Recap: ‘American Idol’ Season 14 – Top 12 Performances and an Elimination

03.12.15 3 years ago

Michael Becker/FOX

Sorry about the delay, kids.

I had to be doing PaleyFest 2015 red carpet coverage for Starz's “Outlander,” so I was talking about wedding nights and spankings and I missed doing my normal Eastern Time “American Idol” live-blog. 

And, in fact, I got home nearly 20 minutes into the Pacific Time airing of “Idol.”

So let's play a game and see how quickly I'm able to catch up with the live broadcast…

Follow through for my full recap of Thursday's (March 12) Top 12 performances and the first solo elimination of the season.

8:00 p.m. (in show time, but 8:24 in my time) Fortunately, I remember last night, so I can trim a minute off here.

8:01 p.m. I missed last night's Top 12 Party because of timing. I'm just missing everything.

8:02 p.m. I can't fast-forward through Ryan Seacrest, because he's going to explain the show. Also, I can't miss the Jennifer Lopez Fashion Show. Her white outfit is intriguingly see-through, but only a little bit. Or maybe it's just the illusion of see-through? There are too many balloons in the crowd. It's stupid. “You're Talented,” Harry Connick Jr's shirt says.

8:03 p.m. The theme tonight is Let's Get This Party Started, which is an odd theme. COOKIE! Taraji P. Henson comes out to present Ryan with the voting envelope. I love Cookie and I love Taraji, but I kinda wish No.1 “Idol” Super-Fan Terrence Howard was here. “Karma pays someone back,” Henson says, teasing next week's “Empire” finale. The contestants are in chairs with red lights. Ryan will call 11 up to perform and their chairs will turn green. Up first?

Song: “Burn”
My Take: If we were later in the season, I might fast-forward through the pre-performance segments. Scott Borchetta thinks Rayvon needs to push himself, that he needs a kick in the butt. This isn't nearly as “different” a song as Rayvon seemed to hope it might be. The biggest difference is that we learn that with fast-paced verses, Rayon doesn't enunciate at all and he doesn't have the lung-power for rapid-fire — Get it? — verses. This creates some awkward transitions between Rayvon's mumbles verses and his falsetto choruses. When he just gets to let loose and sing big notes, Rayvon sounds good, but most of that performance was a total mess for me.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith likes saying Rayvon's name. Inexplicably, Keith thinks that was a killa song choice, calling it his best performance. WRONG. It was even better than J-Lo thought it was going to be. Keith challenges Rayvon to not have the same arc on every performance, but he's still enthusiastic. I'm not sure what they were listening. Maybe the balloons are filled with happy gas?

8:15 p.m. (in showtime, but 8:35 here) Up next? 

Song: “She's Country”
My Take: The makeover of Maddie Walker, which also includes her hair, continues to be strong. Scott thinks she's a country siren. He also suggested the cowboy hat that Maddie starts with. I'm hesitant to give Scott too much credit, but there's something in Maddie's eyes tonight. It's not her best vocal, maybe, but she's got a little swagger out there tonight and even a little bit of an edge. It's not a lot of an edge, because she's still a Teen Country Princess, but it worries me to say this: The Maddie Walker performing tonight could be around for a couple months. Heck, she could be Top 4 or Top 5 like this. That's the first time I've liked Maddie at all.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That was a great job and a really, really good performance for you,” J-Lo says, praising her personality and sass, as well as her voice. “You really can sing. That's why you're here,” Harry says, before warning her about the difference between emulating and imitating. Harry wants to hear her, not a copy. Keith wants to see more of Maddie's voice, but worries she may be getting a little lost in the outfit and the attitude. Maddie has been in some sort of pain and Ryan sends her off to see a doctor.

Song: “Fancy”
My Take: Blue-haired Joey is, as always, stressed out and relieved. Scott thinks she's “uniquely cool” and “a real artist.” It's an initially odd song choice, but I adore Joey's interpretation of the song. It's both typical Joey oddball cabaret, but she's also showing off a bit of confidence and attitude tonight. There are some choices in phrasing and performance that make me smile spontaneously, which is all I can ask from an “American Idol” performance. That was just great. I've never thought of Joey as sexy, but that was actually a sexy performance and interpretation from an artist who normally prefers “goofball.” That was recognizably Joey, but also entirely different from anything she's done before.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry loved the arrangement and thought Joey sang it brilliantly. “You just have this presence and energy about you that's so 'artist,'” Keith says, adding that Joey made the song her own. “It was really a smart choice for you,” J-Lo says, though she wanted to hear a little bit more of the melody, adding that she could imagine Joey doing a whole album like that. Joey swiftly credits Post-Modern Jukebox with the arrangement, which is always a good idea. Be awesome. But be humble.

8:32 (in showtime, but 8:47 in my time) p.m. It's hard to catch up when you watch the comments and whatnot. Joey Cook gushes at how proud she is of Maddie Walker. That's also totally classy.

