Breaking It Down: American Idol Top 6’s American Classic performances were far from Wack

Nick Fradiani continued his quest to try and seduce every cougar on the planet.

Nick Fradiani continued his quest to try and seduce every cougar on the planet.


From top to bottom, the performances on American Idol Wednesday night were there.

We just didn’t have any “moments.”

I mean, except for this guy

Instant drunken Twitter assessments aside, the sober re-watch (and for this post, we’re ignoring the Quentin AlexanderHarry Connick spat) a day later allows the show to be assessed a little more fair than the instant recaps everyone – present company included – in the blogosphere does.

And on that rewatch, when not being interrupted by crying or hungry children, it’s tough to disagree with the fire flames take in the original drunken column – Wednesday night was the best pound-for-pound performance in American Idol’s history.

To make such a bold statement, you have to factor in the size of the show. With seven people performing (two for their show lives) there was bound to be a stinker in there. These kids – and grandpa Nick Fradiani – aren’t quite pros and something should go wrong, whether it be a flubbed lyric, a disastrous vocal showing or an arrangement that was so outlandish in just confused everyone. Usually you get two of the three and that person is sent packing the following week.

It just didn’t happen. From the first note out of Tyanna Jones’ mouth to the final note sung by Rayvon Owen, Wednesday’s show was packed with competitive performances.

Only problem was there just wasn’t anything that stood out.

This is a competition and while some can survive on safe, others needed more than just that. No one’s going to sit there and say Nick Fradiani did anything extremely risky, but he turned a pair of safe song selections into greatness by performing them so well he had 40-year old moms drooling over him while drinking wine coolers in their living room. Jax went a little out of the box with her arrangements – only because they weren’t Jaxified – and while this guy wouldn’t have played those songs while playing beer pong with his friends during their fantasy football draft, you can sit there with a straight face and say the execution wasn’t strong.

Tyanna and Clark Beckham didn’t need to be strong. They just needed to not suck. Neither was as good as they’ve been in weeks past, but the limitations of the theme led to uncomfortable-looking performances that were saved by the duo’s vocal ability.

This was a bigger week for Quentin, Joey Cook and Rayvon, who all needed huge performances to move up the ranks or survive a sing off. All delivered, but with Joey and Rayvon in the Bottom 2, someone had to leave because rules are rules until producers change them because they definitely don’t follow that mantra like that old dude in Hunger Games.

Speaking of Hunger Games – and I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about the Quentin speech – but how great would it have been if QA pulled a Katniss Everdeen and did this?

There’s a lot of songs to break down, so it will be a combination effort. Otherwise this would end up being 5,000 words and my kids would starve. Reviews are in order of performance:

THE TOP 6

1) Tyanna Jones
“Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
“Proud Mary,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

Vocally, Tyanna was nothing short of perfect.

Performance-wise, she didn’t look like the Tyanna. She looked like what the American Idol producers want her to be.

‘Fools’ was a terrific vocal and I get why it’s a great song choice – a teenage pop song by the youngest Idol left – but Tyanna looked completely out of place singing it. She was just standing there, bopping along, making me think she wasn’t completely comfortable with the song.

(BTW Favorite moment of the song was resident know-it-all Harry Connick asking Tyanna if she knew who Frankie Lymon was and said he wrote the song. WRONG. Harry is such an ass.)

There was a lot of potential in ‘Proud Mary,’ but I think the abbreviated version – done in Tina Turner style, with Tyanna looking straight out of the ’70s with her glittery outfit and purple afro – didn’t really let the song build and explode the way it was intended.

The vocals were still sick. The performance was 10 times better than the first. It was just one of those good performances that was a step or two from being amazing, but that’s not on Tyanna as much as it was on the format of the show.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

2) Clark Beckham
“Superstition,” Stevie Wonder
“Moon River,” Andy Williams

I love Clark. I didn’t love the performances.

There was something missing. They were great vocally, but they didn’t give me the man-crush vibes I usually get. I appreciated the Hunk City showing to start and the Gonna Make You Cry follow, but I somehow didn’t feel urges in either direction.

‘Superstition’ was the better of the two performances only because it didn’t bore anyone to sleep. As excited and as strong as the band and vocal performance was, it looked really forced. I know J-Lo wanted to bang Clark that night – even though it looked like the only difference in his look was a crisp white dress shirt and less stubble – but it wasn’t because of the song.

