Pop quiz time, American Idol fans!
Name the theme for Top 6 Week — not based on what Ryan Seacrest told you, but on what you saw and heard with your own eyes and ears:
A. Harry Connick Jr. Acts Like an Insufferable Jackass
B. “At This Point, You Kids Might as Well Sing Whatever the Hell You Want!”
C. Quentin Alexander Being Jeered at in the Town Square
D. The Judges Overlooking Myriad Pitch Problems (So Nobody Else Defects to The Voice)
E. A Mess
F. That Time Harry Sat Next to J.Lo and Dissed the Art of Auto-Tune (#OMG)
As the overlord of this here recap, I will accept any of the above answers and grant each and every one of you an unshakeable A+.
Executive producer Per Blankens & Co., on the other hand, get an H (for HUH?), on account of pretending we were in for an “Arena Anthems” theme… and then greenlighting “Yesterday,” “Heaven” and a Justin Freaking Bieber jam. Why not just say “Contestant’s Choice,” bring in Scott Borchetta verrry early to help avoid any screaming clunkers and hope that for once, we wind up with two terrific hours of musical performances?
Nope, instead we get Harry doing interminable, sports-style slo-mo replays of J.Lo’s dress twirling; everybody subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) driving the actual American Idol bus into Quentin Alexander’s Top 5 Tour dreams; and a very uneven dozen performances that made me think the remaining contestants are starting to get worn down by the grueling process of finding a tenant for The House Where Danny Gokey Screamed On.
Hey, at least there’s the prospect of a Joey-Quentin double bill somewhere this summer, yes?
Without further ado, though, let’s get to my letter grades for tonight’s performances:
Jax – Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” — Grade: B | OK, so Jax’s song choice wasn’t much of a vocal showcase, but it ultimately proved to be a fun, energetic romp — and a nice bookend to her more nuanced, understated second number. Sure, as an Oldy McAncientstein, I never like to see cutoff shorts where the pocket hangs below the hemline, but aside from that (and a few moments where Jax got a wee bit winded), I can’t complain. Because when Idol is “All Ballads All the Time,” nobody wins.
Nick Fradiani – Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” — Grade: B- | Uff da. Nick missing his cue (or was it the band messing up?) at the start of the number seemed to seriously throw off his rhythm and phrasing for the opening third of his performance. (Though kudos to the man himself for doing the judges’ job and being the only person to actually make mention of the flub.) Perhaps just as disappointing, though, was the fact that Nick once again chose a song so utterly on-the-nose in terms of what you’d expect from him. When J.Lo told the Connecticut rocker — who, on a shallow note, wins the trophy for Most Improved Hair this week — that she wished he’d infused his performance with audience participation, I had to nod my head. Because ultimately, there’s a sameness to Nick’s performances that, week in and week out, makes them hard to distinguish from one another… and this deep in the season, that lack of true risk could come back to haunt him.
Clark Beckham – The Beatles’ “Yesterday” — Grade: C- | Wait, did He Who Is Always Flapping His Gums About Intonation (AKA Harry) call this performance “terrific”? I rewound three times, and yes, in fact he did — a fact that makes me worried Clark is getting the Phillip Phillips treatment (where late in the season, a contestant is so far ahead in the voting that the show puts a stop to any genuine criticism… the better to “sell” the coronation). Not only was Clark’s approach to the melody dramatic to the point of torture, but he was consistently sharp throughout.
Tyanna Jones – Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” — Grade: C+ | The judges also sounded like they were praising Tyanna’s first number, too, except their tone was communicating a somewhat less enthusiastic message. From my couch, I heard a host of woes in the teenager’s lower register, and tonal quality on the big “Yeah-ee-yeah-ee-yeah-ah-ahs” on the chorus that made me wince. Instead of Harry’s unbearable attempts at comedy, why not show more behind-the-scenes conversations allowing us to figure out if it was Tyanna or someone else who first cooked up this song choice — and what other options she might’ve considered on her journey to “just bein’ Miley”? I know, I know… that’s like going to Little Caesar’s and expecting a handmade Argentinian pie with cremini mushrooms and organic truffle oil, but this old dog just can’t learn any new daydreams.
Quentin Alexander – The Doors’ “Light My Fire” — Grade: B- | The bass-heavy groove of Quentin’s arrangement was super cool, but I felt like he never truly dug into the vocal — or fully committed to the sensuality behind the lyrics — which are kind of essential when you’re not at the top of the pecking order in terms of pitch or vocal horsepower. OK, the dance moves and the neck swivel and the black leather fringe all made me smile, but the inaccuracy of the ad-libs at the end were tough to endure — even for a rabid Quentin fan such as myself.
Rayvon Owen – Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” — Grade: C+ | Let me begin with a prologue to this critique: It was love at first listen when I encountered Rayvon’s tone singing “Wide Awake” during his audition — a feeling that remained unabated during “Lay Me Down” at the House of Blues and “Jealous” in Top 12 Week. So, no, I am not unaware of or immune to his gifts. And while there were moments within “I’m Not the Only One” where the dashing fella’s mellifluous tone broke through, there was just too much “cry” in his voice, too much straining for emotion, too much exertion to try to push his glory notes into Idol moment territory. Yes, the song is a lament from the point of view of a jilted (but still hanging on) lover, but the original is a bruised plea — Rayvon’s was more of an extended whine.
