Breaking it Down: Good night for the American Idol Top 3, but without a moment it’s anybody’s game

What happened Wednesday night?

This wasn’t a Top 3 show that we’re used to seeing. It lacked the passion, the performances and the risk. Safety seemed to be the first concern, like the Idols were afraid of getting eliminated.

You can’t play Idol afraid. You have to go at it and it needs to be better than it was.

The Final 3 has been the place for so many memorable performances, not getting one of the great showings was disappointing

However, it makes next week a complete mystery because there isn’t a person out there who can confidently say they know who’s winning Idol. Hell, nobody can say they know for sure one specific person will make the final. Crazy that things are still this close this late, but I’m hoping someone will come out and win the show next week as opposed to everyone just playing it safe.

On to the recaps.

Scott Borchetta’s Picks

Rayvon Owen
“Want to Want Me,” Jason Derulo
Interesting strategy pick here, because there was no way this piece of garbage was going to give Rayvon his Idol moment, but it had the chance to get the show started quickly. Not all three songs were going to be memorable ballads, so this wasn’t a horrible way to start.

Thought Rayvon did a hell of a job with it. The false carried him this far, might as well keep going with what worked.

The fact Rayvon dressed like Pharrell from the Grammys a few years – albeit with a much smaller hat – ago didn’t sit well with me, but he did what he could with the song. Leading off in the death spot, the goal is to entertain and not screw up and I think Rayvon did that.

Clark Beckham
“Beautiful Day,” U2
Terrific Idol song, but not for the soulful blues guy.
This went bad from the start and didn’t get much better. Clark, rocking the white guy version of a Kid haircut, looked uncomfortable from the start. The strength in his voice is the low drawl, not the high-pitched wail, and this song has more of the former and less of the latter (or vice versa; always get that confused).

The best part? When they scrolled to the random ginge in the crowd clapping and simply labeled him “Clark’s friend.” HAHAHAHA.

It was about this point where I realized the judges should have said “this was a good performance considering what you were stuck singing.” Seemed to be a theme for the rest of the night because Borchetta and the judges did a shitass job with their song selection.

Nick Fradiani
“Because the Night,” Patti Smith
Loved how Idol said this was a Bruce Springsteen song (he helped write it; Smith performed it first), a move done solely to benefit Nick. (For the record, this is a 10,000 Maniacs song for this guy).

Now I wasn’t a fan. But you know who was?

All the pinot-drinking, mom-jean wearing ladies who are probably the most underrated voting group on the show. This is an old-school woman song and woman ate this thing up.

Was the vocal good? Yup. Was the arrangement good? Sure.

Was it a good song choice for the Final 3? No way in hell.

But Nick did what he needed to do. He wore the hunky red v-neck T – adult sized – skinny jeans and wore his hipster hair perfectly. The performance wasn’t going to eliminate him, but it wasn’t winning him the show either.

“My Generation,” The Who
For whatever reason, the older the song, the hotter Jax looks. The plain pants and ripped shirt? Uh, yes please.

Loved the song from the point of Jax trying to sell herself as an Idol. She’s a punk/pop-rock chick who can hit you with something like this and sound great, but bang out a ballad and make you cry.

I HATED the “Come on American Idol, this is our generation” talk to the crowd. It was painful and awkward. Despite what Keith Urban and Harry Connick say, you should never, ever, ever, ever, ever do that. It’s cheesy and a cheap tactic that really only works when you’re playing concerts, sucking, and want to get a rise out of the crowd. On a show like Idol, it’s totally distracting.

This was the best performance of the first round. If Harry thinks this was Jax’s best, he obviously hasn’t been paying attention to what Jax has done. She wins because it was the most honest of the four performances, sounded great and looked like a winner.

Hometown Selections

Nick Fradiani
“Back Home,” Andy Grammar
No idea who this guy was or what this song was, but it was pretty much perfect for Nick Fradiani.

