Back when American Idol started in 2002, “social media” wasn’t even a thing. The show barely even had a functioning website. (Anyone remember “The Jaded Journalist”? I swear that wasn’t me.) But when Original Recipe Idol Kelly Clarkson returned to Season 14 this Wednesday as a guest mentor, it was all about the Twitter — not just because the top nine contestants opened themselves up for all sorts of online hate by covering Kelly’s incredibly difficult songs, but because Ryan Seacrest introduced a new “twist” called the Idol Fan Save.
There are already so many safeguards on this show — the Wild Cards, the Judges’ Save, that weird time last season when producers tried to make the other contestants vote to save Sam Woolf — but hey, here’s another one! The Idol Fan Save is basically identical to the controversial Instant Save on The Voice, allowing viewers to save one of the bottom two contestants in real time, via Twitter. The only difference is Idol has tried to solve the East Coast/West Coast problem by live-streaming the bottom two’s “save me” performances, which means the show has finally embraced technology — it’s come a long way, baby, since the Jaded Journalist and that Geocities-looking site from back in the day.
The main problem, I assumed, was that the Idol Fan Save would always favor young and technologically savvy viewers. (Let’s face it, if the Idol Fan Save had existed in Kelly Clarkson’s season, R.J. Helton probably would have won.) Which would mean that 15-year-old tween-baiter Daniel “Danjaya” Seavey would basically be immune for the rest of this season.
EXCEPT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. On Wednesday, Daniel Seavey actually ended up in the bottom two for the first time, and, despite having the most Twitter followers of any contestant this season, he went home.
Singing against Daniel for the Idol Fan Save was Rayvon Owen. Rayvon had lost his mojo over the past few weeks, so the fact that he was in the bottom two wasn’t a surprise. But he delivered his finest performance of the entire season this Wednesday, turning “Since U Been Gone” into a goosebump-raising heartbreak ballad. Conversely, Daniel’s “Breakaway” was probably his worst performance yet. While Rayvon rose to the challenge, young Daniel buckled under pressure.
I feared that viewers would not do the right thing here. But either parents across America confiscated their tween daughters’ phones and computers for the final 15 minutes of Wednesday’s episode, or fans, inspired by the amazing Kelly, remembered that this is a singing competition, and they voted for the better singer. Hashtag #YAY!
So before I get into my full recap, let me make a couple other random points (which, of course, I totally tweeted during Wednesday’s broadcast):
At the top of the show, Seacrest looked back at Kelly’s Idol Season 1 audition and declared, “Right away, we knew we had something special.” Um, the show didn’t even air Kelly’s audition at first! The producers were all up in Justin Guarini and Tamyra Gray’s grills back then and clearly thought Kelly was fodder. It makes me wonder what other great auditions didn’t make it to air over the course of this series. But hey, seeing Kelly reprise her audition song “At Last” on Wednesday night, sounding just as if not more amazing 13 years later, was a huge thrill.
However, speaking of not making it to air… on Wednesday, Kelly’s successor, Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard, showed up to ceremonially deliver the sealed Idol results. But unlike last week’s results-handler, David Hasselhoff, he didn’t perform. Boo. If The Hoff gets to sing on this show, why not The Velvet Teddy Bear?
Also in attendance, and also not singing, was Season 12 winner Candice Glover, who got about 20 seconds of airtime — during which she unconvincingly claimed that she voluntarily took time off after the release of her debut album to discover herself (or something like that). I suppose it was nice to see the show’s powers-that-be actually acknowledging that Candice exists. But seeing how such a vocal powerhouse’s career has stalled, while fellow diva Kelly’s has flourished, was a sad reminder of just how much the Idol world has changed since 2002.
OK, time to catch my breath and recap the rest of the night’s performances!
Nick Fradiani – Sigh. Another pleasant, but hardly extraordinary, performance from nice guy Nick. The judges keep rallying and encouraging him to break through his wall and really have a moment (despite what adviser Scott Borchetta claimed, last week’s “Man in the Mirror” was not the breakthrough it was supposed to be), but I just don’t think Nick has it in him. His soft-rockin’, sort of Kris Allen-ish take on “Catch my Breath” sounded smooth; as Keith Urban noted, the song suited his lower range well. But Keith also told Nick to “loosen up,” again. Jennifer Lopez suggested that Nick keep working with the show’s “movement coach.” Harry Connick Jr. was the one judge who liked the performance itself, but he said, “It’s not my favorite vocal that you’ve done.” I like Nick, but he’s never my favorite. Sorry.