Nick Fradiani – Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” — Grade: B+ | This was a fine, workmanlike vocal from Nick — full of grit and intensity, and topped off with a lovely little dollop of falsetto. After last week’s deconstruction of a Billy Joel classic, though, I was hoping Nick might give us at least one big surprise in terms of song choice or arrangement. Then again, dude has never had a Bottom 2 encounter — so what do I know? And actually, hearing him sing his face off was not a bad consolation prize.
Tyanna Jones – Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” — Grade: C | So Scott Borchetta is “mentoring” — or merely serving as a tour guide to the Dolby Theater? I’m guessing the latter, seeing how he let a 16-year-old contestant settle on a song that begins with the line, “Oh thinking about our younger years…” — which was what, middle school? “Music Has Value” reads the message emblazoned on all his jackets — but he needs a second patch reminding him that “Lyrics Matter, Too”! Urgh. Not surprisingly, Tyanna seemed utterly disconnected from the performance, which felt as out-of-place and uncomfortable as her floor-length silver gown. When Harry asked her what kind of music she wants to make post-Idol, Tyanna actually muttered, “I would say I’m most comfortable actually singing songs like this — I always sung in the church, and I sung Gospel and R&B, things like that. But I feel like I’m having more fun, and I feel more natural when I’m dancing, you know, moving with the crowd.” Which made me wonder if she’d already deleted “Heaven” from her memory bank and had convinced herself “Party in the USA” was her one and only performance for the week.
Clark Beckham – Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” — Grade: B+ | None of the judges seemed that excited by The Bieberization of Season 14’s Almost Inevitable Champ — saying his acoustic-blues twist on “Boyfriend” wasn’t sexy enough or dangerous enough or stadium-worthy. To me, though, these petty complaints provided further evidence that the judges were wayyy off their games this week. Not only was Clark’s “Boyfriend” one of the few covers that seemed totally out of left field — and I mean that as a compliment — but he also went staunchly against the karaoke vibe that pervaded the episode. A few of the high notes went a little off the rails when Clark ad-libbed the final chorus, but at least his patented howl was conveying the necessary excitement of a boy standing in front of a girl, asking her to go steady.
Jax – Dido’s “White Flag” — Grade: A- | A decade from now, Idol historians will point to “White Flag” as the moment where Jax pretty much locked herself into a Season 14 hometown visit. (No way she’s Bottom 2 next week, so unless she stumbles hard over the last hurdle, Top 3 is almost guaranteed.) Dido’s biggest hit — like the Sam Smith cover that preceded it — tells the tale of a love affair that only one party is clinging to, but Jax’s exquisite restraint proved a much better fit than Rayvon’s peacock-y approach. Sitting at the piano and taking her time with the melody, Jax infused every note with palpable desperation and heartache — so much so that for a second, it looked like said emotions might derail her vocal. That never happened, of course, leading to a quavering glory note that might’ve been the rocker chick’s finest vocal moment all season.
Quentin Alexander – Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out” — Grade: A- | I won’t lie: I was a little afraid of Quentin tackling one of the booming-est, muscular vocalists of our time — and there were a couple hinky notes on the opening verse that only upped my fear factor. Once Quentin got past the first couple lines of the verse, though, he locked into the lyric and made me feel like it was something he’d written himself (perhaps about his own Idol experience). “And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back/ So shake him off” — that might as well be labeled “From Quentin to Harry.” Best of all, Quentin went for a huge glory note toward the end of his cover — had this been Olympic figure skating, he’d have been going for his first in-competition quadruple — and he completely nailed it. Harry — who’s thrown the concept of pithiness down into a cellar pit with a dog named Precious — phrased his typical “your pitch sucks” critique in the form of a question (essentially, “Will you use Auto-Tune when you record an album?”), giving us one more chance to experience Quentin’s sweet authenticity. “I would not, just because I feel that the type of music I want to do, the type of art that I want to make, is all me in my raw element. So if I make a mistake, I want to people to hear that mistake.” Would Scott Borchetta (and his ilk) ever allow such blasphemy? Probably not. But I’m going to pre-order it on iTunes faster than J.Lo can say “I luh ya, Papi.”
Rayvon Owen – Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” — Grade: B- | Fleetwood Mac’s breakup anthem doesn’t seem to have much to do with how Rayvon has presented himself as an artist thus far, but aside from an inaudible opening line, it was a fairly competent, energetic attempt on his part. Well, that is until he busted out with one of the most ear-piercing, unnecessary falsetto runs in American Idol history. The audiences and judges acted like dude had turned water into wine — maybe it sounded less alarming in person? — but it was the kind of last impression that might turn into a life vest for Tyanna during next week’s results.
Ultimately, the final Twitter Save of Season 8 came down to Quentin Vs. Rayvon (even though it should’ve been Tyanna going home). Quentin’s ability to surprise and thrill (and pick better songs) made him my clear choice to win, and thus I whipped myself into a Social Media Frenzy (SMF is a real condition, people!).
Alas, though, it was Rayvon who prevailed in the Twitter vote — and Quentin who was sent packing.
As for next week…
Should Be Eliminated Next Week: Tyanna
Will Be Eliminated Next Week: Tyanna
On that note, I turn it over to you! What did you think of Top 6 performance night? Who were your faves? Who’s at risk? Did the right contestant get “Twitter Saved”? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!