Before we get to the performance, we need to discuss Nick’s basketball upbringing, because I figured out why he was “good.” He was the best in his town, which is all white people. That’s good enough to ride the pine and maybe come off the bench at a D2 college. If you noticed when he went to the court where he played, there were no brothers, which is all you need to know about someone’s skills on the court.

Also, his dad? Can’t even imagine the heroic amount of chicks he must have gotten with. Still rocking a leather coat? He’s the dude version of a cougar.

So Fradiani gets up there and sings a song I’d never heard, but it was pretty solid. Good song for Nick; just the right amount of pop and rock and really no reason for his core voters to change their minds about him.

He missed the moment though. I thought if any song was going to have your winning Idol moment for Nick, it would be the hometown song; instead, we got what we got: a terrific performance on a song that might as well be his first single when his record drops next month.

Clark Beckham
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding
So watching Clark in a more public setting, I started to realize something: dude is awkward.

He’s a nerd. He doesn’t look comfortable with all eyes on him; he’s the guy who makes a joke and hopes he gets a reaction because silence only confirms what he knows – he’s a social misfit, confirmed when he said he was in the campus choir in college. I thought he was legit gonna cry when his alma mater’s choir said they couldn’t make the live visit. Who does that?

But that’s fine. Not everyone can be a social butterfly. Clark’s strength isn’t his personality, it’s his voice. The last few weeks, he’s been performing songs that you need a personality for and I think that’s why Clark’s struggled.

This was the turning point. ‘Dock of the Bay’ plays right to his strengths; it’s got soul and heart and Clark did just enough to it to turn it from an Otis song to a Clark song.

Was it his best? No way. But was it better than anything he’s done the last three weeks? Uh, yeah.

When he hit the “I can do what ten people tell me to do” portion, that was Clark. That was his voice, his heart, his soul. He was back. We didn’t know what was coming, but Clark had re-entered the building.

Rayvon Owen
“As,” Stevie Wonder
Can’t say anything bad about Rayvon because he got to this point on the road less traveled. He went from a loser to a competitor and I was ultimately disappointed Seacrest didn’t ask what changed from the first two weeks when he was a bore to him turning to the Idol he became.

This performance wasn’t great. I understand why he’d want to sing it – he stated his history with it just before he sung – but this was early-season Rayvon and that Rayvon wasn’t a good Idol performer.

Songs aren’t always about vocals; his vocals were fine. The song? Boring. Just boring. Doesn’t get you out of your seat and doesn’t have you sitting back crying. If you can’t get one or the other, don’t sing it. Pretty simple.

Again, Rayvon didn’t know he was going home, but if he survived he wasn’t making the cut. I’m curious as to why he didn’t continue taking risks and do something completely out of the ordinary here knowing full well his Idol life was on the line.

“My Immortal,” Evanescence
The conversation with Jax and her father hit home a little bit, just with me and my two daughters and thinking about how I would feel as a father. Super lame, I know. Sorry.

Nobody won more on Jax’s hometown visit than her brother, who is going to catch all sort of “My sister was on American Idol; wanna make out?” ass than anyone in the history of the show.

Loved the performance, hated the fact that she was soooo close to having a moment and missed it.

But I think that’s Jax. Her weakness, for better or worse, is she’s not a powerful singer. She’s all about control of the voice and she does a hell of a job with it. If she had a big voice, she would have chased that song a lot more than she did.

So that leads to the debate of if a female without a powerful voice can win. I don’t think it can. The way she uses it during ballads is terrific because she doesn’t try and go past what she can do, but I think the limitations may ultimately decide whether or not she wins. Much like baseball fans loving home run hitters over guys who hit singles and doubles, people have to decide if they want a singer who’s going to go BIG or someone like Jax who sounds damn good controlling her voice.

