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Last week, Quentin Alexander made American Idol headlines after a tense verbal exchange with judge Harry Connick Jr. went viral. While many viewers and pundits (including, full disclosure, myself) were on Quentin’s side, others were totally #TeamHarry. It’s not worth rehashing the details now, since that altercation has unfortunately already received way more attention than any actual Idol performance this season. But the Idol powers-that-be just couldn’t move on. And that cost Quentin, one of this season’s most dynamic and fascinating performers, a spot on the American Idol Live! summer tour, when he went home in sixth place this Wednesday.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s top six show, a misleadingly edited promo ran on Fox exploiting the Quentin/Harry incident, hoping to drum up some excitement for the fledgling series — this despite in-house mentor Scott Borchetta’s protest, and despite the fact that the public backlash against the Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey catfight of Season 12 proved long ago that viewers do NOT want to see this sort of ickiness on Idol.
Producers continued with these manipulative shenanigans at the start of Wednesday’s top six show by running the damning argument footage again — thus putting Quentin in a disadvantaged position, when he’d inevitably have to sing for the Twitter Save at the night’s end.
But that wasn’t the only way that Quentin was thrown under the Idol bus this Wednesday. Let me count the ways, in convenient bulletpoint form:
–Throughout the evening, almost all of the contestants were lavishly praised, even though two of them actually messed up, one of them made a questionable lyrical change, and several of them had obvious pitch issues. Quentin’s perfectly solid “Light My Fire” received one of only two negative critiques among the night’s dozen performances, and undeservedly so.
–When it came time for Quentin and the other contestant in the bottom two, the perennially-at-risk Rayvon Owen, to sing their first songs, Rayvon didn’t receive his (overly fawning) critique until after an ad break. Coming back from commercial, a highlight of Rayvon’s performance of Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” was shown in replay — an unprecedented move this season, and something the show rarely does in general. Quentin, of course, did not get a replay.
–Quentin sang first in both sing-offs against Rayvon, thus putting him at an even greater disadvantage. (Last week, when Joey Cook was in the bottom two with Rayvon, they alternated the order in which they sang their two numbers.)
–During Quentin’s second “critique,” Harry asked Quentin if he’d ever be willing to be Auto-Tuned in the studio… the sly subtext being that Quentin is pitchy and needs Auto-Tune. (To his credit, Quentin answered no, which was really the only way he could have answered. But that whole exchange was backhanded and unflattering.)
–Right after Rayvon sang his final song, “Go Your Own Way” (which was plagued with pitch problems that the judges blithely ignored), and right before the Twitter voting lines were about to open, Ryan Seacrest claimed Quentin had muttered the words, “I give up.” Seriously? Quentin clarified that he’d said, “I give it up,” meaning he was just praising Rayvon. But Ryan’s implication that Quentin was throwing in the towel probably didn’t help the poor guy’s chances.
I preferred Quentin’s dramatic covers of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and Florence & the Machine’s “Shake It Out” over Rayvon’s two tunes, and I Twitter-voted for him in earnest. But I do understand that Quentin, with his Muppet coats and silver space pants and jillion-gauge septum ring and dagger-eyes, was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Deep down, I had my doubts that he could win. I don’t think Quentin thought so, since he was congratulating Rayvon on Wednesday before Ryan even announced the Twitter-vote results. However, with the summer tour now reduced to the top five (and, ironically, taking place at theaters instead of arenas, despite this week’s “Arena Anthems” theme), I just really wanted Quentin to get through this crucial week — the week of the very last Twitter Save, the week that determined the top five.
But judging from this week’s show, the powers-that-be wanted Quentin under the proverbial bus, not on that tour bus. I suspect there’s more of a story here, one that goes beyond last week’s “scandal,” but we may never truly know what went down behind the scenes.
With recent weeks seeing the exits of two of Season 14’s other most interesting performers, Joey Cook and Qaasim Middleton, both of whom probably would have killed it on the tour, this week’s outcome is, for lack of a more sophisticated word, a bummer. Yes, Quentin does have to take responsibility for how he handled himself last week, which understandably turned off many potential voters. But the show’s producers need to take responsibility for how they handled the situation as well. And, while they are at it, they should reconsider expanding this summer’s tour lineup back to the top 10. Or at least to the top eight.
And now, let’s get into the rest of the top six’s performances…
Jax certainly looked the part of an arena-rock star in her uh-maz-ing glitter moto jacket and Foxes cutoffs, and Jet’s garage-rock barnstormer “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was a good showcase for her punky-poppy style. Except… she wasn’t singing “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” She was singing “Are You Gonna Be My Guy.” The gender-flip of the lyrics totally threw me off, took me out of the moment, and was just plain disappointing. It would have been so much cooler if she’d left the words intact. Overall, this performance lacked the oomph and badassery I was hoping to see from Jax, and her vocals at the start of the song were way too wispy and whispery. I wanted Joan Jett, but this was more Joanie Loves Chachi — just too cutesy, more like a kid pretending to be a rock star.
