The doors to the 15th and final season of American Idol opened Wednesday night with a nostalgic note, delivering a montage of the moments where each of the previous winners claimed their title and leaving us wondering who would be “the bookend to Kelly Clarkson” that would come from this season.
Big shoes to fill, no doubt, and the show had a few of the previous champs on hand to help them decide. Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze all helped filter the hopefuls down before they reached the celebrity judges and provided some welcome humor, friendly advice, and an extra dose of nostalgia.
In the course of four hours spanning two nights, the newcomers had to convince us that the judges’ sermon about “the best season ever” was the gospel truth and a chunk of them gave us reason to believe that they would be left standing on the Idol stage after the judges had made all their decisions and they turned the voting over to us at the Top 24. I plan to outline the best 10 from Wednesday and Thursday nights’ episodes, but can’t guarantee I’ll give even weight to both episodes. Thursday night gave us more bang for our buck. So, in no particular order, from Wednesday night:
- Jeneve Mitchell, “Chainsaw” (The Band Perry) – The girl who lived off the grid brought the funk with her cello, as Harry said, and gave us reason to believe that maybe her family’s reclusive nature gave her more time to focus on honing her quirky talent.
- Joshua Wicker, “Stay” (Rihanna) – “You sang it like you wrote it,” Keith said and I couldn’t help but agree. His soulful, acoustic take on an otherwise overplayed song breathed new life into it and made me want a recording of his version.
- Kory Wheeler, “Bennie and the Jets” (Elton John) – Comeback kid Kory has the look and, apparently, the voice to match as he modernized a song that Haley Reinhart owned only a few seasons ago, but without drawing comparisons. Just his own take, and a good one at that.
- Sonika Vaid, “Look At Me” (Carrie Underwood) – Humble and endearing with a feel-good backstory. That, combined with a refreshingly simple way about her vocals may, as the judges pointed out, help her stand out amid those with too much confidence and so prone to endless runs.
And from Thursday night:
- La’Porsha Renea, “Creep” (Radiohead) – Single mom with an adorable daughter, but more than that, she knows her voice so well and handed the judges her version of a song that I’m sure they weren’t expecting from her. Comparisons to the great Jennifer Hudson wouldn’t be amiss. Definitely one to watch.
- Trent Harmon, “Unaware” (Allen Stone) – Blissfully unaware of his own talent, but we certainly aren’t. Like La’Porsha, Trent has command of his instrument and went to those high-highs and low-lows that made me think he’s got it. The judges kept calling him country, but I think he’s so much more than that – soul, rock, blues and everything in between.
- Olivia Rox, “When I Was Your Man” (Bruno Mars) – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was when this pink-haired 15-year-old with musical parents milked Bruno’s song for all its worth and drew the judges right in close – a quality that they always demand from contestants older than her.
- Dalton Rapattoni, “The Phantom of the Opera” (Andrew Lloyd Webber) – Green Day frontman lookalike, but behind the makeup and the flowery boots was a creative streak that allowed him to take a broadway tune and made it an acoustic ballad that suited his unique voice. That kind of ingenuity is rarely a bad thing on this show.
- Melanie Tierce, “Rise Up” (Andra Day) – Soul out the wazoo, enough to make Harry give her a yes after only 2 seconds in, but the rest of her audition was worth a listen and definitely different from a lot of the other women we saw that day. Her vocals almost had a religious, transcendent quality to them.
- Tristan McIntosh, “Why Baby Why?” (Mickey Guyton) – Besides the heart wrenching return of her military mom, Tristan closed the night in a way that certainly made her mother proud. Emotional, compelling, and downright cute. She has potential, it just needs some pressure to turn into a diamond.
It was difficult to pick just ten and there were several others that impressed me over the course of the two days, Kanye not included. Father, husband, and Celiné Dion fanboy Jordan Sasser gave an interesting vocal but needs polish to his performance skills before I’d declare him worthy of a spot in the finals. 15-year-old Lee Jean could also benefit from focusing on his vocals, as the judges said, after delivering a rendition of “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran that showed potential.
Fans of The Voice might have also noticed the return of country singer Shelbie Z who rehashed her performance of Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name.” Hopefully she’s learned from her time on NBC’s singing competition and is ready to bring it this time around.
However, I do also want to spend a bit of time talking about the previous 14 seasons to give those of you out there an extra dose of nostalgia before Idol wraps things up. I’ll take time to spotlight each season, talk about some of the best performances over the years and give you a peek at what some of the contestants are doing now. I thought I’d start with the season that wrapped up last May and that Connecticut every-man Nick Fradiani won.
Interestingly, Nick didn’t win on bombastic, memorable performances the way some winners have. He took home the title on consistency and likability. Nick managed to avoid delivering a single “trainwreck” performance and became the underdog that hurdled over bigger personalities like the soulful Clark Beckham, resident rebel JAX, along with the always quirky Joey Cook and Quentin Alexander. Though untitled, Nick’s album is due for release this February and can be pre-ordered at his pledgemusic page.
Runner-up Clark Beckham also revealed that he’s working on a few songs for his album, but with no release date or tour in sight. For those loyal to him, Beckham has a youtube page where he frequently posts covers of current radio hits like Adele’s “Hello” and Pentatonix’s “Can’t Sleep Love,” often bringing along some of his talented friends. Clark was best known during the season for making Kelly Clarkson herself declare him her favorite after hearing him rehearse her song, “The Trouble With Love Is“
JAX, who fell just shy of the finale after an iffy performance of Paramore’s hit “Misery Business,” just released the first single and the video for it off her upcoming album, entitlted “La La Land” (available on iTunes). It’s quite catchy and pokes a little fun at the pressures of the competition. Fourth place contestant Rayvon Owen has a head start on the competition, having already released an EP entitled Cycles and another featuring remixes of his single “Air” which features a duet with Season 12 winner Candice Glover. Fan-favorite Joey Cook, who delivered one of the most memorable performances of the season with her retro take on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” recently did some touring with the band responsible for her arrangement: Postmodern Jukebox. She is also in the process of working on her own EP.
Season 14 was, undoubtedly, an eclectic cast that made the season’s twitter save, which helped propel Rayvon Owen pass more polarizing personalities like Quentin and Joey, that much more controversial. If there’s a few lessons to be learned from Season 14, it’s this: Consistency is better than anything and being likable while “playing the game” isn’t for everyone. We’ll see if Season 15’s contestants have studied their Idol history and learn from the trials and triumphs of Season 14’s cast.
With that, I turn it over to you. Who were your favorite auditions on Wednesday and Thursday night? Did you like Idol’s nostalgia factor? Did you want more?
Let me know in the comments below and tune in next Wednesday and Thursday at 8PM Eastern/9PM Central for more auditions. As always, I’ll be back next Friday at 11AM Eastern with my recap of those too!