Breaking It Down: American Idol Top 8 weren’t great, but they were still damn good

There isn't enough booze in my house to make me forget seeing Iggy perform.

There isn’t enough booze in my house to make me forget seeing Iggy perform.


The night should have been a hell of a lot better.

This wasn’t Country Music Night. Or Big Band Night. Or even Motown Night.

This was Billboard Night and while American Idol was vague about what years it actually covered – all songs were from 2003 or later – finding one hit song couldn’t have been so hard.

So why was it?

There was no reason why this shouldn’t have been the best night for performances we’ve had all season. The Idols have been around enough that they’re figuring out what works for them and picking songs that were immensely popular, each performance should have been ridiculous. We should have seen some of the latter-ranked Idols making a move toward the top.

It just didn’t happen.

If the Top 7/8 haven’t figured it out by now, there is a pecking order and if you’re not in the Top 3 you need to figure a way to get in there.

Clark Beckham and Tyanna Jones didn’t do much except make it incredibly difficult to pick which one of them is going to win Season 14. Stole the show because they should have.

Jax and Quentin Alexander got a little risky and it didn’t really work – at least in my eyes – and while I appreciate the risk, there’s a huge difference between risk and going way the hell out there in name of risk.

As good as he was, Nick Fradiani needed to be better if he wants to think about winning. Joey Cook is doing a good job being silly and goofy and serious and back to silly and mixing it up, but she could have been better tonight as well.

It wasn’t a perfect night, but it was good. I’m wondering when the fact that this is a competition is going to hit the final seven, because at this point the only people I know who have the fire in their belly are Clark, Tyanna and Rayvon Owen, who is an absolute machine and more prepped than anyone else when it comes to competing after winning two straight Fan Saves.

Don’t think this is me saying this was a bad night. It was good.

But at this point it should be great.

And if performances don’t starting hitting that level, we’re going to see some surprise cuts.

Onto the reviews:

THE TOP 8

Jax
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

When Jax Tweeted she was doing a Gaga song, then responded to me that I nailed it, I was excited because, well, I’m a song-picking genius.

It was a perfect song choice for Jax, who’s been Idol’s version of Lady Gaga (minus the beef dress) since she arrived. The song choice was perfect … until it wasn’t.

No doubt about the vocal – it was terrific. Can’t think of a Jax performance where someone’s said “your vocal sucked” and that consistency of performing is why she’s where she’s at.

But the arrangement had me totally confused.

I could argue it either way. If you needed me to be pro-Jax, I’d tell you how original it was and what guts it took to try something so different; if you wanted me to be an anti-Jaxxer, I could say how she was trying to hard and with an arrangement like that it shows she’s nothing but a welfare version of Lady Gaga.

Honestly, she’s somewhere between the two. The arrangement was a stretch and it didn’t work; I respect the attempt because Jax needs to make a move. After tonight it’s clear at best she’s No. 3 and at worst, No. 4. If everything would have worked and Clark Beckham and Tyanna Jones didn’t absolutely nail their performances, maybe Jax slides up to one of the Top 2 spots.

Well, the performance didn’t work and Clark and Tyanna’s did, but I don’t think Jax is going to fall so far back that she’s Bottom 2. She had a safety net thanks to the job she’s been doing all season long and one risky go isn’t going to end her chance to win Season 14. The idea was great, the execution wasn’t, so Jax should just move on and work on killing it next week.

It needs to be noted that this critique could be a polar opposite of others. Her take on “Poker Face” reminded me of Adam Lambert singing “Ring of Fire” in that the arrangement was so outrageous you completely forgot how great the vocal was. Jax’s arrangement had me so confused I didn’t have time to fully enjoy the vocal and I think you’ll find a lot of people who either loved the hell out of the performance or hated it. No in-between with this one.
IN or BOTTOM 2: Bottom 2

Nick Fradiani
“Teenage Dream,” Katy Perry

The second I found out what Nick was singing I had a sneaking suspicion he was getting crapped on by the judges regardless of how it sounded.

I get the feeling the judges don’t want Nick hijacking the proceedings. I could see him sticking out this week, getting past Rayvon, upsetting Quentin and Joey because he’s hot and doesn’t sing weird songs and then surprising Jax before covering something ridiculous in the Final 3 that forces everyone to put him in the final over Tyanna or Clark.

That’s probably not the plan the producers want, so I expect the “crap on Nick” campaign to continue next week.

His performance tonight was strong. I was waiting for Nick to explode and take it to that next level, but at the same time I could have seem him trying something weird and flopping. He did a hell of a job keeping the performance solid and that’s going to keep him going in this contest.