Again, this doesn’t mean it was bad. It wasn’t. It just lacked the fire or sex factor of some of his other performances. He didn’t look and sound like Clark Beckham; he looked like what producers want him to look and sound like.

As for Moon River, the vocal was tremendous. Clark doesn’t stumble when he sings regardless of the genre and that’s one of the many reasons he’s still the favorite to win this thing.

But Moon River? He couldn’t have picked a more boring song. First problem was Idol saying it was Frank Sinatra, which is partially true; Andy Williams sang it first, so BOOM, in your face Idol, try doing 10 seconds of Wikipedia research next time.

The bigger problem was that song’s inability to connect with anyone because it’s an old people’s song. When Jordin Sparks sang “I (Who Have Nothing),” it was a song younger people knew from a movie soundtracks and then she made it sound like something that should be played at high school dances. I have no issue playing songs that are 80 years old, but if you’re going to pick them make sure they have some sort of relevance to the audience.

All in all, safe night. I made the BOLD HOT PREDICTION that Clark would be Bottom 2 Wednesday night. I’m going to change that a bit. He won’t be. He’s too popular and based on where I think the voting is, he should be safe. But he needs to remember that playing Idol means pandering to the audience and the song selections, even if they’re forced, need to be directed at the ones texting his number a billion times.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

3) Jax
“Piece of My Heart,” Erma Franklin
“Beat It,” Michael Jackson

Jax sang the hell out of her two songs – but I wasn’t a huge fan of either performance.

I think her stock is slipping and she needed to connect with the audience a little more than she did. I loved the strategy of the selections and how she went about them, but there was just something missing that would have turned a good night into a truly memorable one.

First thing that needs to be said is tonight was the first night when I was thinking “holy crap this chick is super hot.” It’s not because she’s not a good looking girl; I’m just trying to avoid publicly drooling over 18-year olds. On ‘Piece’ she has some sort of vibe with the tassels and the air machine and the bluesy tone instead of the Jaxcent; then, on ‘Beat It,’ she drops a stripper move in everyone’s FACE.

DING DING indeed.

‘Piece’ sounded awesome, but I’m done with the song on Idol; this isn’t Jax’s fault, but part of selecting a song means understanding what has and what hasn’t been done a million times on Idol. If you’re gonna do a song that’s been done a lot, you need to make it different. That’s hard with ‘Piece’ because if Jax threw a crazy arrangement at it, the Cougar and up crowd would have lost their minds because the 35-year-old-and-up Mom crowd loves the shit out of that song. DO NOT MESS WITH IT.

What I liked about ‘Beat It’ was Jax didn’t look afraid or out of place; the vocal was strong and she really came off like a talented Avril Lavigne. I also loved, after getting called out by a clueless blogger who thinks she’s the queen shit of everyone despite her refusal to do 10 seconds of research or have a semblance of journalistic integrity, that Jax pointed out the arrangement was from a well-known pop/punk emo band Fall Out Boy, owners of perhaps the greatest drunk bar song in the world. (I’ll follow the first person who tweets me the correct answer; HUGE prize, I know)

Jax performed the hell of this song and the vocal was awesome but as I said earlier, if I’m getting drunk with friends we might skip this one on the “Dudes Review Playlist.” Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it wasn’t good though – believe it or not, it’s possible to not like something but can admit how terrific it is. It’s like me with eggs; I hate them, but I look at my wife’s egg-and-cheese-and-sausage on an English Muffin and all I can think of is “I want to eat the fuck out of that thing” even though it would make me puke.

So yeah, I just compared Jax’s performances to a breakfast sandwich. Only here do you get this type of analysis.
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

4) Nick Fradiani
“American Girl,” Tom Petty
“Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel

This is Example A of how you play American Idol.

With all apologies to my best friend Clark (Beckham, he just doesn’t know it yet), Nick is the hunkiest hunk who ever hunked and what’s the best way to guarantee every female over the age of 24 will vote for you?

Pick two songs drunk chicks love to sing more than anything. BRILLIANT.

‘American Girl’ was such a great song choice because it fit Nick perfectly and nobody hates Tom Petty’s hits. I went to a Petty show despite saying I hated him and oops, he played all his hits and I got drunk and has an AWESOME time. Power of Petty.

