American Idol XIV Top 4 Revealed + Performance Recap (VIDEO)
Welcome to the live blog and recap for American Idol XIV, “Top 4 Perform”! Tonight, the Idols tackle Judges’ Hometowns/Soul Songs!
The song spoilers reveal a mix of mostly contemporary tracks. Seriously, I was surprised at how relatively current the song choices are for this week, even if they don’t necessarily excite (although I’m stoked for Jax, and I’m downright fascinated to see how Clark manages to whip around a country song that, on this show, has largely been associated with Scotty McCreery).
But which singer will be going home tonight?
As of press time, Rickey.org readers predict it will finally be the end of the road for Rayvon Owen. With the Twitter Fan Save now gone, readers are predicting that Rayvon won’t escape the Bottom 2 for an unprecedented fifth consecutive week, as he topped the poll with 45.43% of the vote. Joining him in the Bottom 2 is Tyanna Jones, who earned 34.76% of the vote. This would be Tyanna’s first time in the Bottom 2, although…well, anyone who’s in the Bottom 2 with Rayvon will be a first-timer. So yeah, barring some kind of voting miracle, it’s looking like curtains for Rayvon. But you never know, especially considering how many contestants have gone home this season who, in previous seasons, would have gone a whole hell of a lot farther. Anyway, it’s not too late to vote in the poll, so head on over and add your prediction!
Keep it locked right here as I’ll be updating with commentary, analysis, and videos of tonight’s performances!
Let’s get this show on the road!
-We open with a look back at last week, as the Top 5 are revealed, and Scott lets the finalists know that not only are they going on tour together, they’ll be coming back to Nashville with him to visit Big Machine Records. They visit the Blue Bird Cafe (which I’m only just now learning isn’t a place made up for Nashville, illustrating my stunning ignorance of country music), the Big Machine recording studio, and the spot on the wall that Scott has reserved for the next American Idol.
But none of this is as interesting as the person delivering the results envelope: RUSSELL FREAKING CROWE????
Seriously, what a random development. He always came across as a fairly humorless individual to me, so I find it nearly impossible to believe he’s indulging in such a silly show as this. Of course, he’s not here just to hang out, he’s doing promotion for The Water Diviner, but still, it just feels super surreal.
Anyway, Ryan reveals that Martina McBride will be performing later, while Harry will take the stage for a song he wrote 20 years ago about his hometown, “City Beneath the Sea”.
-Ryan then reveals the first result of the evening: CLARK BECKHAM IS SAFE! (Sweet! I predicted him to be the first person declared safe in the office pool)
CLARK BECKHAM opens the show!
-In his VT, we see Clark working on defining himself as an artist with Scott, and Big Machine bigwigs Sandi Spika Borchetta and Nicole Flammia. They go over style, and Clark says he always envisioned himself as Justin Timberlake, in the style department. Of course, Sandi and Nicole note how hot Clark is, as this seems far less about music than about branding. Scott tells him he has to start envisioning himself as the next American Idol. You know, because it’s obviously happening.
-Clark sings “Living For the City” by Stevie Wonder. There’s an absolutely wonderful moment where Clark walks away from the mic and kicks it on a nearby piano. He then follows it up by coming back to the mic and delivering a crazy, extended high note. Unfortunately, those were the only parts of this I liked, as his voice was ALL over the place during this performance. He just sounded so strained here. This just feels like such a boring, expected performance for Clark. Normally, that wouldn’t bug me if the vocal were better, but this was one of his weakest overall, in my opinion.
-Keith thought it got into a really good groove, with Clark going to the piano. J-Lo thought Clark sounded really good, but wanted him to show more connection with the audience, saying this is something he needs to work on. Harry, meanwhile, warns Clark against falling out of time with the song. He says it’s something he can work on. Still, he ultimately thought it was a pretty good performance. Afterwards, Ryan asks Harry to specify, and he says that for Stevie, the rhythm was mostly a gut thing, but for Clark, it can be a discipline thing he can learn.
-Ryan then reveals Result #2: JAX IS SAFE!
JAX is up next!
