Jueves de antaño (Throwback Thursday): “Rompecorazones”

Es hora de compartir más música en español en este blog, y esta vez, voy a hacer algo para el “Throwback Thursday,” o sea, “jueves de antaño,” una tradición del Internet que se lleva a cabo cada jueves. (La gente pone fotos, música, etc. para recordar a los tiempos pasados.) Es la primera vez que lo voy a hacer en el blog en español, y tengo mucha música muy buena de mi niñez y todo que me gustaría compartir. Hoy, esuchemos a…

“Rompecorazones” por Amanda Miguel!

Mi mamá es de Ecuador, y en mi niñez, ella escuchaba mucho a la música latina, y allí yo encontré un amor por esa música. Uno de las artistas que ella escuchaba fue Amanda Miguel, una cantante argentina-mexicana. Esta canción es de un disco que ella hizo de las rancheras (salió en el año 1992), y recientemente la encontré en Spotify para escuchar de nuevo, lo cual me alegró bastante. Es una canción que recuerdo muy bien de mi niñez, aunque no fue la canción ni la artista que mi mamá escuchaba más que otras. Amanda Miguel canta del desamor y de la traición, pero la música tiene mucha energía, y Amanda comunica mucho poder en su voz también. Es una canción de una mujer muy determinada. “Será tu castigo que me hayas perdido, rompecorazones,” ella proclama al fin de la canción. Por esas razones y muchas más, esta canción me ha quedado en la mente por muchos años, y se quedará allí por muchos años más, estoy seguro.

My mom is from Ecuador, and growing up, she listened to a lot of Latin music. That’s where I found my love for all kinds of music in Spanish. One of the many artists she listened to was Amanda Miguel, an Argentine-Mexican singer. This particular song I’m sharing today, “Rompecorazones” (Heartbreaker), was from an album of the same name that she recorded back in 1992 of ranchera music. I recently found it on Spotify after years of not seeing it at all on iTunes or anything like that (my mom had an old tape of the album), which got me excited. It’s a song I remember well from my childhood, even though Amanda Miguel wasn’t the artist, nor was this the song, that my mom or I ever listened to the most. Amanda sings here of, well, a heartbreaker (meaning the song has themes of breakup and betrayal), but the music has tons of energy (it’s one of those faster ranchera songs), and she has lots of power in her vocals. At the end of the song, she proclaims in one of the chorus’ key lines that losing her will be a punishment for the crimes of love committed by whoever she’s singing to. They’ve cheated on her, but she’ll have the last laugh. For these reasons and many more, this song has stayed in my mind all these years, and will probably stay there for many years to come, I’m sure.

American Idol Finale Recap: Cool Kids

American Idol Finale

“American Idol” has its Season 14 winner. Since I’m actually posting this the night of the show for once, I’ll play coy about who that winner is until the end of this (likely somewhat short) recap. All I’ll say is, I’m happy with who won. (Since I stated in my recap earlier today that I would be fine with whoever won, I’m sure this doesn’t help you.) So, a few random thoughts about the 2-hour proceedings:

