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…