All Fradiani had to do was sing this halfway decent and he was going to get a ton of love from the voters. Instead, he nailed the vocal and every woman who wasn’t already on the Fradi-Train was wishing he’d nail them.

Now as I much as I loved the performance, I didn’t love it as much as the judges, who pretty much treated it like it was a DRI Top 30 all-timer. This is a message from the producers; they’re going to be pushing for Fradiani because, as the judges said, he’s radio ready. As I’ve said, he’s Adam Levine and that dude sells a ton of records when he’s not starring on a bootleg music talent show.

(Oh, and if you think I wasn’t peeved about Fradiani going with the sports analogy talking to Borchetta without mentioning the site, you’re right. I’ve been tweeting/writing this the last six weeks. No biggie, I’ll survive. Now I’ll just have to go to Hartford next week and hit on his hot sister. Don’t tell my wife)

As for ‘Young,’ this was terrific because it’s the first time we’ve seen Fradiani successfully arrange a hit and make it sound awesome. This is the type of stuff I’d be terrified of if I was Clark, Tyanna or Jax because that plays. You’re not beating a hot dude singing a song drunk women love to sing after three glasses of Chardonnay. Impossible.

Loved even more when Urban asked Nick where he got the arrangement from – like the dude who led a band couldn’t come up with it on his own – and he said it was him and his vocal coach. If I was Nick, I would have answered, then added a quiet “dick,” at the end.

In golf, Saturday is moving day and that’s what this Top 6 performance was for Fradiani. He just posted a 6-under and moved to third overall in my ranks (steal that one, big guy).
IN or BOTTOM 2: In

5) Quentin Alexander
“Are You Gonna Go My Way,” Lenny Kravitz
“The Sound of Silence,” Simon & Garfunkel

Quentin had the most memorable night, but that wasn’t because of his singing.

But this is about his performances and not his speech (column on that can be read here) and it was a quietly strong night for Quentin.

I’m not gonna sit here and sell you on his vocal for Kravitz’ hit being amazing; it doesn’t require something spectacular, but it was good. In that performance by itself Quentin showed the difference between being able to perform and sing as opposed to doing Qaasim’s performing and not singing.

Plus, dude looked like a sex monster. Pretty sure he just borrowed Jax’s undershirt from her first performance, put it on, and gave zero fucks. Dude pulls it off.

So with a decent enough start, he follows it with smooth brilliance.

This wasn’t haunting Quentin. He brought the beauty of “Silence” out and left the haunting vibe – except the smoke; gotta have the smoke for a real Quentin performance – backstage.

The power and control in his voice was perfect for the song. This is really the type of showing we’ve been waiting to see from Quentin; a song where he can use his voice, and not his on-stage persona, as the focal point. He turned a song old enough to be Seacrest’s dad into one new enough that one of Seacrest’s illegitimate kids (there has to be one somewhere) would listen to.

If America had common sense and voted solely on the performances, Quentin is safer than a condom. Since America has none, he’s in trouble. That little outburst is going to send him right to the Bottom 2 and if he doesn’t say “This is wack,” and then say who he thinks should be Bottom 2, send him home for having zero credibility.
IN or BOTTOM 2: Bottom 2

6) Rayvon Owen
“Long Train Running,” The Doobie Brothers
“Always On My Mind,” Brenda Lee

If you think I’m going to sit her and talk trash about a guy who’s kicked ass staring elimination in the face three weeks in a row, you’re crazy.

And if you think I’m going to trash a guy who picks the Doobies – even from the pre-McDonald years – you’re insane.

Rayvon played Wednesday night so calm and cool. Dude knew he was headed to the Bottom 2 and didn’t care. Even as Quentin did his “That Bottom 2 is Wack” speech which slowly – and very sneakingly – evolved into “Maybe Just Joey Shouldn’t Be There,” Rayvon didn’t blink. You think he’s not excited about the chance of being Bottom 2 again and going up against a dude who thinks he should be there?

By choosing the Doobies, Rayvon was really going to have to screw things up for me to get super negative. Was there a certain amount of cheese in his performance? Kraft city, baby.

I could have done without dancing. Who knew Rayvon danced like a white guy? The side-to-side strut with the snapping is straight out of the Drunk Dad at a Wedding playbook. Really didn’t like the “come on, help me sing it now” part because that is SOOO local cover band at a summer carnival move.

