his part. I get that he wanted to push Clark out of his comfort zone but Clark and Bono share about as much in common as chocolate and pea soup. Again, it just felt like a lazy song choice and the result was that Clark’s voice was straining in parts. Like Rayvon, I admire Clark’s conviction but I get the feeling that neither he nor Rayvon had the time or the support to do what they really wanted to with these songs. | Rating: C-

Nick rocks out with his guitar [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Nick Fradiani sang “Because the Night” (Bruce Springsteen) – Remember not so many weeks ago when Nick sang “Danger Zone” and Harry gave his wrist a good hard slap for picking a song with lyrics that were devoid of emotion. So what does Scott do? Give him a song with repetitive lyrics that are essentially devoid of emotion. Yes, it’s the Boss so it’s a great song, but not for someone like Nick who needs to figure out how to connect with the lyrics, as JLo said afterwards. I mean, really, he has (at most) 2 weeks left in the competition to figure that out. Scott should be giving him all the chances in the world to do that. That emotional void aside, Nick only had a few flat notes here and there, but otherwise sounded okay pitch-wise. It felt shouty at times, but I’ve kind of just resigned myself to the fact that that’s just how Nick sounds when his guitar is strapped to him. | Rating: B-

Jax sang “My Generation” (The Who) – It’s not necessarily that Jax was dramatically better than her competition. It’s just that Scott actually picked a song that suited her and she did a decent job of it. She and Nick also had far more production than Clark and Rayvon, with the band backing them and making the whole performance seem more epic. That said, her voice sounded better than last week and although I don’t agree with Harry that this was her best performance to date, I do think it was her most comfortable uptempo pop-punk performance. It proves that she can excel outside of that piano ballad genre, which might bode well for the variety of songs on her future album. | Rating: B+

For the second round, the contestants sang their hometown dedications:

Nick Fradiani sang “Back Home” (Andy Grammer) – Hometown visits are always great for endearing me to contestants that I really haven’t connected to throughout the season and seeing Nick with his friends and family made me like him a little bit more. But back to the performance: Why doesn’t Nick always sing without his guitar? I like his performances so much better when he moves around and connects to the song. It feels more natural and authentic and this song suited him really well. It made me, for the first time, realize that he could be a current artist instead of just a Rob Thomas clone. There were some weird notes at the beginning but he recovered well and from the first chorus on was really strong. | Rating: B+

Clark Beckham sang “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding) – Speaking of emotional hometown visits, Clark’s squeezed a few tears out of me. Seeing his dad get emotional and the Lee University choir surprise him really got to me. Maybe it’s the fact that something about Clark reminds me of myself, having grown up with great, supportive parents and in choir. That aside, I felt like this performance was back to the usual Clark we know. I didn’t love the arrangement, I think he could have gone with just the piano all the way through (like this Sara Barielles cover), but for what it was, he sang it well. I definitely agree with Keith that I want more angst from Clark because sometimes the sheen of his performances detracts for your ability to connect to it but, like Nick, I think he’s capable of that authenticity. | Rating: B

Rayvon channels his inner Stevie with “As” [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Rayvon Owen sang “As” (Stevie Wonder) – The shot of Rayvon’s hometown cheering when he was safe for the umpteenth time last week was the perfect way to kind of make me forget that I resented him a bit for outlasting Joey, Quentin and Tyanna because of the twitter safe. Like I said, hometown visits are perfect for humanizing these contestants. As for the performance: Surprisingly (except not at all) the contestant’s chose far better songs for themselves than mentor Scott Borchetta did. Like Harry said, Rayvon felt more comfortable and just plain happy singing this song. There were parts where his deliver felt timid or maybe flat, but when he got past that and melded with the backup singers, it felt like a polished, natural performance. | Rating: B

Jax sings “My Immortal” with her trusty piano [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Jax sang “My Immortal” (Evanescence) – Jax’s hometown visit made me think that maybe, just maybe, Idol finally figured out how to groom a female contestant (without the rigging of Season 12) for the win. I know Jax has a lot of detractors – people who think her persona is fake or find her voice grating, but she also has a lot of fans who find her personality endearing and her performances, both the piano ballads and some of the uptempo power-pop stuff, awe-inspiring. This was one of those performances. Jax’s vocals were delicate, her little changes to the piano chords brought the focus into her and it felt like a dream. I think, even if Jax bombs the last round now, her first two performances showcased the two sides of her well enough to lock her a spot in the finale. | Rating: A-

And, last, the contestants sang songs chosen by the judges:

Clark “earns it” with his last performance. [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

Clark Beckham singing “Earned It” (The Weeknd) – Amen. The Reverend Beckham is back. What a great choice from the judges to bring Clark’s soulful, bluesy tone to the modern age. This performance felt cool, big band-ish and right up his alley in the same way the Evanescence song did that for Jax. I think, like Jax, Clark has his detractors – there’s people who find the emotional edge to his voice screechy, but that’s what makes this Top 4 exciting. The voting could go either way. You can love a performance other people didn’t like. That said, Clark hit this out of the park and without an instrument by his side. Maybe we should do away with the instruments all together next week… | Rating: A-

Rayvon Owen singing “You Are So Beautiful” (Joe Cocker)  – Vocally, this was beautiful but emotionally, it felt more like one of those vacant performances on Rayvon’s part. I agree with the judges that the arrangement was interesting without compromising a classic song, but I think JLo hit it on the head that when Rayvon is singing to someone (for example, his mom), it helps him to connect in a more authentic way to the song. I think that connection is what takes his vocally perfect performances to the next level. | Rating: B

Jax singing “Misery Business” (Paramore) – If you’ve ever heard the original version of this song, you know that it lets loose and Jax’s acoustic rendition just felt a little restrained. I am definitely in the same camp as the judges, that Jax’s vocals sounded great but she needed to drive this performance and that it would have benefitted from the full band instead of the solo acoustic guitarist but, like I said before, let’s just do away with using instruments as a crutch next week? | Rating: C+

Nick Fradiani singing “I’ll Be” (Edwin McCain) – The judges bought what I was selling in Scott Borchetta’s round: pick a song that Nick can dig into emotionally. I still think Nick might have benefitted from just having it be him and his guitar, rather than the full band or maybe putting his guitar down, because something changes in him when that happens, but this was decent, if not wholly memorable. I think I don’t agree with the judges that Nick “won this round” with this one. I think it’s hard to say that with what Clark did with “Earned It” but… that’s just my opinion. | Rating: B-

With the night’s 12 performances in the books, I have to say that JLo and Keith are right: we’ve got 4 very different artists, all of which could win with the right performances. That said, I think it would be naïve to think that the judges don’t have heavy influence over the proceedings. When Clark delivers one of the best performances of the night and none of them acknowledge it, you have to wonder if they don’t want a Jax/Nick finale for the sake of signing them both and turning them into viable artists that might revive the franchise. I don’t know if they can be the saviours that the Idol franchise needs them to be, but when Ryan delivered the results that finally sent Rayvon home and Nick, Clark and Jax to next week’s finale, my first thought was how will the votes play out next week after the heavy “bussing” (a term used to describe unwarranted criticism) that Clark got last week. I’m personally hoping for a finale featuring Clark and Jax. Nick has put in a valiant effort these past few weeks, but in my mind, he’s been good but never risen to the level that the other two have. But maybe you don’t feel the same way.

Either way, sound off in the polls and comments below to let me know your favourite performances, your ideal finale and any other thoughts you have about the night’s proceedings.

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