  • I actually didn’t hate the opening number with Fall Out Boy (featuring Clark and Nick). Since I recall tweeting gleefully when Fall Out Boy took a hiatus a few years ago…the times, they are a-changin’. (And it’s not because of Patrick Stump’s recent stint on “The Sing-Off.” He didn’t even say that much then.) Maybe it’s because of the prominent, deliriously catchy sample from Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” that “Centuries” uses? Sure, let’s go with that. Clark didn’t sound terribly at home, but Nick did great.
  • Tyanna’s number with the Jacksons (well, three of them, anyhow)…well, she sounded great. They…were there. Hey, at least she probably got more lead singing time than most of the other contestant-special guest pairings of the night (probably because she was the only one who could actually still sing…yeah, it was that sketchy for them).
  • Nile Rodgers with the Top 6 girls…kind of all over the place. Though Sarina-Joi (who’s way more than her 12th place finish, thank you very much) and Adanna had some nice moments. Joey didn’t sound too bad either.
  • When it comes to Ricky Martin, I love his 1998 CD “Vuelve,” and a few of his later hits (most of them in Spanish), plus his latest album was pretty darn good. That said…his new single (I got confused and thought it was an old hit, then wondered why I had never heard of it in my life) is abysmal, he wasn’t the greatest live, and despite being an occasional longtime fan of his, I wasn’t digging this, especially when the Top 6 Guys came out and tried to sound good on “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” (“She Bangs,” weirdly enough, worked much better for their voices. “The Cup of Life,” I’m pretty sure all of their mics were off by then.) Yeah. I’ll stick to “Vuelve,” thanks.
  • I love Janelle Monae. A lot. But wow, is “Yoga” really not her best. At all. I would have rather had her sing pretty much any one of her other songs, because she didn’t come off that great here. Also, Adanna had pretty much zero solo time to show off her stuff in this performance. After the last two rocky numbers, I was hoping against hope for something good to come along by this point, and the usually reliable Monae letting me down was a bummer.
  • Prince Royce…sigh. Nope. Just nope. I can’t stand him in Spanish, and I can’t stand him in English either. Adding J.Lo and Pitbull to the proceedings did not help matters whatsoever. No quiero nada de esto.
  • I had missed the Fall Out Boy and Tyanna/The Jacksons performances when watching live, so Echosmith’s turn singing their hit “Cool Kids” with Joey Cook was a sweet oasis in a desert of performances that had me dying inside at the state of pop music today. (A bit over-dramatic, I know, but you get the idea.) Echosmith’s lead singer wasn’t terrific live, but Joey sounded excellent, and provided some interesting harmonies (she was singing a full octave lower than the lead singer, someone I was watching the first hour with astutely pointed out). Get that girl to a studio, stat!
  • While I’ve never really been a huge fan of Keith Urban’s music, I respect the guy a ton and he has a terrific voice. (A voice that for years, I’ve been flabbergasted sounds completely non-Australian.) He’s a great live performer to boot. It was fun seeing his wife Nicole Kidman sing along in the audience, too (though Fox, we totally know who she is…we didn’t need you flashing her name on the screen).
  • I was afraid Jamie Foxx was going to rap or something, but he ended up singing a nice little ballad instead, and Rayvon sounded terrific with him on it. Crisis averted. Good music made. Also, let’s get Rayvon some post-show success, please.
  • Remember my semi-involuntary habit of blurting things out in worry/fear/disgust (?) when Daniel Seavey had his nightmarish run on the show this season? It happened again when he walked up to the New Kids on the Block in their rehearsal. A panicked “Oh, no…” just came out of my mouth. I couldn’t stop it. So…can we just not speak of this again? The way NKOTB sounded, I wondered how they ever became popular. And Daniel…well, I don’t know what I can say that I haven’t already said. So yes. We won’t speak of this again.
  • Quentin Alexander and Vance Joy on “Riptide”? Spectacular. The crowd trying to clap along? Ugh. So off-beat. Minus them, this was a great chance for Quentin to shine (he sounded great even though the song was at its normal tempo, not the slow-jam version he did earlier in the season), and Vance Joy was a welcome change to pace from…well, a few other things that happened tonight, you know.
  • I didn’t really pay attention to Pitbull, Chris Brown, and Qaasim’s performance, and I don’t really think I missed out on much. Sad, but true. (I like Qaasim, but like they gave him much to do anyway…)
  • Clark sounded nice on “Takin’ It To The Streets.” Michael McDonald…well, he’s a bit older than he was, that’s all I say about that. Nice piano jamming by Clark, too, I might add.
  • Yeesh, Andy Grammer’s low range on the beginning of “Back Home” with Nick was atrocious. Not really a nice way to put that. But he sounded much better on “Honey, I’m Good” (which he also sang on “Dancing With The Stars” a week or two ago). As for Nick, he did great on both numbers. What if he’s the next Andy Grammer? Hmmm. Food for thought, perhaps.
  • Steven Tyler sang what I presume was a new single (it was a country song, which was interesting, but he sounded great, though he looked as crazy as ever), and then Jax joined him on stage for a take on “Piece of My Heart.” Couldn’t hear Jax that well, but she and Steven were clearly having the time of their lives, even laying down on the judges’ table at one point. May you keep rocking on, Jax.
  • In my brief time as a viewer of “The Voice,” I remember the four coaches performing together to open the show (this was back in season 1, if I recall correctly). “Idol” took a page from that playbook and had J.Lo, Harry, and Keith team up for first, Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” with J.Lo on the vocal (um…she’s no Rihanna, let’s put it that way), and then “Locked Out of Heaven” with Keith first taking the lead, then J.Lo backing him up a bit, while he shredded it on the guitar. (This was much better.) Dang it, Harry was relegated to some short piano solo stuff. Why couldn’t you let him sing, “Idol”? That said, it was fun seeing the three together…they really do seem to get along nicely.

After a long 2 hours, they finally announced the winner of “American Idol” Season 14…

Nick Fradiani!

A clearly emotional Nick capped the show off with a reprise of his single “Beautiful Life”…well, at least part of it, before he bent over, overcome with the weight of the moment, in front of the judges’ table, then went through the crowd to hug his family, Scott Borchetta, all kinds of people, really. It was a great moment for sure. I really hope Nick takes off after the show…although, as I’ve repeatedly said, he’s certainly not the winner I would have picked at the start of this whole shindig, he really worked hard for the “American Idol” crown, and I think he has a lot of potential for success after the show, even if he doesn’t have as much exposure as past winners (due to the much lower viewership). The best of luck, Nick. I’ll be checking out your debut album for sure. And “Beautiful Life” is likely to find its way into my playlist…

Thanks so much to all of you who have read my recaps this season. I’ve spent most of this recapping experience wondering if anyone has been following these, but it’s been a great experience all the same, and a great chance to keep up with “Idol” in its first season since I’ve come back from Peru. See you later with a best performances of the season post, plus lots more great music here on Harmony Avenue.

American Idol Top 2 Recap: I Won’t Give Up

Nick Fradiani Top 2 American Idol

A funny thing happened last night on “American Idol.” Yes, my favorite got eliminated for the umpteenth time this season (and who knows how many times in my five seasons watching “Idol”). Yes, we were once again left with two guys fighting for the title (the first time since season 8, I know, but it seems like it’s happened much more often). Yes, this was certainly not the result I was looking for at any point this season.

But you know what? At the end of last night’s hourlong telecast, I felt good. I felt like we could have a viable (and likable) winner for the first time in years. I felt like as many twists and turns as this season has had, it just might end up right. And thanks to both contestants bringing their “A” game to the stage, this season is home to yet another first for me…I am fine with whoever wins the finale. Seriously.

That’s not to say I don’t have a preference…and my preference is once again one I did not expect at all…but yes. I will not be on pins and needles in a few hours in regards to the result. I like both finalists, and they did a great job reminding me why I like them last night. So…without further ado, because this recap is as usual very late (and I need to get it done before the finale, you know, starts), let’s get into why I feel so at peace with the “Idol” experience right now:

  • Top of the show, right off the bat, Jax was eliminated. Not the greatest way to start an “Idol” broadcast. And ugh. I was so hoping for her to go farther. The curtain, of sorts, was closed so the audience couldn’t quite react, but I heard some boos going on, prompting me to write in my notes: “Yeah, you boo, audience.” Well, Jax had an incredible run, and I really hope this won’t be the last we see of her. Heck, tonight, I’m pretty sure Steven Tyler promised to sing with her, so that’s going to be something.