Take those to things away, enjoyed it. Rayvon was a badass and he did the Doobies. +1

But the second performance was his piece de resistance (I have no clue what that means, just thought it read nice in that context).

This was the perfect ballad for Rayvon, who took a song originally by a white woman, made famous by a pot-smoking country guy and turned it into a smooth R&B ballad.

Rayvon’s voice hasn’t been the problem. His song selection and inability to connect with the audience has been. He’s the anti-Qaasim. Wednesday, he proved he’s figured out how to perform on this show and all it took was three straight weeks of him about to be sent home to get it done.

(Should be noted Scott Borchetta, he of the all CAPS tweets, said something like “Rayvon had better hope the third time is the charm,” proving once and for all that the guys who make money in music do so because they can’t do anything else. I don’t know how an adult screws up an old saying kindergartner’s don’t get confused about, but I guess when you lived as an adult in the 80s, you forget a thing or seven million.)

Rayvon should just own the fact he’s going Bottom 2 next week. He doesn’t deserve it, but it would be awesome if he stood up and said “YO, SEACREST – who am I sending home tonight?” If you’re Bottom 2 next week, you do not want to go against the Dreamwrecker.
IN or BOTTOM 2: Bottom 2

ELIMINATED

Joey Cook
“My Funny Valentine,” Mitzi Green
“Somebody To Love,” Jefferson Airplane

It’s a damn shame Joey Cook had to go, but at least she saved her best for last.

Her final two performances showed her versatility and brilliance as an artist/contestant. She wasn’t just the quirky girl; in fact, she was a god damn bombshell Wednesday night with the perfectly done hair, sleek black dress and sparkly jewels.

When I saw what she was singing to start, I thought Joey was s-c-r-e-w-e-d. When “My Funny Valentine” gets played, anyone who’s watched Idol immediately goes to Melinda Doolittle and the last thing you need to do is get yourself compared to one of the more beloved contestants in the show’s history.

Joey executed the song perfectly because the performance was about the vocal and not all the quirks that made her a contestant nobody could hate. After she performed, her safety seemed like a no-brainer.

She clearly won Round 1 and it wasn’t close.

Round 2 was closer and it’s likely Rayvon’s stunning final performance pushed him over the edge; he allegedly won 52 percent of the vote, but I don’t believe those numbers because producers haven’t given us a reason to believe anything they say.

Her bluegrass cover of “Somebody to Love” reminded me of The Gourds’ cover of “Gin and Juice;” there’s just something about a banjo being played where you’d least expect it that makes a song so enjoyable.

Joey’s vocal on ‘Somebody’ was just as good; she could have done that as a straight cover and it would have sounded dope, but put her little Joey twist on it was awesome.

If you’re going to exit Idol, that’s how you do it. Perform your ass off and get sent home by somebody who brought their A game as well. If she went up there and knocked it out of the park while Rayvon stumbled all over himself and still lost, then that sucks.

This was just one competitor besting another and while I the vote could have gone either way (I ranked performances Rayvon-Joey-Joey-Rayvon) it was too difficult to just say one definitely deserved it over the other.

As for the remaining six, here’s my ranks for the night (every calm down):
1) Nick Fradiani – great execution, two songs I like
2) Rayvon Owen – Doobies and goosies
3) Quentin Alexander – Rocked me, then rolled me
4) Tyanna Jones – Strong vocals, not enough time to sing
5) Clark Beckham – Strong vocals, didn’t like songs
6) Jax – Strong vocals, songs weren’t my fave

Again, this isn’t saying the final three were bad. Everyone was so damn good these ranks are based on vocals, performance, song selection and, as a tiebreaker, what I actually like.

However, I don’t see America voting that way.

There’s no way in hell Clark or Tyanna sniff the Bottom 2, so they’re safe. Nick’s got the Mom vote on lock, so he’s safe, and Jax owns social media at this point, which benefits for this week.
Rayvon gets sent Bottom 2 just because and Quentin, after his little speech, either gets the most votes or none at all, so he’ll be executed next week because at this point I don’t think the 1996 Bulls could beat Rayvon.

Next week’s theme is “Arena Anthems” and while I’m sure you can read incredibly unoriginal “What Should The Top 6 Sing” blogs elsewhere, I’ll be slinging down Coors Lights and Mike’s Hards and whatever else I have left in my fridge as I make my picks. Blog coming tomorrow, so be on the lookout.

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