8:33 p.m. Jussie Smollett & Yazz are trying to rub off some of their “Empire” pixie dust. This also feels like an audition for a potential “Empire” live-tour.  And you know what? This would probably be fun to see live. Also, is Tyanna Jones' hair a different color in every single shot? She's a chameleon.

8:35 p.m. That was a quick performance. Now it's time for…

Song: “Takin' It To the Streets”
My Take: Scott calls Clark “a vocal powerhouse,” but wants the rest of him to catch up to his voice. I can't hear this song anymore without hearing the Halloween parody “Trickin' it To The Treats.” Am I the only one? I think that Clark is a more interesting vocalist than this. I've heard Michael McDonald impressions and this is just a decent Michael McDonald cover. However, towards the end when he adds a few runs of his own and also struts a bit on the piano, Clark finally gets to shine.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith liked the piano playing and references “Nic.” Keith says something confusing about wanting to feel the performance more. I actually agree with that. The first half was a bit too emotionally distanced. J-Lo also wants everything else to catch up to his vocals, which she figures will happen. It wasn't Harry's favorite performance, but he likes how introspective Clark is. He likes that Clark doesn't play to the camera.

8:44 p.m. (in showtime and 8:56 in my time… getting a bit closer) I'm catching up a few minutes at a time. I should have skipped the “Empire” number. Oh well. Up next?

Singer: JAX
Song: “Blank Space”
My Take: Jax looks like she's ready to do '80s power-lifting. Scott thinks she's the epitome of all the great things about the '80s in 2015. This is interesting, because Jax is going with a very current, popular song and she's smart enough to know that she has to keep at least some of the melody. Or is it the wrong choice? There's bumpiness as Jax tries to transition into the chorus. It's like she's uncomfortable with being too hook-y, with being too melodic. Who's the guy Jax is messing with in the crowd? That's a bit awesome. Jax is another singer this season who makes me spontaneously smile. She's her own thing and she's so utterly confident and comfortable in that thing, even if the song wasn't a perfect match at all. I wonder if she'll be punished for not acing the current hit.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo didn't feel Jax on the song, that she got overtaken by the music. Harry felt that it was too close to Taylor Swift's version of the song and that she got lost in the band. Keith also felt like the song held her back. That was rough. “He's a stranger and I apologize,” Jax says of the guy in the crowd.

Song: “Jet”
My Take: Scott thinks Qaasim is one of the coolest cats they've got, but he's not the strongest singer. Qaasim is playing a guitar tonight. This could be mighty interesting. I wonder if he can do this? I'm… not sure. This feels like a challenge performance. He's trying to say, “I have other things in me and I'll show them to you, even if they're not as good.” Qaasim can't seem to settle into the vocal and he can't quite figure out how to express himself without just letting go. This did not prove to me that Qaasim can sing at all, unfortunately. So… Next week back to James Brown 2015, eh? That was an admirable miss.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry asks Qaasim's opinion a lyric, which is his way of saying “I didn't buy your performance.” Qaasim has a decent answer, but it doesn't cut off the criticism. Harry didn't think the performance matched the song and warns him that he “may be turning into a bit of a one-trick pony.” The crowd boos. “I loved it,” Keith says and claims that the guitar helped Qaasim's singing. “For me, you make every song a party,” J-Lo says.

9:07 (in show time, but 9:11 in my time) NEARLY THERE! One more commercial break. 

9:08 p.m. Harry explains his shirt is a way of telling them they're all talented, so he can cut straight to being constructive. Also, Harry's a bit ripped. Who's next?

Song: “Runaway Baby”
My Take: Hmmm… This may bode ill. Adanna didn't have voting support before, got put through on a Wild Card and then was pretty rough last night. But she still made it through. Scott feels that she's brooding and moody and dangerous. This Bruno Mars song is not that. Keeping the mic on the stand is an interesting choice. On one hand, I feel like it's holding her back. But on the other hand, I think that's exactly what it's there for, to keep Adanna in check just a bit. This results in a strong controlled early vocal from Adanna. Eventually she detached the mic and she's out of breath by the end, suggesting how good an idea it was not to detach sooner. That was a much better performance than last night's.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That's why we saved you,” Keith says, comparing Adanna to Tina Turner. J-Lo praises the control in that performance. Harry wanted a bit more intonation, but he felt she was much better.

Song: “Tightrope”
My Take: Scott loves Tyanna on-stage and how she throws it down on-stage. The Janelle Monae is such a total no-brainer that I'm worried that it's too obvious. If she's doing the bow-tie and the suspenders and the Janelle Monae song, why do we need Tyanna if we already have Janelle Monae? The thing I'll say is that Tyanna is just great in what is still a superfluous performance. It's effectively an impersonation, but I watched that and if I hadn't known, I'd have assumed it was completely Tyanna. It doesn't seem even slightly fake. So I'm very slightly conflicted. Like if Janelle Monae vanished, Tyanna could step in and we wouldn't miss a beat. I'd tell her not to do Janelle Monae again, because I don't want to be conflicted with Tyanna again, because she's fantastic on her own. I have no clue if that makes any sense. Tyanna's a star, I just don't want her to have to ONLY be Janelle Monae 2.0.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo got goosies. Harry says if he was a judge in the Olympics, he'd have given her a 10. Keith is a big fan.