That meant that Nick Fradiani and Clark Beckham are our Final 2. First, they battled it out in Round 1 with reprises of their favorite song from the season:

  • Clark, “Georgia On My Mind”: Harking back once again to his roots, Clark took to the piano and just gave us some good, solid soul. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it once more, this is where he seems to thrive. It was just as killer as the first time (in Hollywood Round is where he sang it before, if I remember right), perhaps even more so, seeing as he’s had time to grow and all that. He kept his eyes closed a lot, too, which helped him connect to the song a bit more. Very strong vocals, and Clark reminded me a lot of why I liked him in the first place.
  • Nick, “Bright Lights”: This was a very good choice of song for Nick to reprise, as it was one of his best (and really, the first performance by him I really started to get behind). He was even more fired up than the first time he did it, really bringing some great energy and passion to his performance. I didn’t like his tone as much this time because of that, for some reason, but he still did quite well. I wrote in my notes that he was “really rocking up there,” and he ended quite strong. J.Lo was right on point when she noted that Nick has “grown into this” really well…he’s come quite a long way.

The judges…well, mostly J.Lo…declared Round 1 a tie between the two. Round 2? “Idol” creator Simon Fuller’s picks. (I didn’t even know he was still involved with the show. Sure gets a lot of power, doesn’t he?)

  • Clark, “Ain’t No Sunshine”: Such a smart move to make it just him and the guitar. He really seemed to be feeling it, and I was totally on board. On the “I know, I know…” part, he had an INCREDIBLE build that was really something. There was a cool scatting moment towards the end (though he unfortunately ended up not singing it into the mic). Yeah, it was just terrific, I thought. He really returned to what he did best here, and it worked so, so well, at least for me. One of his best of the season. (Also, call me silly, but I cracked up at Keith’s Bill Withers joke afterwards.)
  • Nick, “I Won’t Give Up”: I commented in my notes at the beginning that this might have been a better fit for Clark…then Nick started going with it, and I saw that it actually fit Nick pretty darn well, too. He wasn’t terrific in his lower range, but he was hacking it well enough down there. The chorus was strong and passionate, and I was also impressed by how nicely Nick handled the tricky, wordy bridge. Great enunciation and pitch there. He was a little sketchy on his runs towards the end (it’s not very much like him to have pitch issues, is it?), but I think that was just him going for broke, so I’ll let that slide. The judges helped me realize that this was Nick’s first time playing piano on the show…nice job, Nick.

Harry declared that things were once again tied…but clarified that, retroactively saying that Nick had taken Round 1, and Clark had taken Round 2. I can get behind that assessment. Then came the final round, with the two finalists’ potential winning singles.

  • Clark, “Champion”: So they didn’t really try to give Clark something that truly fit his style, I feel like. “Champion” felt less like something he’d really record and succeed at, and more like “Home”-chasing (“Home” referring to Phillip Phillips’ smash hit debut single from Season 11) at best. Also, the lyrics were kind of…meh. Lots of empty platitudes and whatnot. That said, it was very soaring musically, and Clark didn’t do too badly. There were some sketchy pitch moments for sure, but overall, it was nice. He had a great closing note.
  • Nick, “Beautiful Life”: Nick definitely got the better end of the winning-singles deal…his song, “Beautiful Life,” felt more fresh than Clark’s. Still not terribly distinctive lyrically, but good enough there that I didn’t notice anything funky, and it was really catchy…something I could honestly hear on the radio, and in the best way. Nick brought tons of commitment to the performance, with great pitch as well. He really sold it. A telling moment from my notes? “He might have just won with that.” (The judges, for their part, agreed, with Keith flat-out saying this is the kind of song people go out and buy.)

At the end of Round 3, Keith said he was “leaning into Nick’s camp by a narrow margin.” Oh, snap. My notes may have been prophetic…

That said, it’s crazy close. Nick certainly had the better winner’s single and had some strong performances. Yet, Clark really brought it back last night, sticking to what he does well, with excellent results.

Who’s my pick to win? Like I said, I’m fine with both. Really. It’s not a terribly easy choice to make after both did so well last night (and did a bit to heal my heart after Jax’s abrupt departure, not to mention all the tough eliminations earlier in the season that led us here). But, like I alluded above, unexpectedly, if I had to pick, I’d go for Nick. (Ha, that rhymes.) His single really has a fighting chance to make waves. He’s really grown and gotten better over the course of the season. He just seems like the kind of winner that could really break out, and even though “Idol” is on its last legs, we need some of that. Not that Clark can’t be successful…but I just think Nick’s a better chance. Sure, he hasn’t taken terribly too many chances in the course of the season. Heck, I didn’t love his performances most of the season because of that. But, against all odds, I feel like he’s the winner “Idol” needs in this, its penultimate season. (And hey, if he does well enough, that’ll get the Fox folks reconsidering their decision, right? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.)

The end of this “Idol” season is almost upon us…to those of you who have actually followed these recaps, thank you, and stay tuned for a recap of the finale (possibly tonight, but probably coming tomorrow sometime), along with a Best Performances list/gallery soon to follow. May the best “Idol” win tonight…

Song Sampler of the Day: “Sirens” & “Never Let You Down”

Today’s kind of a special post, for reasons you’ll see in a moment. Plus, I’m sharing not just one song for this Song of the Day post, but two! Two for the price of one, as they say…

“Sirens” & “Never Let You Down” by the Weepies!