How he gets to the next round is up to him. I’m going out on a limb saying he’s safe this week; if Jax turns out to be safe, Nick will be singing off against Rayvon and while I like his odds, if the song choice isn’t right he’s screwed.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

Quentin Alexander
“Latch,” Disclosure feat. Sam Smith

Congrats to Q on dressing semi-normal tonight. It was a little weird not seeing him in Hammerpants capris and a shirt that Prince would think twice about. Dude’s definitely got his own thing going – god bless him – but I’m still hoping he’ll show up in a fitted Polo button-down with dress pants, nice shoes and a sport coat to make minds explode.

Q wasn’t Q. The arrangement was the same as Latch’s original one and I really don’t think that the uptempo beat fit Quentin. He could have slowed this song down to a crawl and it would have sounded like Maxwell playing MTV Unplugged and that would have wetted the crowd.

Quentin was in the same ballpark as Jax with the performance; even if he bombed it, his worst case is he’s Bottom 2 and smokes whoever survived tonight’s Bottom 2. If he crushed it, he might be able to jump to No. 3 or maybe even No. 2 overall; if he was just mediocre, no movement and he’s on to next week, so the good news is Quentin Alexander is on to next week.

If Quentin was planning on doing that, my choice for him – Imagine Dragons “Radioactive” would have been better for him, as would my ideal choice for him, OneRepublic’s “Secrets.”

Quentin seems to be in solid standing with the audience, so I don’t anticipate anything crazy happening.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

Joey Cook
“Wrecking Ball,” Miley Cyrus

She didn’t Joey-cize the song. Brilliant.

Joey’s awareness that her specific style could wear thin on voters and jeopardize her chances on the show is amazing. She could have brought out the squeezebox and the big band and sang just about anything this week; instead, she chose to sing a song that sets a middle-school dance OFF and it went wonderfully.

The reason why it worked was because Joey’s voice compared to Miley’s is night and day. Joey, for one, hasn’t had her voice ruined by years of partying way too hard and (maybe) a ton of booze and drugs. More importantly, her twang made the song work. It made it different enough that we weren’t sitting there she was doing a Miley impression, minus the tattoos and nudity.

But the only gripe I had with Joey’s entire performance was no one mentioned the recently engaged Idol performed in a friggin hipster wedding dress with her fiance – who couldn’t have looked any more like what you’d expect Joey’s fiance to look like – in the crowd. That’s bad luck, no?

Joey’s certainly not dropping with that performance, but after everything is all said and done she’s No. 3 ranked at best, No. 5 at worst. I’d put her ahead of Quentin and Jax, but if you told me they were still ahead of her I’m not fighting over it.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

Clark Beckham
“Make it Rain,” Ed Sheeran

When I heard Clark was singing “Make It Rain” I was pumped to see how he’d translate a Fat Joe and L’il Wayne song about throwing money about strippers into a bluesy soul rock song. Instead, he did Ed Sheeran’s song and while the song’s subject was decidingly different, the performance was exactly as I’d hoped.

CB is playing a different game. As much as I’d love to see him do some pop song and flip it around, he’s great and doing what he’s doing. The subtle changes to the song to make it fit who he is as a performer is perfect because it works for him. Some of the other contestants’ strength is their ability to totally re-interpret a song. Clark just bashes you in the face with awesomeness.

If I have a concern, it’s picking songs I don’t like because, dammit, I want to hear him sing the crap you want to hear. It’s always a downer when an awesome contestant doesn’t sing songs you like, especially when you may or may not have a total man-crush on him.

And J-Lo can get bent. He needs to work on the image? Listen, J-Lo, Clark ain’t one of the homeboys from the block. He doesn’t need to gel the hair or try to look like whatever stupid style people are sporting now that they’ll laugh about in 10 years (Timberlake’s blond perm anyone?). His style is classic and it’s going to work all the way to the final.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

Tyanna Jones
“Stay,” Rhianna

She’s 100 percent a 16-year old and proved it Wednesday. How?

Did you see the cheesy smile when Jason Derulo complimented her? Sneaky funny moment that went by the wayside, because what followed was gold.

Tyanna was in a tough spot following Clark, but holy crap did she come through and answer. She was crab-handing (something that was talked about with Joey Cook) the whole performance, but it looked like she was using the hands to throw the words at us.

The emotion of the song came through loud and clear. The poise she showed while performing was remarkable because she’s still 16. The best emotional performance in Idol history was Crystal Bowersox, and part of the brilliance in that performance was how she broke down at the end and sang through the tears. Tyanna fighting off emotion and singing through it, then breaking down was unbelievable.

