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!

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