The Kelly Clarkson Songbook.
That's what we're getting on Wednesday (April 1) night's “American Idol.”
This is not to question Kelly Clarkson's awesomeness or even the very-goodness of Kelly Clarkson's discography, but there are some people in this “Idol” season who seem like they're going to be well-suited to tonight's theme and other people for home this may be excruciating, especially since the “Idol” voters are back in female-shunning mode this season.
Let's see how things go…
8:00 p.m. ET. Greetings from Toronto, where I'm in town visiting the set of “The Strain.” Because of timing, I may be pushing my “Survivor” recap to tomorrow morning. But “Idol”? On time!
8:03 p.m. J-Lo Fashion Show Time and she's wearing shorts and a largely concealing top. She still doesn't kneel to greet the crowd. Perhaps the shirt is too billowy.
8:04 p.m. Awwww. Young Kelly Clarkson. How adorable.
8:05 p.m. Could Daniel Seavey actually have been three when Kelly won? We're in Season 14 and he's 15? Ryan Seacrest makes a “frosted tips” joke, but not a Dunkleman joke.
8:06 p.m. The night is dedicated to our first “American Idol,” but Ruben Studdard is presenting Ryan with his results for tonight. I guess that's nice of “Idol.”
8:06 p.m. Weird. The first group of people will perform and then Twitter will save one of the Bottom 2 after they perform. Or something. First to perform tonight is…
Singer: NICK FRADIANI
Song: “Catch My Breath”
My Take: Nick did an acoustic cover of this band when it comes out. Kelly is awesome. This show would be smart to bring her in full-time next season. Make her next year's full-time mentor and announce that it's the last season and that “Idol” is coming full-circle? Seems like a great idea to me. This is not acoustic, but it's a stripped down intro that showcases some melodic wobbliness from Nick. Accompanied by a small band, Nick gets more comfortable as he hits the chorus. I didn't really buy his “Man in the Mirror” cover last week, but this seems more like what Nick could probably do professionally. When the band drops out on the second verse, Nick loses the melody again. But the choruses are decent, even if they're punctuated by jumping up and down that helps nothing.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Bizarrely, Keith says the low part of Nick's voice is good. I strongly disagree. J-Lo says that Nick is blossoming every, but she suggests he may want to do more training with their choreographer, just to find some movement that suits him. It wasn't Harry's favorite vocal from Nick, but he thought the performance seemed more comfortable.
8:14 p.m. Heh. Keith is wearing a “Kelly Clarkson!” t-shirt from “40 Year-Old Virgin.”
Song: “Beautiful Disaster”
My Take: At this point, I'm relieved with every time a girl survives. “You're quirky and I like it!” Kelly tells Jax. They talk about relationships, but Kelly has no notes. They brought out a cellist and a fog machine for Jax and while there's a piano on-stage, she isn't the one playing it. This is probably Jax's purest vocal performance. Almost none of her affectations are in play here. She's just earnestly and pleasantly singing the song, showing both range and touch. That was very nice, albeit maybe not as quirky and fun as some of what she's done.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo calls it pretty and also calls it pure. She wanted more range in the arrangement, which I think I agree with. Harry is looking forward to meeting Kelly and he calls the performance fantastic. Keith praises the artistry. Apparently Daniel Seavey keeps stepping on the train to Jax's outfit.
8:31 p.m. Boring Group Sing to “People Like Us,” where we learn that Clark Beckham and Joey Cook have voices that probably aren't compatible. And going straight from the Group Sing into performing is…
Singer: TYANNA JONES
Song: “Mr. Know It All”
My Take: Tyanna has never had a boyfriend, but she was bullied, so that's how she's approaching this performance. She's trying to go with emotion over her normal smiley performance. There's a little attitude and I suspect this performance is going to be judge-proof. I wish it weren't so shout-y and nuance-free. I like Tyanna's determination and I like her performance approach, but has she truly given a great vocal performance since voting started? I'd say “No.” And that makes me sad.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry always wants to know a bit more about Tyanna, which fit with the lyrics for him. He thinks there may have been some pitch issues, but because she was singing from the heart, it doesn't matter. Keith wasn't sure that Tyanna connected with the core of the song. J-Lo agrees, but says that she has amazing pipes.
8:43 p.m. Gordon Ramsay is in the audience. Ryan asks him about beer can chicken. And Vonzell Solomon! And Candice Glover! Everybody's in the studio tonight.
Singer: JOEY COOK
Song: “Miss Independent”
My Take: Joey had her first bad week last show. She tried too hard to fit herself into a more predictable box and it wasn't a great idea. This, however, is Joey Cook being Joey Cook, rearranging “Miss Independent” to the point at which it's completely unrecognizable. I love what she's doing with the verses, but I personally might have wanted a return to the actual melody for the choruses. This should definitely advance Joey deeper into “American Cabaret Idol.” That was a good bounce-back from last week, but I hope that America doesn't punish Joey for not making the sound a bit more familiar.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith praises her artistic weight and the delivering the lyrics in a way he'd never understood them before. J-Lo thinks Joey was in her lane and did her own thing. Keith gives Joey an A+ for bravery, but he wishes she didn't treat jazz as a dated novelty and acknowledged that it can be contemporary. And Joey got engaged over the weekend. Mazel tov.
8:55 p.m. Kelly Clarkson time! “Heartbeat Song.” Guess what? You know who sings Kelly Clarkson songs well? Kelly Clarkson. [To be fair, both Joey and Jax were fine.]