-Jax meets with Allison Jones, Vice President of A&R for Big Machine Records, and Jax immediately wins me over by noting that she loves pop music and doesn’t see it as a “curse word”. Jones loves how Jax has a big stage personality, but with a gorgeous, tender quality to her vocal. Jax, meanwhile, loves that Big Machine seems more invested in developing artists than simply finding the next big hit. For what it’s worth, I think Jax is the most radio-ready artist of the final five, so this felt like a glimpse into the future, since I could easily see her getting signed by Big Machine even if she loses.
-Jax sings “Empire State of Mind (Part II)” by Alicia Keys, in honor of J-Lo’s hometown. It’s not my favorite Jax performance, as she sounds a bit hoarse here. I hope she’s not sick, because it’d be a shame for her to go home, this close to the end. That said, even though I didn’t love this, there’s just this star quality to Jax that makes me overlook whatever shortcomings her vocal might have in a given week. She just feels like a complete artist, in a way nobody left in the competition does.
-J-Lo feels Jax understands she can win this competition now, and says she feels Jax really means business. But she wasn’t sure it was the best song for her. “You need to be really careful with the songs that you choose from now on,” J-Lo says, after once again reiterating that Jax has what it takes to win. Harry actually liked it a lot. He asks if she’s hoarse, and she confirms that she is, which amplifies Harry’s respect for what she accomplished, saying she powered through the song and “killed it”. Keith feels that even when she’s hoarse, and even if the song choice isn’t perfect, her talent always shines through. After the performance, Jax is thrilled to make hometown visits, and says she’s super excited to see her dog — a dog who shares the same name as Nick’s dog, strangely enough. I think they said the dog’s name is “Jeter”?
-Back from break, Clark and Jax thank America for voting them through, and they both express how thrilled they are to advance to hometown visits.
-Ryan reveals Result #3: NICK FRADIANI IS SAFE! TYANNA JONES AND RAYVON OWEN ARE THE BOTTOM 2!
NICK FRADIANI is up next!
-Nick meets with Big Machine’s PR execs, and goes through how much Idol has changed his life, considering he used to have trouble even filling up a bar for his shows. This package mostly shows what it’s like to get the big promotional push of a major label, and if Nick wins, I imagine he’ll need as much of a promotional push as he can get. Seriously, I like Nick a lot, but even I can’t explain how he’s never once been in danger this entire season. This is some Anthony Federov levels of inexplicable popularity.
-Nick sings “Bright Lights” by Matchbox Twenty, and honestly, it’s one of his best rock-driven performances. In fact, I think this is exactly the route Nick should have been taking through the entire competition. He’s just a very natural rock singer, and it brings out a certain showmanship and charisma (and also comfort) that isn’t otherwise there when he goes outside of that wheelhouse. He also sounds great here. I think Nick might actually be gaining on Jax as Most Likely to Join Clark in the Finale.
-Harry feels Nick is getting better and more comfortable each week, and notes that while he does sound a lot like Rob Thomas, he still sounded great. Keith praises Nick for his “killer instinct,” saying that he just keeps getting stronger and better. J-Lo says Nick is “peaking,” and that they all want to go on that ride with him. She says that was Nick at his best, and she can’t wait for him to watch it back, since he’s going to love it. This really was a situation where I think Nick deserved all of the praise he was getting.
-Back from break as Nick thanks America. You can really tell how stoked the guy is to be advancing, which I always find endearing, especially since he normally seems so cool and above it.
HARRY CONNICK JR. PERFORMS
-Harry performs “City Beneath the Sea,” and it’s a really, truly lovely little song. I can’t believe how much I liked this. Then again, this is my kind of song. And I say that as someone who, if he were ever on Idol, would probably end up singing a lot of the same songs Harry has sung, if not songs by Harry himself. Hell, my go-to pick for movie night would be the absolutely gorgeous, Oscar-nominated “Promise Me You’ll Remember” from The Godfather Part III, which Harry performed. So yeah, I really enjoyed this performance. Granted, it’s probably not the best idea to name a song about a frequently storm-ravaged town “City Beneath the Sea,” but hey, he wrote it 20 years ago, so whatever. After the performance, Keith teases Harry about not being sure what kind of artist he wants to be, while J-Lo gets on his case about pentatonics. Overall, a worthy little segment.