Good showing, but no moment.
ROUND 2 RANK: Second

Judges’ Selections

Clark Beckham
“Earned It (Fifty Shades of Gray),” Weeknd
Let’s just cut the crap: J-Lo picked this song for Clark because she wanted Clark to sexify the stage. Nick drips it week after week and we haven’t seen Clark do it, so this was a perfect time for him to give it a go. I mean, it was only his Idol life on the line here anyway.

Performance of the night.

This was such an un-Clark song that him executing it was a surprise in itself. Last week he talked about being a Timberlake and that’s what he was. I mean, he probably thought 50 Shades of Gray was a movie about art and not a filthy sex story and was confused at the lyrics, but if that gets him to perform better, they’d better keep lying to him.

His voice exploded. He sounded modern. That wasn’t a Lite Rock classic; it would have been on any college dude’s Sex Jamz playlist (don’t act like you/some guy you hooked up with didn’t have one) and for the first time not just in my mind, Clark reached Hunk City.

Based on history, whoever wins the Final 3 wins the show. I don’t know if that’s true yet, but if Clark survives and makes the Final 2, then does something like Kings of Leon “Sex is on Fire,” he wins.

Rayvon Owen
“You Are So Beautiful,” Joe Cocker
A for effort.

This was a moment song, but Rayvon didn’t have a moment. He sang it perfectly, but the arrangement was overdone.

Can’t hate it though. If you’re Rayvon and you know this is your last performance of the night with a shot at going to the final, you have to set it up this way and hope it works. If it does, that’s your moment and here comes the Season 14 title. If it doesn’t, you go home after fighting the good fight.

Turns out it didn’t matter. Rayvon was canned, so all his singing was for naught, but I’ll stand up and applaud the dude because I can’t remember a turnaround from zero to hero like we had this season with Rayvon.

“Misery Business,” Paramore
Again, her brother? He’s gonna be beating chicks off with a stick. Game on game, son.

This song choice was an abortion. It was almost like Harry wanted Jax to go home because there was one of two things that were going to happen with it; Jax was going to sing the exact same version and be criticized for not changing it, or she was going to change it and it wasn’t going to sound good because the song is intended for fifth graders.

Loved what Jax tried to do, because taking a risk is better than performing karaoke. With the acoustic guitar backing her, we got a great chance to hear her punk voice a little more clear and she sounded great. The arrangement didn’t.

Hated the judges blaming the arrangement on her like they wanted her to just do the original after spending the whole season telling people they want them to do something more for them. The judges suck and if Jax gets booted from the show, this song choice is why.

Nick Fradiani
“I’ll Be,” Edwin McCain

Of course Keith Urban picked this song. Urban has spent his whole career pandering to the 40-plus female crowd and with Nick following his playbook, Urban threw him a softball.

He sang the crap out of this, but it wasn’t a moment. It was too much to be a moment. Most of the performance it seemed like Nick didn’t know if he wanted to be loud or sensitive and we got what we got – a Lite Rock classic.

This goes over if he would have Jax’d it; just a stool, acoustic guitar, dark stage, his voice and his sex eyes staring through the camera.

Scariest thing is despite Nick missing on his moment, his three songs proved he’s the most ready to be famous, with Jax not that far behind. That doesn’t always win Idol.

I think he’s safe because he’s got the votes, but if he wants to win this he needs something more.

So who’s going home?

There isn’t a final combination I couldn’t buy.

If I’m picking based on what I like to listen to, I’m going all WGWG and hoping I can still be friends with Jax. If I’m picking based on Wednesday’s performances, it’s Clark and Jax. If I’m picking based on the season as a whole, it’s Nick and Jax.

America’s putting Clark in the final. It’s a hunch. He’s going to get the religious folk who voted for Rayvon and I think Nick is joining him because he’s so mom-friendly.

Usually by this time of the year, I’d bet my life on one person being in the final. With this three? No way.

Someone who deserves to win is gonna go home, but it’s not because of something they did. It’s because of what the others did.

Can’t wait to find out.