Singer: QUENTIN ALEXANDER
Song: “Dark Side”
My Take: I missed that all three girls remaining have advanced. But that's good. They should have. I like Quentin and he consistently interests me. I'm a bit surprised that America is responding to him this well. These canned Scott Borchetta preview clips are just dreadful. “He's going to show you his dark side, America. Will you show him yours?” What the heck does that mean, Scott? Not only is Quentin not showing his dark side, he's dressed in white, wandering through clouds and standing in front of a mountainous backdrop straight out of a Coors commercial. He looks uncomfortable and the straight-forward nature of the arrangement and vocals plays to none of Quentin's strengths. His intensity becomes effective at the every end to salvage an otherwise so-so performance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo thought it was perfect for him and that his great talent is choosing the right songs for himself. “I'm so glad we saved you,” J-Lo says, confusing Harry and much of America. Keith likes Quentin's poise. Harry tells Quentin that he needs to spend more time on the musical side of his performance, to learn his harmonies and his chords.
Singer: QAASIM MIDDLETON
My Take: I'm glad the acoustic arrangement Qaasim did for Kelly wasn't just a feint before an over-arranged actual performance. This is my favorite of Qaasim's non-James Brown performances. He's struggled whenever he's attempted to contain himself, but this is a more viable attempt to show his softer side. I don't love his intermediate falsetto and the way he's ascending to it, but that was a relaxed, occasionally groovy showcase for instrumentation and quiet soul. I still found that more interesting that what Nick did and a comparable mixed bag to what Tyanna did.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry loved the set and the band, but he wished that Qaasim had done his runs better. Keith says the challenges were the transitions between the verses and the chorus on the falsetto. Yup. J-Lo says the stage is home for Qaasim, but he needs to have the notes right. Qaasim knows this wasn't his best performance.
9:22 p.m. More Kelly! She's kicking it old school with “At Last,” her “Idol” audition song. Kelly pausing to remove her ear pieces is a reminder that even singing under problematic circumstances, she's wicked good. “My ears didn't work!” Kelly squeals as the performance ends. Also, Kelly Clarkson's baby is irksomely cute.
9:27 p.m. Daniel, Rayvon and Clark are still waiting for results. Kelly doesn't have a clue what's coming.
9:32 p.m. The last straight-forward safe person is…
Singer: CLARK BECKHAM
Song: “The Trouble With Love Is”
My Take: Kelly telling everybody to open their eyes is a good point. And Scott's intros are just pathetic. Clark has taken the “eyes” note to heart. He's trying. He's not comfortable without an instrument, but he's made the decision to aim at the camera if he's not nothing else to work with. It's a good approach. This is, thankfully, just a great blues vocal, Clark's best vocal for weeks. And yeah, that was probably the best top-to-bottom performance of the night. Perhaps by a lot. The last note requires a little bit of wrestling to go from not-quite-there to raw-and-landing. But it does finally land.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith wants Clark to lead with the feeling. J-Lo thinks that's what Clark did tonight. Harry agrees with Keith, but also says Clark nailed that performance.
9:37 p.m. That means that it's going to be up to Twitter to decide between Daniel and Rayvon.
Singer: DANIEL SEAVEY
Song: “Break Away”
My Take: Yuck. Daniel has laryngitis. That can't possibly help. I really don't know who benefits from this dumb twist, but this may be America's chance to get rid of Daniel Seavey. Now's the time. Don't miss the opportunity, America! This is unpleasant and uncomfortable. He looks absolutely lost up there. Sigh. I don't want “American Idol” to make me actively dislike Daniel just because he keeps scraping by. As it stands, I view him as a kid who's in over his head.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo says Daniel did as well as he could do with it. Harry tells Daniel to keep practicing. Keith appreciates that Daniel is tackling big songs
Singer: RAYVON OWEN
Song: “Since You've Been Gone”
My Take: It's interesting that Rayvon and Daniel scored two of Kelly's biggest hits in the selection process. This is simultaneously a much better vocal than Daniel's, but also a real bore. It's not like Daniel's performance was exciting. I just would have liked for one of these two to have demanded they advance. Instead, I'm ambivalent. Or I'm more ambivalent than I want to be. Daniel should go home, but if it's Rayvon going home? Next week won't suffer all that much. Fine. That's not true. Next week will suffer because Daniel will perform again, but not from Rayvon's absence. But that still means Rayvon ought to advance and I'm not really ambivalent at all.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You have incredible chops, but where is your gravy?” Harry asks. J-Lo thinks Rayvon did a beautiful job, but tells him to keep pushing and risk.
9:54 p.m. Now we have five minutes of voting.
9:56 p.m. Only 25 more seconds. Keith doesn't say this is the wrong Bottom Two. J-Lo would hate to see either one of them go. But somebody has to go, J-Lo. That's how this works.
9:58 p.m. And the person staying safe is… RAYVON.
9:59 p.m. Farewell to Daniel Seavey, who went home before I ever really resented him. I know why he went as far as he did and I'm relieved he didn't go any further. I don't like this voting format, though, and I hope FOX remembers that West Coasters are people, too. Gracious, what if either of the Bottom Two contestants had been from California? [Daniel is from Portland, in fact. So… I'm calling BS on the whole thing. Bad, bad, bad idea and I won't blame Daniel Seavey fans for being pissed off he went out like this.]
TONIGHT'S BEST: Clark, Jax and probably Joey.
TONIGHT'S WORST: Basically everybody else was a blob of so-so-ness.