The Weepies are an incredible pair of singer/songwriters (who also happen to be husband and wife…they married a few years after they formed their duo), Steve Tannen and Deb Talan, that I’ve loved for quite some time, and these two songs are from their new album out last month, also called Sirens. The album was recorded in the midst of a difficult time for the duo, as Deb was diagnosed with cancer (she was happily declared cancer-free last year after going through treatment and surgery). The album touches on a bit of that struggle for sure, but mainly, it’s a record full of life and hope, with a bit of sadness and heartbreak mixed in (as is the case with the rest of the Weepies’ fine catalog), and these two songs are excellent examples of that. “Sirens” is wistful and haunting, with a lovely lead vocal by Deb. The lyrics are enigmatic, but powerful. Many reviewers have commented that the “sirens” in the song can be seen as not just referring to the mythical figures, but also potentially sirens as in an ambulance (the line in the chorus “I hear their voices, sirens calling out emergency” lends a lot to this). It’s really just a gorgeous song. Steve takes the lead on the other tune, “Never Let You Down,” a bouncy, joyful two-and-a-half minute ride that’s a great showcase for the Weepies’ lighter side, along with their matchless harmonies.

So why did I say this post was a bit special? I thought the Weepies would be a perfect choice to share today because it’s my little sister Olivia’s birthday, and she is a huge Weepies fan. I don’t know how it happened, but sometime when I was listening to their music, she caught on, and fell in love with their songs…so much that when I saw that the Weepies were coming to Arizona back in September 2011, she insisted that she come with me to the concert. She was only 8 then, but seeing her enthusiasm, I agreed. It was a terrific concert…it was just Deb and Steve going completely acoustic, so it was a very low-key affair, but so, so good. And my sister? I have never seen her so well-behaved. She was totally into every song and she had the best time. It’s certainly a wonderful memory for us to share as siblings. Here’s a picture from that night:

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It’s a combination of two of the best things in life: music and family. It doesn’t get better than that. :)

Thanks as always for reading! Stay tuned for more Harmony Avenue goodness, as always. (And if you’re reading this, happy birthday [again], Olivia!)

American Idol Top 4 Recap: Back Home

Jax Top 4 American Idol

Before I start this (slightly overdue) recap, a bit of sad news for anyone that actually still watches “American Idol”…Fox has announced that the show will end after its 15th season in 2016. It’s weird to think that the show, such a force of nature in the past, will be gone after next year…even though I didn’t watch it until season 8, it was always around, always making a pretty sizable cultural impact. And then when I did finally start watching it…I was completely drawn in. As many ups and downs as the show has had (I was perhaps lucky not to have to live through the Mariah-Nicki nonsense of season 12) since I’ve been watching, overall my viewing experience has been a fascinating, enjoyable one, full of great musical moments. Yes, it’s a TV show, and one that tries hard all too often to play up the drama and suspense and TV show-ness of the whole affair. But as much as the show’s producers have stumbled over the years trying to make it more relevant, or compete with the new kids on the block like “The Voice,” I can confidently say that through it all, “Idol” has still introduced us to some amazing artists…and I don’t use the term “artists” lightly…and some amazing music. As new and fresh as other shows of its kind can be, year after year, I think “American Idol,” despite all its many faults, does what it does the best of them all.

Well, enough reminiscing for now…we still have Season 14 to finish. Tuesday and Wednesday will be the finale already…it seems like the season’s gone by so fast. (Maybe that’s just me.) One singer was eliminated last Wednesday (more on that below), leaving us with a Final 3, and tomorrow night, one more will be eliminated at the top of the show to give us our Final 2, battling it out for the “Idol” crown. Things are as close as ever…it’s really anyone’s game as we head into Season 14’s final days. I can’t remember a recent “Idol” season where you could truly see any of the Final 3 winning, but that’s what we might just have on our hands. Starting off last Wednesday’s show? Round 1, with mentor Scott Borchetta’s choice for the Idols…

  • Rayvon Owen, “Want To Want Me” by Jason Derulo: I am not and probably never will be a Jason Derulo fan, so I wouldn’t have picked this song for anyone I like in a million years, but it turned out to be an astute choice by Scott for Rayvon. It was a great falsetto showcase for him, and Rayvon really seemed to put some nice swagger into his performance, which he hasn’t often been able to do in his uptempo stuff. It really seemed to fit him well. The judges were impressed and noted it was one of his best vocals on a faster song, and I definitely agree. This was the Rayvon we’d been wanting to see…the previous week really seemed to energize him, I think.
  • Clark Beckham, “Beautiful Day” by U2: In my notes, I was pretty surprised initially by this choice…and not in a good way. It just didn’t seem like a good fit on paper for Clark, and I commented that maybe Scott was trying to torpedo Clark’s chances just a little bit (after the awkward song-choice standoff that happened with “Your Man”). My fears were realized…sort of. Clark honestly didn’t do as badly with this song as I thought he would. His low range was all kinds of sketchy in the verses, but the choruses weren’t bad, and he had a good glory note towards the end. That said…this song just didn’t fit him at all.  At least he did it better, though, than Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze (sad, but true), who Clark said was “pretty good company,” if I recall correctly (Clark, you do know most people consider him the weakest “Idol” winner ever, right?)
  • Nick Fradiani, “Because The Night” by Patti Smith: (Not sure why they were saying it was by Springsteen. He co-wrote it with Patti Smith, but didn’t record it himself.) Scott rebounded with his song choices by doing pretty well with this song for Nick. It’s a great song and one that really played to a lot of Nick’s strengths. He owned the performance well, and though his notes heading into the chorus were a bit off (the “no-ow-ow-ow” moment), and he was a little shouty throughout (though that kind of goes with the territory when it comes to this song), he did a very nice job to start his night off.
  • Jax, “My Generation” by The Who: I was not sure about this choice at all for Jax…or for anyone, really…but wow, Scott knew what he was doing when he picked it, and Jax certainly knew what she was doing up there on stage. Quoting from my notes: “She OWNED that.” She had such cool attitude up there, including some awesome interplay with the drummer and the rest of the band. Previously, she’s had a bit of trouble keeping up her pitch and her tone in these kinds of performances, but both those things were incredibly improved this time around. It just worked so, so well. Well-done, Jax. Well-done.

