American Idol Top 4: Nick, Jax and Rayvon let their souls shine while Borchetta rips Clark’s from his chest

If Clark has any sense of humor, next week he'll sing old Idol favorite  "Bad Day."

If Clark has any sense of humor, next week he’ll sing old Idol favorite “Bad Day.”

Don’t hate the players.

Hate the game.

Before American Idol started Wednesday, I was curious to see what Clark Beckham was going to sing to all but lock up the Season 14 title and if Jax could potentially challenge Tyanna Jones for the other spot in the final. Rayvon Owen? His survival story was great, but it was ending tonight. NBD. Nick Fradiani? His story was cute, but he couldn’t be for real.

By the time the first hour ended Tyanna was going home and we found out Jax, Nick and Rayvon were legit. By the time the show ended, Nick or Jax seemed destined for the final, Rayvon doesn’t look to be going down without a fight and Clark, who seemed like a lock to win, might be heading home.

How did this all happen?

It’s the game.

Tonight proved three of the contestants understand that American Idol isn’t just about being an artist; it’s about playing Idol and playing it well. One contestant didn’t. One contestant wanted to play musical artist, not realizing that you can’t really do that unless you’re an Idol god or have a gimmick so solid nobody can touch it.

Nick’s playing better than anyone. His strategy seems simple – listen to local Soft Rock Lunchtime Hits stations, pick whatever two songs fit that weeks theme, play them. The thing about those soft rock stations is nobody really hates the music. All the songs were immensely popular, then got hated because of how popular they were, then went off the Top 40 stations, then became listenable again because you only heard them when you were in the waiting room at the dentist’s office.

Fradiani is picking songs the MILF/GILF crowd loves and adds a little modern twist to them. Tonight’s performances – singing the mommiest of mommy bands in Matchbox 20 and then Rascal Flatts – were the same as last week’s, except he added a little more pop in his opener and wore a shirt that actually fit him as opposed to the one he got at GapKids last week.

The only person playing Idol better than Fradiani is Rayvon, who turned from the most boring person into the Top 12 into a contestant who pumps out more moments than a LifeTime movie.

After the surprising announcement that he was safe instead of Tyanna – which I cannot comprehend because I thought Quentin Alexander’s votes would almost definitely go in Tyanna’s direction more than Rayvon’s – he had to take a familiar spot; singing for his life.

He’s going to be Bottom 2 again next week and there’s a damn good chance Rayvon knew it, but apparently singing with a knife to his throat works because he delivered two performances that would have given J-Lo goosies if she wasn’t under strict orders to pump Nick’s tires.

Jax delivered two songs that were perfect both for selection and execution. Her “Empire State of Mind” was the perfect song (as I’ve been saying for a month) and if you don’t think she’s playing a game picking and performing these songs, watch this little slip-up from “Human,” her second song:

Nearly laughed mid-performance. Not a good look when you’re trying to have an emotional moment, but it proves the point – Idol is a game. You can manufacture moments and you have to if you want to win.

This is what Clark doesn’t get. I’m his biggest – maybe literally – backer, but his song selection tonight was as piss-poor as his attitude showed when talking to Scott Borchetta during the mentoring session before his second song.

While Nick’s taking old people music and making it young, Clark is doing the opposite.

The “If this loses me the competition, then I don’t want to win it” is probably the cockiest quote we’ve ever heard from any Idol ever. We’ve seen Idols fight with mentors about song selection and performance styles; Adam Lambert fought the battle his entire season and so did Phillip Phillips. They got away with it because they were performing on an other-worldly level. Scotty McCreery put up a fight when he was told not to rely on the big bass notes anymore. He ignored them, because McCreery knew that gimmick was going to work.

Clark doesn’t have a gimmick and he doesn’t have what Lambert and Phillips had. So I have no idea what is going on in his head.

He seems like a level-headed, down-to-earth dude. It’s not an ego thing even if that quote he dropped made him look like a gigantic egotistical douche. I just don’t think Clark gets that he has to win the show before he can become what he wants to be. Lambert didn’t need to because he had the best voice on the planet. Phillips didn’t need to because he has the most original sound on the planet once Dave Matthews dies.

Clark sounds like a million other dudes trying to make it, but there’s one huge difference between him and them – Clark has a ticket to the front of the line and has a chance to really make it.

We’ll find out next week if he ripped his ticket in half.

I think he’s cooked. Nick and Jax are my locks to move on. That leaves Rayvon and Clark and here’s why I think Clark is screwed – Tyanna.

The key demos who voted for Tyanna were young people and minorities. Jax gets the young vote, Rayvon gets the minority demo and the rest Tyanna’s voters – religious folk, old white moms – get split up between Nick and Clark.

With the Clark Train screaming down the tracks and no conductor to hit the breaks, fans are jumping off board to the closest White Guy Hunk to save them and Nick is taking them right to Pleasure Town with his performances.

There’s a decent enough chance Clark has enough of a base to hold off Rayvon, but it’s gonna be close. If he survives he needs to be flawless, because right now a Jax-Nick final looks like a damn good possibility.

And at the start of the night, I didn’t think I’d be writing that.