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 lot has happened since last week’s Idol telecast, where Season 14’s Top 4 treated us to a rather good show before we finally said goodbye to Rayvon Owen. The Top 3 we were left with were one of the most closely matched in the show’s history. Each had their own unique style and none of their fanbases seemed to overlap, which left us all wondering which of the three would be cut at the start of tonight’s show: Would it be early frontrunner, Clark Beckham, the soulful southern clean-cut busker whose quality of performances, if the judges are to believed, has taken a few steps back in recent weeks? Would it be the edgy, energetic and enigmatic teen-sensation Jax who is able to excel regardless of whether the volume is turned up to 11 for a punk rock song or down to 1 for a vulnerable ballad behind her piano? Or would it be every-man Nick Fradiani who trades his competitors’ risk taking tendencies for consistency and experience and combines it with good looks that makes his appeal easy to see?
Combine the ominious nature of tonight’s results with the shocking news that Idol‘s next season, it’s fifteenth, would be it’s last (more on that later), and you’re left with an Idol fanbase on edge. Could Idol‘s penultimate season come to a satisfying conclusion or would eliminating one of these three leave a sour taste in the mouths of at least one-third of the show’s loyal audience? Omnipresent host Ryan Seacrest gave us the results backstage right off the bat – the men: Clark and Nick would be battling it out tonight for the title while Jax, after two more-than-solid offerings last week, would be the one headed home. Was it the unfortunate timing of Jax’s confusing rendition of “Misery Business” that got her eliminated? Perhaps. Or maybe the men had, as they have in many of the recent seasons, a stronger more passionate fanbase that carried them into the finale. Either way, let’s talk about what the guys did to convince us that they deserve the title, the confetti, the recording contract and the radio-ready single at the end of Wednesday night’s telecast:
Clark Beckham – “Georgia On My Mind” (Ray Charles) – As much of a copout as Keith Urban’s critique seemed, that this performance was “Southern & soulful”, I think what he was trying to say is that this performance was exactly who Clark is as a performer. If it was the only thing you saw all season, you’d (for the most part) know who Clark is. I liked that he was a little more restrained with this performance than usual, delving into the lower part of his voice and avoiding too much of the “high pitched screeching” that some of his detractors feel like he overdoes. Most contestants use their finale reprisal to remind us why we liked them in the first place and this was what Clark did | Rating: B
Nick Fradiani – “Bright Lights” (Matchbox 20) – Like Clark, Nick made the conscious decision to pick a reprisal that was the best example of his own sound. Also like Clark, I didn’t think it was necessarily Nick’s best performance from the season, but attempting to recreate a moment is always a risk and given the fact that a lot of people who tune into the finale may have never watched another episode this season, it might be a better strategy to make a safer pitch. I, like Harry later confessed, felt like Nick won this round by only a slight margin. While I thought they both sung their songs well, I thought Nick’s was a more exciting performance and that will likely be what people remember. | Rating: B+
SIMON FULLER’S PICKS
Clark Beckham – “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers) – After Nick’s proverbial horse took a slight lead in this tight race, Clark came back swinging with a tender, soulful rendition of another classic song. While I felt like this performance might have benefitted from the same restraint as his first, I think the parts where he was restrained were as vocally stellar as Clark has been on some of his best performances (I’m think especially “Sunday Morning”) which, again, was another great picture to paint for the Idol audience, some of which are likely still deciding who to vote for. | Rating: A-
Nick Fradiani – “I Won’t Give Up” (Jason Mraz) – While I agree with Keith that Jason Mraz seems like a natural fit for Nick and Nick, in theory, was smart to show that he, like Clark, can play the piano, I felt like Nick’s effort on the piano did not feel nearly as effortless as Clark’s. There were times when it felt like he was stumbling over the chords and times when, if you listened carefully, he definitely missed the intended mark with his fingers on the keys. Vocally and emotionally though it worked which is why I think it was a performance that, for once, would have benefitted from Nick just sitting on a stool and playing an acoustic guitar. | Rating: B
POTENTIAL WINNER’S SINGLE
Clark Beckham – “Champion” – When the studios of the Top 3’s Idol’s singles came out a couple days ago, I definitely felt the old school Idol vibe from Clark’s. It also felt like a huge song that, live, might not translate in the same way Season 8’s “No Boundaries” didn’t seem to fly with either Kris or Adam’s voices. (Some suspect the song was originally written with the intention of Danny Gokey singing it). So when Clark’s performance started tonight, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I thought Clark did a surprisingly good job with what he was given. As Harry said, it didn’t sound like it was “written for him”, but I think with the right production and tweaking, Clark could make it more his own as time goes on, in the way David Cook did with “Time of My Life” (“magic rainbows”, remember?). Clark could go bigger and make it a gospel-esque ballad with a choir backing him, or take it down a notch and really bring attention to the lyrics. As it was though, I don’t think Clark did himself a disservice with this song. | Rating: B+
Nick Fradiani – “Beautiful Life” – Like Clark, I listened to Nick’s studio before the night’s proceedings and, like Harry, I felt like the song suited Nick to a tee. His studio sounds great and the song sounds like something that could actually make the cut on his album. That said, I felt like he, unlike Clark, didn’t maintain that same magic live. He sounded out of breath, a criticism that Scott Borchetta also gave him in the studio, and while I appreciated him getting the audience going (something the judges had been harping him to do all season), the actual vocal was not in line with Nick’s usually consistent self. I’m not sure if it matters though, considering Nick seemed to get the lion’s share of the judges compliments tonight after this round. | Rating: B
With that said, I don’t think the night’s proceedings made a watertight case for either Clark or Nick as the winner. As always, it will come down to personal preference. I think Nick has been more consistent over the season, but Clark has taking some huge risks which have paid off big. If the audience buys what Scott and the judges are selling and prefers the “working man” type as they have before (see: Kris Allen), then Nick will win. If the audience rebels against the judges’ feedback and gives the early frontrunner from the South the win (see: David Cook), then Clark will win. It could go either way and that’s what makes this Top 2 exciting…
Now I want to hear what you think. Who do you think won each round? Who do you think should win the season? Who do you think will win the season? Let me know in the comments and polls below.