-Back from break with Harry doing a hilarious spiel, as if he’s one of the contestants. But we hardly have time to dwell on it before…
-Since there’s no more Twitter Fan Save, there’s no reason to hear both contestants sing, I guess. So we’re going to find out now who is eliminated. Ryan brings Tyanna and Rayvon onstage and reveals the final result…
RAYVON OWEN IS SAFE!
TYANNA JONES IS ELIMINATED FROM AMERICAN IDOL XIV!
AMAZING! Rayvon makes it through to hometown visits, escaping a FIFTH CONSECUTIVE WEEK IN THE BOTTOM 2. And this time, he didn’t need Twitter to do it! Seriously, mind blown. I guess this lends credence to the theory that while Rayvon has been in the Bottom 2 for half the damn competition, he might not have actually been the person with the fewest votes. Hence, he might not have ever needed Twitter to last this long. For the record, Rayvon now ties Season 7’s Syesha Mercado and Season 1’s Nikki McKibbin for most Bottom 3/2 appearances, with 5.
Tyanna says her farewells as we see a goodbye video package for her set to her studio version of “Stay,” which is still her best performance. She then performs one of the songs she was going to give us tonight, “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce. And, despite having been in tears just moments before, she delivers one of my favorite performances from her this season. There was just a strength and an energy to this that makes me wish we’d seen this version of Tyanna sooner. There’s also a joy to this. Sure, she’s sad to be going home, but she’s all smiles, and her mother is too. I’m actually kind of surprised by how much I like this, considering 1) it’s not her best vocal, and 2) it’s a pretty bad song choice. But I’m just really feeling this. The judges give her a standing ovation, and Harry says that Tyanna is a gift. He hopes that she keeps taking lessons in piano and continues perfecting her craft. J-Lo says the journey ahead of her is going to be so much fun, saying there will be ups and downs, but the downs will make you so much stronger. Keith reiterates how much they’re all going to miss Tyanna, saying if she has to do a last performance, that’s how you do it.
-Back from break with David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova from Gotham, who are in the audience to watch the show (and presumably promote this Monday’s Gotham finale by virtue of being there).
RAYVON OWEN is up next!
-Rayvon talks about showing more of who he is, since people may like him as a singer, but it doesn’t mean much if people don’t know the man behind it. Of course, this package is notable for being possibly the first time this entire season we’ve seen Rayvon without some kind of hat. He looks good, but he’d probably look better if I hadn’t grown so used to seeing his head covered. It just seems weird. Anyway, Rayvon says this Big Machine meeting reminds him of his music business classes in college, which stressed the importance of showing vulnerability. A music business class taught that?
-Rayvon sings “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum, in honor of Keith’s listed hometown of Nashville. It’s a solid, if not altogether unexpected, vocal from Rayvon. But even with that expected quality to it, I thought it was an appropriately theatrical performance. He’s offering a lot of showmanship here, and I think it helps enhance the vocal. Hell, his voice sounds like it breaks from emotion in places. Overall, I really dug this.
-Keith liked how Rayvon made it his own, but actually takes issue with the theatricality of it. J-Lo agrees, saying that if Rayvon doesn’t feel the emotion of the lyrics, they won’t feel it either. However, she does note just how pretty the vocal was. Harry, meanwhile, sticks up for Rayvon by saying he delivered the lyric perfectly, and says there are few things as potent as an earnest, genuine young man delivering a lyric with that same passion. For once, I agree with Harry. After the performance, Ryan actually makes note of this being Rayvon’s fifth Bottom 2 appearance. Can he break the record by landing in the Bottom 2 for an unfathomable SIXTH CONSECUTIVE WEEK next week? Or are we just getting rid of Bottom 2 reveals altogether by Top 4?
-Back from break, as Rayvon says he really appreciates all the love and support, and is thrilled to get to go on Hometown Visits. His enthusiasm, much like Nick’s, is super endearing.
-As we start the second round, we get a video package introducing the two mentors: Jay DeMarcus from Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride, who still looks as gorgeous now as she did when she mentored in Season 6.
