Once again I’ve taken a bit too long to make a post I teased, but now I’m (finally?) bringing a close to my coverage of this past season of “American Idol” with a list of 20 standout performances from Season 14. After all, it’s never too late to reminisce about some great music, right? I’ve said over and over that we had a very talented group this year, and that is fairly evident in the list I ended up with. Without quite planning to, all but two of the Top 12 make an appearance in my 20 favorite performances. But what do you need me yapping for? Take a look below at a YouTube playlist of all 20 songs, as well as some brief commentary on why I picked each song below that, plus a few more honorable mentions you can discover on your own. (Note that while the picks are numbered, they are not ranked. You know me and my inability to rank things…)
1. Clark Beckham, “Every Breath You Take”: A haunting re-imagining of the Police classic, emphasizing the song’s heartbreak more than its stalker undertones. It’s just Clark and the piano here, and the reharmonizations he adds to the mix are stunning–plus his vocal is terrific.
2. Joey Cook, “Fancy”: I was already a huge fan of Joey before this performance during the first Top 11 Week, but she had a certifiable “Idol” moment with this daring, delicious reinvention of the Iggy Azalea/Charli XCX hit. (She graciously credited the arrangement to Postmodern Jukebox afterwards.) She was confident and full of fire here, and this performance cemented her place as one of Idol’s best and most unique contestants.
3. Tyanna Jones, “Tightrope”: In only the second week of the finals, Tyanna just nailed things here with Janelle Monae’s irresistible “Tightrope,” bringing some excellent vocals and TONS of energy to the stage. It’s moments like these that show that Tyanna has a very, very bright future ahead of her if she plays her cards right.
4. Clark Beckham, “Superstition”: Another strong performance by Clark, with some more nice touches to the arrangement (his guitar/voice jam at the beginning is very cool), and vocals that are incredibly on point. This song has been covered to death on “Idol,” but Clark quite honestly made it sound fresh and new. No mean feat, I’d say.
5. Nick Fradiani, “Beautiful Life”: Our Season 14 winner flew under the radar most of the season, but this performance of his coronation single basically sealed the deal for him in the finale. It’s a very strong song (it’s already doing pretty well in the charts, I believe), and he sang it powerfully. A big moment for him, right when it counted.
6. Qaasim Middleton, “Uptown Funk”: Qaasim was never considered a strong vocalist, but this performance from the semi-finals in Detroit proved he’s a terrific entertainer. Sure, the singing takes a bit of a backseat to his dancing and moving and grooving, but the whole thing was tons of fun, a great way to showcase just why Qaasim stuck around the competition so long.
7. Tyanna Jones, “Proud Mary”: I remember that there wasn’t too much buzz about this performance of Tyanna’s, with some people saying it wasn’t her best. I, however, was blown away by her take on “Proud Mary.” Tyanna took the beginning a bit slower than usual and really seemed to sink into the groove, and she was perfect when the song picked up tempo, with some subtle yet exciting changes to the melody. This is how you make an old song new.
8. Jax, “Beautiful Disaster”: Jax has a gorgeous, lilting tone when she sings ballads, and this performance showed that off wonderfully. A lovely arrangement by “Idol” musical director Michael Orland turned this song into even more of an emotional powerhouse, with just piano and strings behind Jax to make the whole thing very beautiful, and anything but a disaster.
9. Clark Beckham, “Ain’t No Sunshine”: Clark really seemed to return to form in the finale, and this stripped-down take on another oft-covered chestnut, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” was one of his best performances. That build in the bridge with the “I know” part? Stunning.
10. Adanna Duru, “Runaway Baby”: Adanna sadly left the competition just as she was really starting to rise, but this performance, I thought, was the first time that she really showed what she could do. She had fire. She had control. She owned the stage. Hopefully we get the chance to see Adanna realize her potential even more, because this was an excellent taste of just how talented she is.
11. Quentin Alexander, “I Put A Spell On You”: That song title was quite apt, I think. This was indeed spellbinding, as Quentin really felt the song, and delivered it incredibly well. The whole performance was riveting and really set Quentin apart as a unique, talented artist on the “Idol” stage.
12. Joey Cook, “Mad World”: Joey’s most exciting moments weren’t limited to her uptempo stuff, as this take on “Mad World” proved. Her vocals were clear and incredibly haunting, and she tapped perfectly into the emotional core of the song. Yet another of the many reasons why I’m such a fan of Joey Cook.
13. Rayvon Owen, “Since U Been Gone”: Rayvon had many, many opportunities to sing for his life during the season, but this first Twitter Save performance was in my opinion his best. He turned Kelly Clarkson’s hit into a heartbreaking ballad, complete with a beautiful string arrangement and a stunning, passionate vocal. It all worked wonderfully, and was the first of many well-deserved saves for Rayvon.
14. Sarina-Joi Crowe, “Mamma Knows Best”: In case you’re wondering why I was so disappointed to see Sarina-Joi go home first out of the Top 12, just watch this. She absolutely commands the stage, with some of the best, most powerful vocals of the season. She went home way too soon, but hey, at least we have moments like these to look back on.
15. Jax, “White Flag”: Another beautiful showcase of Jax’s tone, and her talent at the piano. This is one of my favorite songs, and Jax did it quite well. The whole thing was just…lovely. There’s not many other ways you can describe it. Sometimes less is more, and Jax is a prime example of how that technique can be very successful.
16. Rayvon Owen, “Believe”: Probably Rayvon’s biggest moment on the “Idol” stage, and on a Justin Bieber (?!?) song, no less, he gave one of his best vocals, brought tons of emotion to the performance (he was singing to his mom, which was incredibly touching), and just…he got it. It took him most of the season to do so, but he got it.
17. Joey Cook, “Miss Independent”: Yet another standout from the illustrious Joey, this performance took Kelly Clarkson’s already-excellent “Miss Independent” into jazz, and it worked So. Dang. Well. Joey brought the vocals. She brought the class. She brought attitude. She brought everything, darn it. Can we have her album already?
18. Tyanna Jones, “Stay”: As evident from this list, Tyanna had some truly great uptempo performances. This one showed she could hit us hard with a ballad as well. Dedicating the performance to her grandmother, Tyanna packed an emotional punch with this beautiful, moving take on Rihanna’s stripped-down hit.
19. Rayvon Owen, “As”: Another change of pace that worked out wonderfully, Rayvon finally hit his stride with an uptempo song, really delivering with this assured, excellent performance of a Stevie Wonder classic. The original is already pretty delicious, but Rayvon added even a little more to it, really seeming to get into the groove both vocally and performance-wise.
20. Jax, “My Generation”: Last but not least, Jax’s finest rock moment came in Top 3 Week with this fiery, terrific performance that took a Who song from the 60s and brought it straight into today. She was jamming with the drummer and the band. She went all over the stage. Her vocals were spot-on. Everything just clicked, and it goes to show just how many sides there are to Jax as an artist, a very wonderful thing, I think.
Well, perhaps those commentaries weren’t quite as brief as I would have hoped. Here’s a few more honorable mentions, complete with video links:
Thanks, as always for reading and listening, and an extra thank you for your patience as I’ve taken on “American Idol” these past few months. Stay tuned, as always, for some great music and posts here on Harmony Avenue.