Oh, “American Idol.” It giveth and it taketh away. Last night’s Top 11 show, built around a (fairly tenuous) “Let’s Get This Party Started” theme, was full of some really great moments. However, at the same time, there were a few not-so-great moments, culminating in quite possibly the most devastating first elimination we’ve had in “Idol” history. That may sound like needless hyperbole. But I’m sticking to it. This was a mistake, America. A full-on mistake. We’ll get to that in a moment, though. There’s quite a bit of consolation to be found in the rest of the proceedings. Here are how the performances went:
- Rayvon Owen, “Burn” (Ellie Goulding): The night started out quite cheerfully with Rayvon being safe first. Mentor Scott Borchetta noted that he needs to push himself more, and step up his game. Did he do that with this song, a bit more uptempo than what he’s usually gone to? Well, yes and no. I noticed some slight pitch issues (very uncharacteristic for Rayvon, but still, very slight), and that he was a bit out of breath at certain points, but I also liked the different side of him that he showed, and I think his impeccable tone, for the most part, was able to shine through. He needed a bit of a change of pace like this, I thought, and while it wasn’t completely strong (I was a bit perplexed by the judges saying it was his best performance), it was nowhere near a stumble for me.
- Maddie Walker, “She’s Country” (Jason Aldean): Proclaimed a “future country siren” by Scott, Maddie seemed to going very country last night. (Cue a paraphrased Alan Jackson: “She’s gone country! Here she comes…” OK, just me? Just me.) I thought she had a good energy in her performance, and her vocals were fairly well-done, though her tone was somewhat thin at times, and she went a bit off the rails at her high note at the end. Harry made a nice point to her about the difference between emulation and imitation. She’d do well to heed his advice about that, about not just copying the original artist. Ryan pointed out afterwards that she hasn’t been feeling well (instead of going back to her lighted-green seat, she went off stage to receive medical attention…yikes), so in hindsight it’s impressive that she was able to improve and progress in this performance, despite a medical setback.
- Joey Cook, “Fancy” (Iggy Azalea/Charli XCX): Wow. I could just end this paragraph with that, really, but since I’ve never been one to miss a good chance to gush, and you probably would like me to expound that, let’s keep going. This was outstanding. Truly outstanding. I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been a Joey fan from the very start, but even I couldn’t see something so terrific like this coming, at least not in this way. Taking cues from the jazzy, brilliant Postmodern Jukebox version (kudos to her for promptly crediting them for the arrangement, by the way), Joey, with the best vocal performance she’s given so far, and a remarkable amount of composure and class, was absolutely on fire with her reinvention of “Fancy.” Scott Borchetta talked about how Joey has been pushed to different places, and discovered more of her voice. We are definitely seeing the fruits of that process. I loved how Harry commented that “somebody out there believes that you’re a star.” I certainly do, and I think after this performance, many more people will feel the same if Joey keeps firing on all cylinders like this. I venture to say this was one of the best performances of the season so far…and we’ve had quite a few stunners already.
- At this point, we had a guest performance by Jussie Smollett, from the cast of “Empire,” and…Yazz? I think that’s his name. Anyways, this wasn’t my cup of tea (I’m not a big hip-hop/rap person, as you may have noticed), but for a lot of people, I’m sure it is. Seeing as “Empire” has gained viewers each week since its premiere nearly 2 months ago, apparently a lot of people are fans, so, well, good for “Empire,” and good for them. Moving on…
- Clark Beckham, “Takin’ It To The Streets” (Doobie Brothers): I came to the “Idol” party relatively late, during Season 8 in 2009, so I did not see Taylor Hicks’ season, but a few years ago while looking at past seasons on YouTube, I watched his performance of “Takin’ It To The Streets.” It was…interesting, to put it succinctly. (So no, I am not part of the Soul Patrol.) Clark took it on tonight, and I would say it was definitely better than Taylor’s take. Clark gave a solid vocal, though I could have done without him imitating Michael McDonald a bit too much on the louder parts. The piano was nice at the end, too. That said…Scott made a really good point that Clark tends to lean on comfortable songs. This was a comfortable song, and sure, it fit him well, but it seemed too safe. Clark is a talented vocalist, but he does need to work on song choice. These songs are great. But it would be very, very intriguing to see what Clark could do with a more modern hit. Not that he needs to go singing “Fancy” or “Burn” or something like that. That’s not who he is, I’ll grant you that. But something released a bit more recently could fit him like a glove, and I’d like to see just a bit more of that in the future.