MARTINA MCBRIDE PERFORMS!
-Martina performs her version of “Over the Rainbow,” although I sincerely doubt she’s going to top India Carney for best version of this song this week. Sure enough, while it’s a perfectly serviceable vocal, her voice seems to waver in places as she seems off pitch. Seriously, this was downright unpleasant, in places. Which is a shame, because I like Martina. But no…just no. Although I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention she looks downright stunning, between the hair and the simple scarlet dress. Unfortunately, Keith is the only person to stand up at the end. Martina must be a Targaryen to have survived that burn unscathed.
After the performance, Martina reveals to Ryan that, as a Kansas native, The Wizard of Oz and “Over the Rainbow” had a huge effect in driving her music career, as she grew up wanting to move people the same way.
-Back from break with Destin Sandler from Smarter Every Day on YouTube, as we go over how much science would be needed to get Scott’s hair to move. We then get a Ford video that shows the Idols doing science experiments with Destin. I’m not really in the mood for this at all.
CLARK BECKHAM is up next!
-Clark is going to be singing “Your Man” by Josh Turner, saying this song is possibly “the most me” of any track in the competition. Really? Because this isn’t really the kind of artist he’s been presenting in the competition. Of course, then he starts playing the song, and I see exactly what he means. This is a groovy, Maroon 5-style take on the song, and I think it fits Clark PERFECTLY. Scott gets on his ass about the song choice and all the chords he’s playing on his guitar, saying he doesn’t know what else he has to say to Clark to get him to understand that these self-indulgent choices are a one-way ticket to a Holiday Inn. “This isn’t American Musician,” Scott says, coming across as an absolute frigging moron. Yes, he knows his stuff, but I don’t get what the big deal is. Does he really think so little of mainstream audiences? To his credit, Clark sticks to his guns and refuses to compromise on the song choice. Good for you, Clark.
-This was one of Clark’s better performances. I thought he really made the song his own, and served up one of his most unique arrangements. This was a cool jam in ways the original song never was. This was also miles better, vocally, than his first performance tonight. I absolutely loved this, as this was one of the first
-J-Lo thinks Clark has a lovely voice, but she doesn’t know how this is his gravy song. She thinks he can win, but she questions the song choice, saying he needs to think about which direction he wants to go. Harry says it’s apples and oranges right now, since all the finalists are remarkable. He says it comes down to song choice, telling Clark he needs to think about it from the perspective of the audience. He felt the performance was tepid, and that he probably couldn’t win this show if that were the only song he had to fight with. Keith feels Clark is ready for the radio, and he needs to be delivering “singles” and not “album tracks”. After the performance, Ryan asks if he regrets the song choice, and Clark says no. He defends the choice, saying that if he ever knew what gravy was, those minor 7s on the guitar are it. He does admit that he could musically articulate himself better, but he wants to be clear just how desperately he wants to win this show, and how deeply he believes people really do like this music. “If this loses me the competition, then I don’t want to win it,” he says, and oh my God, I love Clark so much right now.
But J-Lo says it’s also about creating an amazing moment for your audience, which seems really counterintuitive, since it’s not as if he hasn’t already done that. These critiques just felt designed to make Scott seem like less of a stubborn jackwagon.
-We get a video package of the finalists visiting the Blue Bird Cafe where Scott first heard Taylor Swift at age 14. They then sing “Style” a cappella, and they sound AMAZING. Seriously, why couldn’t we have heard more of that?
-Back from break and Clark asks America to support his choice of music by buying the single on iTunes. Scott explains when he shows his passion, he’s not trying to hurt anybody. He says he doesn’t have two more years to develop them, he has two weeks, so he’s trying to inject everything he can into the artists, so he kicks them in the butt because he wants them to do great. I mean, I’m sure he’s right, but I’d love if he just admitted that it’s financially motivated, and he’s worried Clark’s music won’t sell.
JAX is up next!
-Jax meets with Martina McBride, and they work on version of “Human” by Christina Perri. Jax seems just so freaking ready to be a star right now. I’m still reeling from all the unpleasantness with Clark at the moment though. But Jax sounds good in rehearsals, and both Scott and Martina seem stoked about her. Honestly, even before the blow-up with Clark, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Scott is pulling for Jax, since she’s arguably the most marketable, and he obviously knows how to make stars out of young blonde girls.