The cynic in me says these emotional performances and poise is all an act, but Meryl Streep can’t act that well. The fact Tyanna is so pure everything is so real. I was terrified producers would tell her to act a certain way and I’ve been waiting each week so see her do something totally forced upon her, but instead she just crushes out performances. Wednesday was no different.

She’s clearly the No. 2 so far and if it wasn’t for my blind love for Clark Beckham, I could 100 percent be talked into her as the best of the show. I tweeted that these two would be the best final in Idol history; I meant it more for competition, because this might be the first season – minus Season 1, because we really didn’t understand how the show worked yet – where if it’s Clark vs. Tyanna, you can make a strong argument for either side.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In.

Rayvon Owen
“Set Fire to the Rain,” Adele

In my heart I hope Rayvon’s recent song selection is strategy because it is exactly what you need to do when you’re in his position.

He had to have known he was Bottom 2 regardless of how his last sing-off went, so why not try to take a huge song and sing the hell out of it. You crush it, you have a great chance of staying; you miss, you’re gone. No need to be safe with your back to the wall.

By the time we got to Rayvon last night, I was about 12 deep so at first I hated it but when I rewatched, sober me found it was much better. The start was a little rough and I wanted him to get a little bigger with the notes at the start, but he closed the performance so well.

Rayvon’s got to keep doing this. He’s Bottom 2 next week and will be Bottom 2 the following week. As long as they have a Twitter Fan Save and he keeps winning, Rayvon will be Bottom 2. He might as well picking impossibly difficult songs because in a head-to-head competition, he could Bottom 2 and Twitter Save his way to the final because, as we’re finally seeing. Rayvon can SANG.
IN or BOTTOM 2: Bottom 2

Qaasim Middleton
“Hey Ya,” OutKast

I love the people on Team Qaasim, because they stand by their man,

My favorite of all excuses for Qaasim’s poor performance was because theme week was unfair and didn’t let him pick songs that fit him. Now I was too drunk to bring it up, but Qaasim could have literally picked any hit song ever and sang it last night.

Instead, he murdered the song of the decade. RIP Hey Ya, 2003-2015.

“BUT QAASIM COULDN’T SHOW OFF HIS VOCALS ON THAT SONG.”

Uh, yes, he could have. Ladies and gents of Team Qaasim, I present Obadiah Parker.

When I saw the song list I was kinda hoping Fradiani or Clark was giving this a go, but I knew what was going to happen with the song and it did.

The vocal was horrendous. Andre 3000, who’s not going to be confused for Maxwell or D’Angelo anytime soon, made it sound good and acted the part and got away with it because a) he was a megastar when it came out and b) had a ton of post-production work done so it sounded dope on the radio.

How the judges treated the vocal was an embarrassment. I believe performance should be something to be taken into consideration, but you’re a better performer than a singer, GTFO. If Qaasim had a passable voice, he would have won Idol and it wouldn’t have been close.

Problem is, his voice was significantly worse than everyone in left, everyone that was in the Top 12 and a handful of the semifinalists who got booted so he could dance around on stage and not singing on a show that bills itself as a singing competition.

And for the second week in a row, the Twitter Save worked. Rayvon’s performance was better and he deserved to win and America voted as such.
IN or BOTTOM 2: GONZO

If I’m a contestant not named Rayvon, I want no part of the Bottom 2 because at this point dude is locked in. Did you watch the last 25 seconds or so? Seacrest asked Qaasim a question and he looked like a panicked mess. Seacrest bounces one of Rayvon and he talked like him and Seacrest were heading to the bar after to go bang models. If anyone gets in the Bottom 2 – minus Clark or Tyanna – I think the pressure might get to them because at this point, Rayvon is stone cold.

So who will be in the Bottom 2? Rayvon is there mainly because, as good as he was, I think he happens to fall in the Bottom 2 of overall performances for the night. The ballsy guess says Jax ends up in the Bottom 2 based on the circumstances; strange performance, leading off, went unnoticed on the night. If I’m picking Bottom 2, I’d throw her in there more as a wakeup call than anything else.

I’m not America. I don’t think he deserves it, but I don’t know if Fradiani has enough support behind him to avoid the bottom despite a pretty solid showing. If the Fradicats don’t get their act together, he’ll be there, but I’m not betting my Coors Lights on this pick whatsoever.

Oh, and just a thought – how crazy would it be if the two strong vocal/weird arrangement performances were the Bottom 2? What would Idol do if Quentin and Jax were there? I’m not rooting for it, just want to say that don’t eliminate that possibility either.

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