- Jax, “Blank Space” (Taylor Swift): Scott’s assertion that Jax is “the epitome of all the great things about the 80s mashed up into 2015” was a bit odd. This performance, granted, was also a bit odd, and not necessarily in a great way, but I enjoyed it. In retrospect, I do see a few of its flaws. My notes talk about how the arrangement was very straightforward, just a little rockier with some added guitars and whatnot. I noted that it was a strong vocal, with nice change-ups to the melody. I also wondered in my notes who the heck the random audience member was that Jax sang to/briefly stole a hat from (it turns out, just a random audience member, nothing more). Looking back…yeah, it was a bit of a carbon copy, like the judges pointed out. I see Harry’s point that she seemed “lost at sea” in the groove. I was pleased that her fine voice still was able to come through, but yes, she has done much better, artistically, in the past. I think she’ll be fine, but as we learned tonight (more on that below), no one is safe. Shudder.
- Qaasim Middleton, “Jet” (Paul McCartney & Wings): Very interesting song choice, with quite a change of pace for Qaasim. He concentrated on the vocal this week, and was armed with a guitar for quite possibly the first time this season. His trademark crazy energy kicked in a bit for the second half of the song, but the first half was him actually standing, playing guitar, and singing. A novelty where Qaasim is concerned, for sure. I thought his vocal was good, though for some reason, I noted a major lack of enunciation/diction that kind of distracted me at times. Harry came down hard on the performance, saying Qaasim might be a one-trick pony, and that he didn’t connect lyrically. (Ouch.) Keith and J.Lo enjoyed it (Keith noted the guitar enhanced his vocal, which I agreed with). Also, Qaasim’s mom, who they talked with afterwards, is the best. I appreciated Qaasim paying heed to the advice to showcase his vocals more, and I thought he came off pretty well, but I could definitely see people not quite getting on board with this performance.
- Adanna Duru, “Runaway Baby” (Bruno Mars): I would not have picked this song in a million years for Adanna, but I’ll be darned, she really did well with it. She seemed to have worked a great deal on her vocal control, and it paid off in spades. This was her best vocal of the season, but she was able to keep her passion, commitment, and fire, the kind of stuff that will really take her far in the competition. They are right when they say she’s out for blood. If she keeps her newfound control going strong, and keeps her stage presence up there as well, she’s going to grow to be a greater and greater contender for the “Idol” crown, which seeing as I had no idea who Adanna was a few weeks ago, will be a major achievement in itself. Keep fighting, Adanna. Thank goodness the judges used one of their Wild Card picks on you.
- Tyanna Jones, “Tightrope” (Janelle Monae): The first time Tyanna appeared on our TV screens, at her audition, she reminded me of Janelle Monae (both vocally and looks-wise), so this choice of “Tightrope” was kind of a given at some point during the season, seeing as Tyanna apparently also counts Monae as a major musical influence (impeccable taste there). I’ve seen Janelle kill this song live. I’ve seen a fine version by Majesty Rose of this song on the previous season of “Idol.” (Both thanks to YouTube, of course.) But during these 90-120 seconds, I didn’t care who the heck I’d seen sing it before. OK, maybe a little. The comparisons did creep through a smidge. But by and large…Tyanna owned that stage and owned that song. (My notes very aptly have a big “Yeah!” underlined and written very large among them.) It’s not an easy song. The rhythm, the presence, the vocal stamina required for it can be very, very tricky. But this is Tyanna Jones we’re talking about, and she has wisdom and artistry and presence beyond her years. I loved Harry’s critique, where he said if she was in the Olympics, he wouldn’t clap, he wouldn’t stand…he’d just silently give her a perfect 10. I’m with you, Harry. I’m with you all the way on that one.