-Jax looks stunning out there, and she sounds nearly as good, covering up whatever hoarseness plagued her in the first round. It wasn’t a perfect vocal, as there were a few problems with pitch, but she still delivered a dramatic, engaging performance. The smoke machine goes a bit overboard, but I still really enjoyed this. Her passion made it lively. Hell, she even falls to her knees and gets nearly consumed by all the smoke. This was just great (although the sharpness of the background singer distracted a bit).
-Harry says there were pitch issues all over the place, but notes that it was still a good performance because he could feel everything she was feeling, and that trumps all. Keith felt it was the perfect song choice because it allowed her to show fragility. J-Lo loves how Jax looks the audience in the eyes and connects with the fans. She adds that the purity of her tone is beautiful, and notes this is what singing should sound like. After the performance, Jax says she hopes she gets to touch people emotionally. We then throw to a video package of the artists meeting Steven Tyler while he’s recording his ill-advised country album. While there, he offers to sing with Jax at the finale, leaving her speechless and starstruck, in a cute moment. Ryan then recounts memories from Steven’s first live show as a judge, not realizing that they were live at the time. I can safely say I don’t miss Steven as a judge. Not even a little bit.
-Back from break, as Jax thanks America for putting her through, then fangirls out over Steven Tyler.
RAYVON OWEN is up next!
-Rayvon will be singing “Believe” by Justin Bieber, and dedicates this to his mother. Scott notes that Rayvon has managed to survive the Bottom 2 again and again, and I suppose this makes the song choice more apt, given the lyrics and just how much his mother has been supporting him. His story really is quite inspiring when you consider that he’s managed to save himself again and again when all the smart money has had him going home for close to a month now.
-Not Rayvon’s best vocal, but easily his most emotional. He nearly breaks down in tears while singing the song to his mother, who’s got a serious case of Gospel Hand going on in the audience. This is absolutely GORGEOUS, and I think this has instantly become one of the moments of the season. Seriously, I had goosebumps nearly all the way through. Awww…now my loyalties are divided! I kind of want to see Rayvon make final 3, after that. I mean, I really, really don’t think he has any realistic chance of making that happen, but dammit, this was so good. SO good, you guys.
-Keith points out how great it was to see Rayvon’s mom reacting like she was in church, while J-Lo says this is what they meant after his first performance about emotional connection. She says she’s crying and everyone in the audience is moved as well. Harry, meanwhile, notes that it took something like 15 people to write that song, and he believes each and every one of them would be very proud of what he did up there. After the performance, we get a few more votes sent Rayvon’s way by bringing his mother up onstage to hug him. Someone seriously needs to stop cutting onions up in here.
NICK FRADIANI closes the show!
-Nick has chosen “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts, a song choice Scott apparently has no problem with, even though it’s even less representative of the kind of artist Nick has shown than “Your Man” was for Clark. But because one of the members of Rascal Flatts is here, Scott says it’s a great choice. Jay DeMarcus suggests he leave the guitar behind and just stand at the microphone, and I do actually agree with that advice. Hell, Nick sounds great in rehearsal, but I guess my toast is still burnt from Scott’s mild hypocrisy.
-I think this might have been Nick’s best vocal, or at least his most ambitious. Seriously, this is about the farthest he’s ever pushed his voice, and the result is pretty impressive. I didn’t know Nick had range like this, particularly in his upper register. It’s hard to top what Rayvon just did, but I thought Nick delivered a hell of a performance, and did a hell of a job tonight. I could hear that on the radio today.
-J-Lo feels Nick is the star of the night. Keith agrees and says that single could easily rocket up the iTunes charts. Harry could see that kind of track being put on Nick’s album, and congratulates him on another stellar vocal. And that’s it for the night, as the remaining finalists are brought back onstage for the close of the show.
-So what did you think of tonight’s show? How about the controversy between Scott and Clark? Who will go home next week? Sound off in the comments! Until then, thanks for reading/hanging out.