J.Lo declared Round 1’s winner to be Jax, which I totally agreed with. Then, on to Round 2…”Hometown Dedications”…with the hometown visits for each of the 4 Idols. (Full disclosure: I took no notes and I won’t be commenting on the hometown visits, aside from saying that they were all pretty great. It’s always cool to see the impact that “Idol” has on these singers’ lives, and how much their family and their hometown stand behind them and treat them as, well, winners. You just don’t see stuff like that on other singing competitions.)

  • Nick, “Back Home” by Andy Grammer: Nick was a little pitchy at the beginning here in the verses, but he improved his notes in the chorus, and really had some nice energy there. This song fit him really well, and it was great to see a Nick that’s fighting for it, a Nick that’s committed, much improved from earlier in the season where he seemed to be just coasting. This is a Nick that, while he’s still not the top of the heap for me, I can see potentially winning the show…and what’s more, doing well after it too.
  • Clark, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding: Clark was back to doing some soul at the piano here, and I think that’s where he really shines…it was a solid return to form for him, for the most part. He had some very solid vocals, and seemed to have to less of the “dead eyes” he often has in performances. I could tell that he was feeling the song, and that extended nicely to me as a listener. The high note he put at the end worked well and fit the song. There couldn’t have been a better time for Clark to remind us why we enjoyed him in the first place, I think.
  • Rayvon, “As” by Stevie Wonder: I absolutely love this song, and Rayvon did a terrific job with it. He started with a cool slow jam-style opening (and probably gave most viewers who know this song a fright wondering if he was going to take the whole thing that tempo, which would have been awkward), and then went right into the song’s original, faster groove without breaking a sweat. The song really fit him like a glove…he had some terrific riffing, excellent vocals, and he seemed incredibly comfortable on stage. I love how Harry commented that Rayvon was able to marry great vocals here with “joy and physicality.” That’s something Rayvon’s struggled with for a while, but it was great to see him finally nail it.
  • Jax, “My Immortal” by Evanescence: I could have done without the excessive sequins and the split screen effect, but wow, this was a gorgeous vocal by Jax. She could have sung with a tiny bit more breath support at some of the soft parts (they veered towards getting too wispy), but overall, it was wonderful to hear just her and the piano, and it was a shrewd choice to go full-on acoustic after a rocking performance like “My Generation.” It was riveting, unique, and the kind of stuff that makes an “Idol” winner that I most certainly can get behind.

Keith called Round 2 for Rayvon, another excellent choice, I think. (Though everyone did quite well in Round 2…it helps when you have the motivation of watching your hometown video package, probably.) Round 3 was Judges’ Choice. This…well, it was a bit hit and miss:

  • Clark, “Earned It” by The Weeknd: This is by far the most current tune that Clark’s taken on (it’s off, of all places, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack), and that was a wise move. This is the kind of song that Clark does quite well…but I can’t say that I was completely blown away by it. It just took him a while to get going. There was tons of drama in the arrangement and in the song, but he just stood stock-still, with lifeless eyes, and once again it took his eyes to be closed for him to get into the performance more. At the end, he finally broke out, absolutely owning things with some impressive high notes and much more commitment and energy, but it concerned me that he took so long to get to the good stuff. Sure, verses are verses and the chorus is the chorus, but there are ways to build drama, and make the soft, less flashy parts interesting and exciting (especially with this kind of song). This performance was emblematic for me of the good and bad of Clark…he has an incredible voice, but all too often he’s come up short on engaging us emotionally, and this was certainly one of those cases.
  • Rayvon, “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker: There was an interesting minor tone to this arrangement that I really liked (it saved this often-overwrought song from getting too treacly), and Rayvon, as he does with pretty much every ballad he sings, did an outstanding job here. It was just some good, pure singing. Interestingly enough, I agreed with J.Lo here that it could have used a bit more emotional variation, but I also agreed with Harry that the emotional connection worked nicely, and I also appreciated his praise of the reharmonizations in the arrangement (the “interesting minor tone” I noticed). Reharmonizations are terrific when used well, and it was used well here. I’m glad Harry took the time to explain that to viewers (that, unlike “arrangement” a few weeks ago, probably needed a bit of background) and point it out.
  • Jax, “Misery Business” by Paramore: One of my roommates was in and out of the room watching some of the performances, and he made a really good point about Jax’s take on Paramore…it would have been better to either go all acoustic, or all plugged-in (as the original is). The arrangement kind of ended up somewhere in the middle, and while Jax did her absolute best with it (the verses are tricky, as there’s such limited range, but she did alright there, and her vocals were soaring and beautiful on the choruses), that was kind of the main reason things just didn’t quite click. I think the judges came down a bit too hard on this performance…sure, it wasn’t one of Jax’s strongest, but hello, she killed her first two performances, and let’s not have viewers forgetting all that.
  • Nick, “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain: A strange choice to end the show, a lackluster choice by the judges (I really, really hope Keith was joking when he said this is a lesser-known song…when it’s been performed who knows how many times on the show, and hit #5 on the Billboard charts, albeit in 1998 or so), but, not badly done by Nick, I’d have to say. It was too generic and bland to make much of an impact, but he was on pitch, he had a really strong glory note towards the end, and overall, he was able to make a bit of lemonade out of a lemon of a song choice. Not the strongest way to end the night, but it did help continue to prove that Nick has come a long way, if he was able to have me slightly on board with a performance/song like this.