- Daniel Seavey, “Happy” (Pharrell Williams): Sigh. This didn’t need to happen, America. It really didn’t. Once Daniel was announced as moving on, I knew we were headed for a bit of carnage down the road. He didn’t deserve to go through to the Top 11, and tonight didn’t do him too many more favors, though I admit it was a slight improvement on his recent performances. Scott was good to point out that vocally, Daniel needs to step it up (though unfortunately, that was countered with talk about his smile lights up the room…as if). Daniel himself prefaced his performance by saying to us all, “I want you dancing with me.” (My knee-jerk response, which I literally said out loud: “I shall not.”) As I was thus free from any distracting urge to dance along, I was able to notice a bit of a goat-like vibrato on the ends of Daniel’s phrases (nit-picky, I know), and his usual lack of polish and whatnot. He did, however, stay largely on pitch, which…works, I suppose. I can’t say I hated his performance, but once again, it was clearly well below the standard of any of the other contestants. The judges were fairly kind to Daniel last night, with Harry saying he was a bit more comfortable (I suppose), but may not be able to compete with experience (I hope that’s the case), and Keith saying we’ll see him next week (no, stop it, Keith), and J.Lo saying it’s impossible not to root for Daniel (I submit that it is quite possible, Jennifer). On top of it all, Daniel made us all feel old by stating he started watching “Idol” at the age of 3. Oh dear…
- Quentin Alexander, “Rolling In The Deep” (Adele): Quentin had braces?!?! I never noticed. Weird. Anyways, Scott Borchetta prefaced Quentin’s performance by talking about his “really cool vibe” and “piercing eyes.” I can work with this. I really dug Quentin’s arrangement of Adele’s mega-hit “Rolling In The Deep.” I think Keith was on to something noting it was “spiritual” in a way. There was a very cool feel at work there, and Quentin brought some nice vocals into the mix (fleeting pitch issues, but nothing major). Was a bit of the point of the song lost, as Harry brought up in his critique? Perhaps. But Quentin really sold it all to me…he handled the song quite well, I thought. He really took it in a different way, gave it a “different flow” as J.Lo pointed out, and it worked for me. I’m glad Quentin made it through despite being a Wild Card, and I hope that America catches on to his vibe more and more as we go on.
- Nick Fradiani, “Wake Me Up” (inspired by Aloe Blacc’s acoustic version): In my notes, I started off each performance’s section with the contestant name. Nick’s section begins with the following: “NIck (No, Sarina!!!!)” Yeah, I admittedly couldn’t enjoy this performance as much, because I knew it meant my dear Sarina-Joi subsequently would have to sing for her life. (When it comes down to it, I would have taken Sarina-Joi over Nick any day. Sorry.) That all aside, he did do a solid job. He has never really had any pitch problems or anything, so that’s good. I think it was a very good song choice for him, but I do think he lacked a bit of fire and drive. Scott made some interesting pre-performance observations about Nick, that he is indeed very driven and hard-working (I think that does show), but he’s very used to being in a band, and not too used to being a solo artist. He needs to bring himself out more, like Harry said, “crack open for us.” As it stands now, he’s very proficient, he’s indeed very experienced, but he’s not standing out, and that will eventually come back to bite him if he’s not careful.
- This all meant that Sarina-Joi Crowe had to sing for her life, unfortunately with her song choice for this week, “Neon Lights” by Demi Lovato. She was back to her typical pitch domination for the most part (she was a bit flat on her first glory note towards the end, but recovered just fine afterwards), and sold it as best she could given the circumstances…the song wasn’t quite the best showcase for her otherworldly abilities, plus she was, oh, I don’t know, at the very brink of elimination…but for the judges, it sadly wasn’t enough last night. The judges decided not to use their Save.
Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I do understand why the judges wouldn’t pull out their Save so early (though I hope they’re not too skittish to use it this season…talented people are going to go home no matter what, so you might as well use it early on someone who just had a bad week, and then let the chips fall where they may after that), but ugh. Sarina-Joi was easily one of this season’s best vocalists. She had a bad night on Wednesday, sure. But so did Daniel. A few others were slightly expendable as well, as much as I like everyone else. Just thinking of Sarina-Joi Crowe as Season 14’s last-place finalist…it just does not make any sense. There have been good vocalists that have gone home first off the bat in the past, but none quite on this level. It’s quite frustrating and disappointing.
That said…we have 10 out of 11 finalists left that are still quite good. Joey, Tyanna, Adanna, and Quentin did excellently last night (those were my favorites) and the rest, aside from Daniel (sorry) weren’t bad. We still have the potential for a good season, and as soon as we can get out Daniel (I seem to be singling him out here quite a bit), we will have the strongest group of finalists, without exception, that “Idol” has ever seen. I really believe that.
My Bottom 3: Daniel, Nick, and (being objective for a moment) Jax. (Based on last night’s performances here.)
Predictions: I’ll stick with those for my predictions, because why not? I will still maintain that Daniel will go home. I’ll keep wishing it until it’s a reality…
See you all next week with more “Idol” recap goodness, and sooner than that with more music posts here on Harmony Avenue. Make sure to comment like the wind, and thanks as always for reading.