Jax’s second performance, of Dido’s “White Flag,” was a drastic improvement. (Yes, it’s debatable whether this ballad is an “Arena Anthem.” The contestants in general were pretty loosey-goosey with that theme this week.) This exquisite number reminded me of how I fell in love with this little lady during her “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” audition, and I fell in love with her all over again tonight. And kudos to Jax for staying at her piano for the entire song, instead of doing what most singing-show contestants do, which is abandon the piano by the end of the first verse. This was powerful stuff. Jax is definitely my girl.
Nick botched Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” right from the start, with some sort of band miscommunication during the intro. Nick, to his credit, mentioned it later, but of course the judges didn’t say a word and raved on and on about Nick’s growth this season. I actually don’t think Nick has grown. He’s had some strong moments, and some weak ones, but he’s flip-flopped from week to week, with no clear upward trajectory. This definitely was not Nick’s best. I could have forgiven his flub (hey, it happens, and it may have actually been the band’s fault). But it was harder for me to ignore Nick’s utter lack of charisma. Say what you will about Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, but we can all agree that Adam has charisma for days. Suffice to say, Nick Fradiani is no Adam Levine.
Nick is no Paul McDonald, either. In the Idol world, I will forever associate Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” with Season 10’s Paul; it was that man’s signature song, and he warbled it with so much personality and character and reckless abandon. Nick sang it blandly. The man is competent and consistent — he’s never really had a bad night this season, but he’s never the most memorable of the bunch, either. At least Jennifer Lopez advised Nick to mix it up a little more, which was as close to a bad critique as Nick got tonight. But I am sure he will ignore her and do another straightahead Tom Petty cover next week. And people will vote for him anyway. Sigh.
So apparently the Beatles’ “Yesterday” is an arena anthem. “Come Together,” “Hey Jude,” or even “Helter Skelter,” yes. But “Yesterday”? Whatever. Obviously it’s a popular song, one of the most popular songs of all time, so perhaps Clark was smart to choose it. But I was not moved. The lyrics to “Yesterday” are so tragic and plaintive, but Clark, who has broken through his emotional wall to give some truly passionate performances in recent weeks, was right back behind that wall on Wednesday. His demeanor was wooden, and his eyes were glazed. Keith Urban compared Clark’s performance to Sam Smith, but Sam’s performances are always so completely sleeve-hearted. Clark’s heart was nowhere near his sleeve, and in fact, it didn’t really seem like his heart was in this at all.
Clark thankfully loosened up for his second song, Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” (not an arena anthem, but again, whatever). This was one of my favorite performances of the night, fun and fresh with a jazzy-acoustic arrangement that gave me Jason Mraz/Dave Matthews vibes. It was a crowd-pleaser, but not a panel-pleaser: Bizarrely, the judges did not like this at all, and Clark was the only contestant of the night, besides Quentin, who received a harsh critique. I do not understand why the judges loved Clark’s stiff “Yesterday” but didn’t like it when Clark actually busted out and did something original and cool. But then again, there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about Wednesday’s show.
I thought Miley Cyrus’s supposed arena anthem “Party in the USA” would be perfect for this plucky, happy-go-lucky 16-year-old. So I was surprised by how much this did not work. The song seemed to start off too low for her, she flubbed her lyrics, and the energy simply was not there. This was just a weird night. That being said, Tyanna did work the crowd like a pro, and she quickly recovered from her lyrical mistake, proving that she is tour-ready. I just don’t think this is one of the songs she needs to reprise on the tour.
Tyanna did a total 180 for her second number, Bryan Adams’s “Heaven,” a song that, since she is only 16, she’d never heard until this week. I thought the power ballad, though it actually is a bona fide arena anthem, was an odd choice for Tyanna, especially since she sang it all formally in a silver Grammy gown. This performance, while well-sung, felt very pageanty to me. It’s understandable that Tyanna may not yet know what sort of artist she wants to be, given her young age. But she needs to figure that out sooner than later. And also, she does not need to do “Heaven” on tour, either.
So now, it is prediction time. Who will go home next week? I think it’s a no-brainer that it’ll be Rayvon, and this time he won’t be able to sing for his life, as there is no more Twitter Save. But he had a good long run, longer than many people expected, so kudos to him for sticking it out. No one can say he didn’t earn his spot on the summer concert tour.
Tune in next Wednesday to see if I’m right (and if I’ve calmed down after this week’s nutty episode). Until then, Parker out.