Harry perplexing called Round 3 for Nick (really?), though he rightly took another chance to say that he really liked Rayvon’s reharmonizations in his song arrangement. After that, it was time for the night’s elimination…and going home in fourth place was Rayvon. It’s disappointing that he came up short, since he was on such a roll these past few weeks, but hey, he set some sort of record for surviving all those weeks in the bottom (most, including me at times, didn’t think he ever had all that in him), and I think he came out a much better, much more prepared artist for it, and it will serve him well in the post-“Idol” world. I’m excited to see where he goes next, like many who have gone home at not quite the right time this season.

Really quick to close, some last predictions:

Who should make it to the Top 2? My picks to advance would be, believe it or not, Nick and Jax. I’ve liked Clark better than Nick pretty much the entire season, but I feel like Clark’s stagnating where Nick is growing, and the latter contestant should be rewarded for that. He’s really turned things up a notch, and while I still don’t love him as a vocalist, and his song choices can be a bit too safe, he’s earned his place in the finale, I think. Jax, of course, is my favorite contestant remaining (after Rayvon’s departure), and she did a terrific job on Wednesday. I would love to see her in the finale, and getting a chance to become one of the few female winners to take the “Idol” crown.

Now, who will make it to the Top 2? That’s where things get more messy. I honestly fear for Jax, since as we know, women don’t stand much of a chance in the “Idol” world, especially when it gets to the finale and things get close. Clark and Nick have been favorites for a while. That said, Jax joins them in never being in the Bottom 2 or 3 (not even in weeks where she stumbled a bit), so although they appear to have the edge, I think she’s on a pretty level playing field with them. I’ve seen a lot of pros and cons for each singer pop up on comment boards and recaps and the like…so yeah. The cynic in me would say that Clark and Nick will be battling it out on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I really think that Jax has a very solid chance to make it to the Top 2. If that happens (I hope it does), I think Nick grabs the other spot, because Clark’s been the only one to really struggle these past few weeks, I feel like. We’ll see how it plays out tomorrow night, though…gosh, this is going to be a little nerve-wracking for me. Don’t let my favorite go, America (again)!

Thanks so much for reading and following these recaps, and make sure to check out other posts here on Harmony Avenue. I’ll be putting up some more Songs of the Day and other items in the coming week and beyond, and I’m also planning a list of the best performances of the “Idol” season soon after the finale this week. Stay tuned for all that…there’s always great music and commentary here. I’d love to hear your thoughts…make sure to comment!

American Idol Recap: Playing Catch-Up & Handicapping The Top 4

Top 4 American Idol

This season of “American Idol” has been an interesting one for sure. I still maintain that the group of finalists we ended up with is one of the strongest in recent memory, but there have been quite a few ups and downs lately, and looking at the ghastly ratings, it’s kind of sad to see “Idol” as a shadow of its former glory in many respects.

I’ve been absent from my self-imposed “Idol” recapping duties, and a main reason is of course that I haven’t found much time, but I suppose some of it is related to the issues discussed above…the low viewership, a bit of inconsistency & craziness going on…but like I mentioned above, I really like the group of singers we have this season. I think there’s life left in “American Idol,” and because of that, I’m going to make this post sort of a catch-up, bidding farewell to the contestants who have been eliminated the past few weeks, and talking about the four competitors that remain. It may end up having kind of an awkward structure, but hey, so do most of the “Idol” episodes this season, and I promise in advance not to get terribly wordy. So, first off, those we have said goodbye to the past few weeks, in order of their elimination (from earliest to most recent):

  • Qaasim Middleton was eliminated in seventh place on the Billboard Hot 100 performance night, right after Kelly Clarkson Week (the last recap I posted). He was up against Rayvon again for the Twitter Fan Save, and after his performance of “Hey Ya!,” the Save went to Ravyon instead. Qaasim had a good run, I think, and he kind of had run his course in the competition already. He was fun, he was energetic, and contrary to public opinion, I thought he had better vocals than most let on. That said, as I noted in my recap at the time, his performance of “Stronger” was definitely not his best, and his prior performance weren’t quite as strong as they should have been, either. I am intrigued, however, to see what Qaasim comes up with post-“Idol.” He’s a character, that’s for sure.
  • Joey Cook…aargh. This elimination stung a lot. Joey was my absolute favorite in the competition, and she didn’t do terribly with her selection of “Wrecking Ball” for Top 6 Night (the aforementioned Billboard Hot 100), the song that led to her Bottom 2 placement with Rayvon the following week. She also acquitted herself well with her two performances the night of her elimination, “My Funny Valentine” and “Somebody To Love.” I just…yeah. As many other good people were left, and as much as Rayvon seemed to bring it (at least for one of his songs that night) when it counted, I would have really, really liked Joey to stay. She brought so much to the show with her inventive sense of artistry and unique, and yes, powerful vocals. She was good, folks. And she made things incredibly interesting, but in the best way…some contestants can make things interesting by being, well, not that great, but Joey was great. She really came into her own in the competition, and I felt like she went too soon. The good thing, though, is that now we get what she moves on to next. She could really go places, this one. I really hope she does.
  • Quentin Alexander was eliminated the week after Joey, on the Top 5 “Arena Anthems” Night. His was another disappointing elimination, one that was more disappointing than I thought it would be. While he never quite rose to the top of my list of favorites (well, Joey pretty much had that list locked up, as I mentioned above), he was consistently a performer I really liked watching, and he had a lot of unexpected, exciting moments that really worked. Sure, he had some pitch issues, but a great deal of the time, he was compelling enough that those pitch issues weren’t too distracting at all. So of course there was the whole argument thing that he had with Harry Connick, Jr….it’s been a while, and other blogs and media outlets have rehashed that whole incident to death, so I won’t really comment on it other than saying it was pretty awkward to watch, and well, it was what it was, I suppose. (I could think of things to say to defend Harry, and quite a few things to say to defend Quentin as well.) Did it lead to Quentin’s elimination? Well, it certainly can’t have helped. But yeah. Quentin is another “Idol” contestant that I hope has some great things ahead of him in his post-“Idol” career. He really seems to have his head on straight, and have the kind of clear artistic vision that will guide him well as he gets into the music business.
  • And finally, we bid adieu to Tyanna Jones last week. Yeah, these last few eliminations have been tough. Tyanna was another one of my favorites, arguably one of my top ones after Joey. She had some excellent comeback performances…”Stay” was absolutely gorgeous and Tyanna really committed emotionally. I don’t know why most didn’t catch onto it, but I thought Tyanna absolutely ROCKED IT with “Proud Mary.” (Yes, I’m going to use all caps for that.) It is true that she was becoming a little too inconsistent, but I thought she had what it took to make it all the way, despite those flawed moments, and it was a bummer to see her journey cut so short. As has been discussed elsewhere, her elimination was also handled a bit awkwardly, with her getting sent home in the middle of the show, and on top of that having to sing right after viewing an emotional goodbye montage of her “Idol” journey. (I didn’t know this until later, because I watched last week’s episode in bits and pieces online, after the show, since I had to miss watching it live.) Still, I think she really made an impression, and I hope it translates to a bright future for Tyanna. I just watched an exit interview with her today on TVLine, and she’s just so smart, mature, and talented (to mention it one last time, and she’s only 16, dang it)…I don’t think she can really lose.

