“American Idol” has had the lion’s share of headlines this week, with so much attention on Season 15 being the premier singing competition’s swan song that tonight’s May 12 lead up to tomorrow’s finale got far less focus than normal. A bittersweet parting began the night, and the performances proved yet again how this competition goes far beyond finding quality singers, and instead, truly puts effort into crafting enduring performers. Emotion pulsed from families, to the crowd, and from the judges’ panel to the stage!
Host, Ryan Seacrest, stood on an already darkened stage as the proceedings opened, with a curtain still keeping him from view of the audience until a vital revelation of the week’s vote was completed. Clark Beckham, Nick Fradiani, and JAX came center stage, with JAX between the gentlemen, shimmering in flowing silver. This time, the official statistician delivered the count, and Ryan revealed that the vote came down to a matter of .4 differential. JAX would not be part of the bout for the title, but her life as a performer is forever transformed, as the girl from New Jersey gigging on her piano, won’t ever have to struggle to make herself known from now on, and her sound will be her signature. She seemed still stunned as she stayed for her montage, and made her way to family. She will be part of tomorrow’s festivities, and performing across the country on the “American Idol” Top 5 tour. All of the Top 10 for the season cheered on from the audience, and a roar went up with the curtain, as Nick, Clark, and Ryan stood before an adoring crowd. Judges, Jennifer Lopez, wowing in her white pantsuit, Keith Urban, uncharacteristically donning a stylish black suit jacket, and Harry Connick, Jr., ever dapper, came to their seats.
Selections for the night’s three rounds would be comprised of past favorites from the competitors, songs chosen by “Idol” creator, Simon Fuller, and finally, the singles to be released by the ultimate, voted winner. Clark Beckham went to the comfort of “Georgia on My Mind” once more, playing on piano, this time with more connection and soul than in his earlier days. Keith Urban called it “like a mess of flapjacks drenched in syrup.” Jennifer Lopez said “you are reminding us of why you are here,” and Harry remarked that he can always feel “the undercurrent of drive” from Clark. Nick came on next with “Bright Lights,” which he just performed two weeks ago, but he seemed to have all new energy. Jennifer Lopez said that when Simon Fuller envisioned the show, he thought of someone like Nick, who was “the whole package” of singer, performer, and artist. Harry implored America to vote, saying this was the perfect time for those not moved to vote until now to jump in, and Keith praised that “I relate to you,” proving that success is about far more than great singing.
Hand it to Simon Fuller, his selections were spot on, and it started with Clark’s turn on the amazing Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Beckham didn’t carry off Bill’s beautiful run of “I know’s,” but passion was more raw and present than ever in these acoustic performance, and Harry Connick, Jr. commended the courage it takes to perform to slow songs so well, and with such commitment. He compared the contending singers as “a boxer and a puncher,” both so strong, yet so different. Keith made a cute Bill Withers joke, and Jennifer had a question, “Who is she? Who were you singing to?” She added that he didn’t have to answer! Fuller’s choice for Fradiani was just as superbly fitted– Jason Mraz’ “I Won’t Give Up.” If anything, Nick poured even more emotion than the composer into the lyrics, as his phrasing was perfect in the rapid-fire bridge portion. Keith Urban pointed out that it was Nick’s first performance on piano and “very powerful,” and the song “perfect.” Jennifer Lopez echoed “perfect,” relating that these final two were going “toe to toe.” Harry said he loved how Nick “lays it out emotionally.” Things got physical when Jennifer was teased for calling the first round a tie, despite the chants of “you must choose,” and then Harry resorted to saying it was a tie, because each man had won a round, resulting in a playful strangle!
Big Machine Records founder and “Idol” mentor, Scott Borchetta, worked on recording the songs crafted for each artist in the studio, bringing out the best, like Clark’s “sweet spot,” and Nick’s high-energy. “Champion” is Beckham’s song, and it was clear that he loved the phrasing of “sons of a promised dream,” breaking from his usual, “stick to the song” mode, and yelling out in emotion. Jennifer Lopez could only say it was “a tough night” to come to the final decision. Harry said the performance was good, but the choice now is beyond just a performance. Keith said the song was “inspiring,” and he felt inspired. Fradiani’s unique song is “Beautiful Life,” which he described as “Goo Goo Dolls meets Fun meets me.” The unifying anthem had every hand in the air, and the singer feeling the joy, with the song having far less production and more pure energy. Harry said the song “perfectly fit you,” and Jennifer’s favorite moment was the pause for “Wow” before carrying on with his tune. Keith Urban complimented that people in America were saying, “I want to buy that record!” Judge Urban didn’t hesitate when called upon, saying he was slightly more “in Nick’s camp.” Does America agree?