Jax – Jax’s “Beautiful Disaster” was beautiful, and it was far from a disaster. While she brought her usual drama and show-woman-ship (Stevie Nicks witch-wear, Madonna-at the-BRITs black cape, Fabulous Baker Boys-style piano pose), her voice was front-and-center in this understated and fragile performance. For the first time in a while, she didn’t seem to be trying too hard. She just let it flow, and let it go, and the result was lovely. Jax went from a whisper to a scream and back again, and she sounded so wonderful, the audience burst into applause before she was even finished. The judges gave her mixed reviews — J.Lo wanted the song to “go somewhere,” Keith said Jax seemed to be overthinking her performance — but I thought this was effortless and elegant.
Tyanna Jones – Tyanna is usually so happy-go-lucky, but this week she wanted to channel some My December-worthy anger and tap into her painful past experience as a bullying victim. Vocally, Tyanna was as fabulous as always, but I don’t think she quite expressed that Clarkson-style wrath on “Mr. Know-It-All.” It fell a little flat. I wish she’d done, say, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” something more cheerful and upbeat and just more her. Keith didn’t think Tyanna connected with the song’s sadness, but J.Lo praised her “amazing pipes.” Hopefully Tyanna will be safe next week. Season 14 would suck without her.
Joey Cook – After a misstep last week with a clownish Cyndi Lauper cover, Joey was back to being awesome/auditioning to be the next member of Postmodern Jukebox this week, with a feisty, jazzy version of “Miss Independent.” (An interesting song choice, considering that she just got engaged!) This performance was fun and exhilarating and just oozing with brassy, sassy, gangster-moll attitude, and the arrangement was incredibly creative as well. “You don’t just change a song, you rebuild a new song! You make me hear a lyric in a way I’ve never heard before,” raved Keith. J.Lo declared this one of the best performances of the night. Harry the jazzbo was mildly irked by Joey’s retro-novelty approach to jazz (which is just as modern a musical genre as any other, he pointed out), but he gave Joey’s arrangement an “A-plus.”
Quentin Alexander – Could there have been a more perfect Kelly-catalog song selection for Quentin, man of mystery, than “Darkside”? Absolute genius. (“You have the great talent of choosing the right songs,” Jennifer told him.) And while I’m always thrilled by Quentin’s performances and always excited to see what he’ll do next, I actually think this may have been his best effort yet — with all of his elements, from the fashion (of-the-moment culottes) to the staging (a swirling backdrop that looked like a giant snow globe or Spencer’s Gifts novelty lamp) to the keening vocal, coming together perfectly. Harry still thought the focus was too much on Quentin’s “creative” than on the technical aspects, but I disagreed. Quentin excelled here, and I am so glad that after not voting him through to the top 12 at first, America is finally coming around to the dark side and embracing this uniquely gifted rock star.
Qaasim Middleton – Two weeks ago, Qaasim was saved by the judges after giving an absolutely audacious and ferocious last-chance performance. But he hasn’t given a performance like that since. Last week’s “Addicted to Love” was middle-of-the-road, and this week Qaasim stripped things way back with an acoustic rendition of “Stronger” that was kind of weak. It had none of the things that make Qaasim awesome (high-kicks, mic-drops, etc.) and lots of what makes him not-so-awesome (bum notes). Putting his voice up front was a brave move, but it wasn’t a smart move, since it highlighted all of his vocal shortcomings. “If you’re going to do that, you’ve got to sing right… otherwise you’re revealing yourself as ‘he can’t sing that,’” griped Harry. I wonder if the judges and producers now regret using the Judges’ Save on Qaasim. Maybe that’s why they invented the Idol Fan Save.
Clark Beckham – Clark sang the Love, Actually ballad “The Trouble With Love Is,” and I loved it, actually. It was a very sexy performance (“I think I’m pregnant!” Kelly exclaimed during rehearsal), with a lot of soul, and he really brought it on home at the end, breaking through his emotional wall. (Nick Fradiani, please take notes.) It took Clark a while to get going, but still, this was his best performance yet. (And he was excellent last week.) Said Harry: “You took a Kelly Clarkson song, and you directly followed Kelly Clarkson with a Kelly Clarkson song [Clark sang right after Kelly’s above-mentioned “At Last” performance], and you nailed it.” If Clark can keep up his momentum, he really could win this year.
But who’s going home next week? I believe Rayvon redeemed himself and amassed a huge amount of goodwill this Wednesday (#SaveRayvon trended on Twitter for hours), and I think Jax, Joey, Quentin, Tyanna, and Clark will also be fine. So I’ll predict a bottom two of Nick and Qaasim, with Nick winning the Idol Fan Save. (Cougars know how to use Twitter too, you know.) Tune in next Wednesday to see if I’m right. Until then, Parker out.