So that’s perhaps not the best encapsulation of the great runs of the four departing singers from the past few weeks, but it’s been a while, and you probably don’t want to hear me go on and on about them, I’m sure. Now, let’s talk about each of the Top 4, how they’ve been doing the past month, and what their chances are at making it to the Top 3…and of course, to the grand finale:

Clark Beckham

How he’s been doing: For the most part, Clark has been cruising along in the competition…the thing is, he seems to be cruising a bit more than he should be soaring. He’s had some good moments (I thought his cover of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” in Top 5 Week was a particularly nice change of pace for him), but he hasn’t quite risen to the great heights that standout moments like “Every Breath You Take” and “Sunday Morning” were for him. This past week was especially rocky for Clark. His take on “Living For The City” was a great song choice (I realized it’s one of my favorite Stevie Wonder tunes), and should have fit Clark like a glove…but it sounded off. He had pitch issues for the first time in quite a while, and it didn’t pop like it should have. Even more uneven was his take on Josh Turner’s “Your Man” (yes, the one that started it all for Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery), which came after a bit of a standoff with “Idol” mentor Scott Borchetta. Him and guest mentor Jay DeMarcus (from Rascal Flatts) didn’t quite like his song choice, and thought what Clark was doing with the tune didn’t quite work. Clark stood his ground, Scott made some awkward, somewhat cutting comments…and the performance turned out to be a wash. It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t great either.

Where he stands: It’s quite possibly the worst time for Clark to be on the decline, when the other three contestants (see below) are on the rise. I’m not sure his tiff with Scott will hurt him a huge amount, but we’ve seen what happened to Quentin after the Harry incident, so like I said relating to that situation above, that kind of thing probably isn’t going to help him vote-wise. I really, really like Clark, but he’s been the presumed front-runner for so long, and at least this makes things more interesting. But do I want him to go home this week? That’s a difficult question. I did vote for him this week, as I have every week before that, but I will say I voted for him less. Things could go either way Wednesday, I think. He could sail easily to the Top 3, untouched by the events and performances of last week, as so many leaders of the “Idol” pack have before…or he could be one of this season’s last shock boots. I’d say he’s in more danger than he has been before, and with only four left, that’s not a great place to be.

Jax

How she’s been doing: Jax has been really making a case for herself as a viable finalist, and possible winner, this past week or two, coming back nicely after a few setbacks. I’d have to say she kind of stumbled on Top 7 Night with an odd rendition of “Poker Face,” and then the following week her take on “Piece of My Heart” was solid, but her performance of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was subpar. These past two weeks, however, she’s really been on point. The triple whammy of “White Flag” from Top 5 Week (one of my favorite songs), plus “Empire State of Mind Part II (Broken Down)” and “Human” from this past week, are three of her strongest efforts, and the latter two she was able to hit out of the park even with a nasty cold. They’ve all been such smart, nice song choices, and Jax really seems to be giving her all to these performances. She’s always been, as they say, a “contender,” but I think she’s improving once again, at just the right moment in the competition.

Where she stands: As much as she’s flirted with front-runner status throughout the season, it’s a bit surprising to see Jax as the last woman standing. (Once again, though, “Idol” voters…stop hating girls!) I think based on her performances last week, she’s very, very likely to make it through to the Top 3. Whether she can win is still up in the air…everyone’s sure to fight hard for the crown, and things are still remarkably close…but she certainly has what it takes, I think, and if she stays on her toes and has every single performance count, we could (finally) see another female winner. (Yes, I know Candace won two seasons ago, and she’s incredible, but let’s be honest, that season was crazy stacked to make sure a woman won. I’d like see a woman win in a season where the odds are stacked against her, rather than in a season tailor-made for her to take the “Idol” crown.) I’d say at this point, Jax is tentatively my favorite, and as such, I want to see her go all the way.

Nick Fradiani

How he’s been doing: Nick, like Jax, has been on the rise a bit recently after a few weeks of relative mediocrity. (Well, a whole season if we’re being honest, but still.) “Teenage Dream” during Top 7 Week could have been a moment for him, but wasn’t, but “American Girl” was a shrewd choice in Top 6 Week, and he sounded a bit better than he had before. I also really liked the way he flipped Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young” that same night. (It may be because I’m not a huge fan of Billy’s original more than how well he did it, but I’ll count it as a win for Nick.) Top 5 Week, however, I felt like Nick took a step back with “Harder To Breathe” and “Maggie May.” Neither of them quite gelled with me. This week, though, “Bright Lights,” by Matchbox Twenty, fit Nick like a glove, and I think it was his strongest performance yet. His tone sounds a lot like Rob Thomas in retrospect, and since he was singing one of Rob Thomas’s songs, it fit the song well. (Previously, I think I haven’t quite been on board because Nick was trying to fit his tone to songs that didn’t quite suit it, at least to my ears.) “What Hurts The Most” wasn’t as much of a standout, but it wasn’t bad, and Nick continued to show much, much more competitive fire than he has previously. He may actually want this.