9:26 p.m. Kelly Clarkson is coming on April 1. And up next?

Song: “Happy”
My Take: “I did not see this coming,” Daniel says. I did. Sadly. Scott says that when Daniel smiles, the whole room lights up. I'm glad to see Daniel back with his guitar. He don't even know if he's playing the darned thing, but he was so uncomfortable without it. If nothing else, this is a more comfortable performance from Daniel, even if there's almost no singing here. Like no singing at all. He shouts the verses and drops the key on the chorus because he can't go high enough to make it pleasant. That was not especially good, but it was also better than last night. So… That's something. And it won't matter to Daniel's fans at all.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry has been studying tape on Daniel. He thinks Daniel is immensely talented and Harry also thought that his strongest performance so far. Keith thinks Daniel will advance and that he'll progress. J-Lo says it's impossible not to root for Daniel. Somehow I suspect this will not prove to be the truth.

9:32 p.m. All caught up! Only Sarina-Joi, Nick and Quentin remain. This is worrisome. If Adanna got a Wild Card Bump, I suspect Quentin will as well. And Nick's got the older demo all to himself, which may help him for a while. Up next…

Song: “Rolling in the Deep”
My Take: Scott likes Quentin's vibe and his piercing eyes. I'm really intrigued by this as a song choice, especially when Quentin says that this is a party song back home. Indeed, this is Adele only in the beginning and then the tempo picks up. It's a bit uncomfortable when Quentin sings about being left breathless when he was having trouble getting his breath early. I'm not sure how unified this performance is, whether it's really building organically, but it's nicely sung and Quentin's presence is, as always, impeccable.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith felt it was another spiritual performance from Quentin. “You bring a different flavor from everyone else,” J-Lo says. Harry felt that Quentin's version was a shallow interpretation of the lyrics and emotion. That's probably true. That was easily Quentin's least intense performance, which doesn't mean it was bad.

9:41 p.m. This isn't good. If Sarina-Joi received the fewest votes, it's way too soon to use The Save.

9:46 p.m. The singer joining the Top 11 is… NICK FRADIANI. Wow. You screwed this one up, America. There's no way Sarina-Joi Crowe isn't one of this season's 11 best contestants. No way at all.

Song: “Wake Me Up”
My Take: Scott thinks Nick is a “pop hunk.” He accentuates the folksiness in Aloe Blacc's song, even when it transitions into its up-tempo credit. This is a less predictable and programatic version of Nick and I like it more than a lot we've seen from him. The vocals aren't perfect, but I don't know if you've heard Aloe Blacc live, but the dude isn't afraid to miss a few notes himself. That was just fine.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo felt it was a little scream-y in moments, but it was a great song choice. Harry thought it was solid, but he wants Nick to “crack open” for us. Keith thinks we'll see Nick next week. I don't disagree. I think either Quentin or Adanna will suffer post-Wild Card let-down next week.

9:52 p.m. Time for Sarina-Joi to sing for The Save that the judges just can't give her. I think they *should* save her, because I think Sarina-Joi is Top 5 talent eliminated at No.12, which is much too big a gap between deserved position and elimination. Unless Jax gets voted out next week, there won't be a bigger gap between deserved position and elimination. There almost can't be. [Tyanna going out any time in the next three weeks would also count. But she's not going to. Jax, in contrast, has the potential to be alienating.]

9:54 p.m. I also have to humble myself here. My colleague and bud Rob Moynihan of TV Guide told me last night that Sarina-Joi was going to be voted out. I responded, “There is ZERO chance Sarina”s the first one out. Zilch.” I was… incorrect. Very. Rob also said that Jax is a gimmick. We'll see if he's right there as well.

9:56 p.m. Sarina-Joi sings “Neon Lights” for the save. This was a bad idea. She's much too emotional to sing a song that already was probably a bad match. This is a showcase for none of what made Sarina-Joi look so great in the weeks leading up to this. She was going to have to force the judges' hand. And this performance just doesn't do it at all.  

9:58 p.m. Qaasim really wants Sarina-Joi to get The Save and some members of the audience agree. J-Lo says it breaks her heart, but they won't be saving her. I wish she could have expressed more disappointment. Because I'm darned disappointed. Oh well.

TONIGHT'S BEST: Joey Cook was my favorite tonight, with Tyanna Jones a little bit behind. And while people like Adanna and Maddie showed a lot of improvement, I'm not prepared to put them up there with those two.

TONIGHT'S WORST: Rayvon, Qaasim and Daniel were probably my least favorites. 

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