Where he stands: All that said…Nick remains my least favorite out of the four left. What complicates matters is that I think, based on last week, I would have to say that he deserves to move on to the Top 3. What do you do with a contestant that’s improving very well…but you don’t like as much as the others? I can’t fault Nick for peaking at the right time (by the way, I could have gone without J.Lo squealing “You’re peeeaking!” at him), but I still don’t see him as a potential star. I don’t want “Idol” to stay in the middle of the road in terms of winners. I want “Idol” to break out with someone who really catches the eye of the public, who has people turning their heads. Nick has never quite managed to display too much potential of doing that. I think he should move on to next week…after such a strong showing, it would be wrong to deny him that…but I don’t know how I feel about him going farther. It’s an issue I’ve had with him throughout the season, and I still can’t shake it. Let’s hope Nick keeps trying hard to prove me (and other naysayers) wrong.

Rayvon Owen

How he’s been doing: All four weeks of the Twitter Fan Save, Rayvon has been in danger of elimination, and all four of those weeks, he came out on top, besting Daniel, Qaasim, Joey, and Quentin, all of whom, it seemed, would last longer than Rayvon. In fact, since they started actually announcing the Bottom 2 (or 3), Rayvon has been there each time, which has to be some sort of record, on top of the whopping number of times he’s been saved. Why has he not been connecting with voters? Well, his voice is as always terrific, but he’s still been inconsistent. He sang Adele (“Set Fire To The Rain”) in the Top 7, and it was a high point for him. His performance of “Always On My Mind” Top 6 Week was exquisite, but another one of his forays into uptempo fare, “Long Train Runnin'”, wasn’t as strong. Top 5 Week was another study in contrasts, as he nailed “I’m Not The Only One,” but tanked on “Go Your Own Way” (you could likely rank it comfortably at the very bottom of his performances this season). This week, however, may just have changed his narrative, and not a moment too soon. He sang “Need You Now” beautifully (shifting it nicely from its country-pop roots) and had a darn near certifiable “Idol” moment with an emotional, excellently done performance of “Believe” (by Justin Bieber, of all people). He sang the heck out of it…but what’s more, he really put every ounce of his passion into the performance (it helped that he seemed to be dedicating it and singing it to his mom in the audience for most of it), and it all just seemed to click.

Where he stands: Rayvon is a very intriguing case. He’s spent more than half the season seconds away from going home. He hasn’t been considered a front-runner for ages. Yet, this week, he really, really brought when it counted (after bringing it, more or less, when it counted for weeks singing for his life), and I find it difficult to see him not making it to the Top 3 based on the kind of reception he got, the fan reaction I’m seeing, and just how well he did last Wednesday. That said, it could be a case of too little, too late. Due to his unique position, Rayvon is the only one out of the Top 4 that’s been in the Bottom 2 or 3. None of the other three contestants have ever been in danger. That doesn’t completely rule Rayvon out of the proceedings…”Idol” precedent has shown that contestants can be eliminated on a whim sometimes…but it does make it a bit of an uphill battle. However, I think he’s made his case spectacularly this past week, and I think as late as it is in the game, with the competition this close, that will be enough. If he keeps up the pace, and really continues to finally fulfill his potential, I venture to say Rayvon just might sneak into the finale…and as much as I love his voice, that’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to say.

There you go…that’s where we are on “American Idol,” heading into the Top 4 performance night tomorrow. I know the season’s almost over, but if you haven’t already, I invite you to check things out and see what “Idol” still has to offer. It’s not dead yet…there’s still life in the old boy, I think. Even after some brutal eliminations that I still don’t quite agree with, we have a solid Top 4, and if America plays their cards right, we could have a very viable winner with a great chance at post-show success. I’ll be back with a recap either tomorrow night or Thursday morning, and I will also come out soon with a list of my favorite/the best performances of the season as well. Stay tuned for all that, as well as more Harmony Avenue music goodness. Thanks for reading!

Song of the Day: “Shadowlands”

Once again, it’s time to get back to business with this blog. I should have the time now to do so. I’ll do a catch-up type post on “American Idol” sometime soon, because it is still something worth watching and writing about, even if people seem to be fleeing the show in droves. Before I get to that in the coming days, however, here’s an excellent song to end your day with…

“Shadowlands” by Laila Biali & The Radiance Project!

Laila Biali is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and pianist who I’ve loved for quite some time now. Her previous albums have been fairly rooted in jazz, but her latest record, House of Many Rooms, is an exciting expansion of her artistry. It’s her first album with purely original tunes, all written or co-written by Laila herself. The jazz influences are very clearly still there, but she adds a variety of stunning, beautiful colors to her musical palette. This track, “Shadowlands,” is the opener to the album, and I have been absolutely addicted to it. It really starts things off with a bang, featuring rousing gospel choir vocals by the Toronto Mass Choir and a tight, triumphant horn arrangement, among other things. It’s a riveting, abundantly free song that will grab you and take you for the ride of your life. This may sound like hyperbole, but seriously, this is some terrific, incredibly engaging music. Use it as a taster to listen to the rest of Laila’s fantastic album, which is really a wonderful progression for an artist who’s already been doing some amazing work in the past. I think you’ll really enjoy it all.

Stay tuned for a summer full of fantastic music, and, of course, “American Idol” commentary to finish out the season. Thanks, as always, for reading and listening.