This… is the end of American Idol. FOX announced Monday morning that next year’s 15th season of the Show that Simon Cowell Built will be its last. FOX chairman and CEO Dana Walden said that it was a “pretty emotional decision” to end the once mighty juggernaut and I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. This is the right decision at the right time.
At the ratings peak of its 5th season in 2006, the show drew an average of 31 million viewers, with the finale drawing in a whopping 36 million viewers (#CatchTheMcPheever). Cut to last week and season 14’s Top 4 episode drew in a measly 7.3 million viewers. Once able to defeat all shows in its path, Idol now is consistently beaten by the 30th season of Survivor. The Death Star has finally exploded.
While the cultural watercooler has moved on way past the days of #TeamClay vs. #TeamRuben, or even #TeamAdam vs. #TeamKris, we still have this year’s Idol finale to get through. Join my trusty Idol partner-in-crime, Jonathan Yu, and I as we break down the season 14 Top 3 contestants of Clark Beckham, Jax, and Nick Fradiani.
Jonathan Amores: Clark Beckham will win American Idol this year. The resident blue-eyed soul singer certainly fits in the inoffensive White Guy with Guitar-type that Idol’s audiences have come to know and love and vote for to win. He also has the musical chops to claim that he’s earned the win. During Top 7 week, judge Harry Connick, Jr. called Clark “the only musician left in the competition,” much to the chagrin of Clark’s fellow musicians.
However, I can’t seem to get fired up about him at all. During the semi-finals, Clark appeared to have so much potential with crackling performances like “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” but his soulful promise has largely gone unfulfilled. He’s undeniably talented, but he’s shown that he’s not going to push himself enough to be provocative. Clark has stuck firmly to his artistic guns, for better or for worse.
Jonathan Yu: Sorry to say, but I think it’s for the worse, and came out of nowhere. Up until that point, he’s picked songs that would position him as a soulful John Mayer à la “Gravity,” but *TWIST* the John Mayer that he really wants to be is the afternoon bedroom jams version à la “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” Which, while not the worst thing in the world, is a bit of a bait-and-switch. It’s unfortunate that the most passion we’ve seen from Clark all season is when he vehemently defended his choice of song and arrangement for “Your Man.”
JA: The trouble with Clark is that while he’s a killer singer to listen to, he’s a flat-out bore to watch. What’s most frustrating is that his blue-eyed soul never reaches his eyes at all. We hear the passion in his voice, but all we see is a vacant stare. Clark has failed to grow as a performer, especially in these past few weeks when peaking at the right time is crucial. I’d be more supportive of his impending victory if he were able to find deeper emotional connections with his songs.
JY: Yeah… his lack of visual emotions is certainly disheartening, and his lack of growth makes for a boring contender. That said, I still think Clark should win, simply because of his magnificent voice. Sure, Clark has been stagnant pretty much from the beginning, but for me, where he started from still trumps where some competitors have grown to. You can’t teach a soulful growl like his.
The Clark performance you need to watch: Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain”
JA: Of the Top 3 contestants, Jax is the most willing to push the musical envelope and expand her artistic palette. She’s full of surprises while Clark and Nick deliver more of the same. Outside of Quentin Alexander and Joey Cook, Jax is the only contestant who turned songs inside out and spun songs on their head.
From rocking out with the Idol band to playing heartfelt ballads on the piano, the longer the season dragged on, the more her spirited performances stood out. She’s the only left with the energy, or, to put it bluntly, the f*cks, left to give. Jax and her fiery fearlessness is my close second for who should win this season.
JY: Yeah, I think you’re right in that she mostly falls into three modes: Rocker \m/, Piano Ballads, and Jaxperimentation. While I appreciate Jax’s willingness to experiment and switch up the arrangements, I would say it only works out for her half of the time. For every “Bang Bang,” there is a “Poker Face.”
Jax’s rocker side is convincing, even if sometimes the song can overwhelm her (see: “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” (GUY?!?!?!)). When it comes to piano ballads, however, she truly shines. “White Flag” is one of my favorite performance of the season. When she tones down her vocal affectations and displays vulnerability with her voice, she is magical.
JA: “White Flag” is one of my favorites as well, and I agree that overall, Jax is hit or miss. Vocally, the affected slinkiness in her voice just doesn’t sit well with me either. At times, she comes off as trying a little too hard. Perhaps it’s her age, but she can come off like she’s playing dress up, especially when she has her rocker pants on.
But let’s be honest, I really just wanted Jena Irene to win American Idol last year and Jax is the next best thing. It’s easy to compare the two young sensitive rockers (heck, they’ve both covered Paramore and Evanescence), but Jax simply pales in comparison. Jena was able to tap into a deeper, more powerful well of emotion than Jax has this season (see: Jena’s masterful “Can’t Help Falling In Love”), but at least Jax attempts such depths at all, unlike her male competition. Here’s hoping Jax can make it to second place, as Jena did the year before.
The Jax performance you need to watch: Dido’s “White Flag”
JY: Nick “Daughtry With Hair” Fradiani. Where do I even begin? I ask not because I have a lot of say about him, but because I have none. His particular brand of adult contemporary is just not very exciting to me. While Daughtry was groundbreaking in the context of the show, as rock was never a fully represented genre on Idol before season 5, by season 14, it just feels stale.
JA: Agreed. Yes, Nick knows who he is as an artist; yes, he’s grown in his stage presence and performance level; yes, he’s peaking at the right moment. But at the end of the day, all of his performances blend together into a guitar-laden blur that will never appeal to me either.
What frightens me (what hurts the most?) is that Nick Fradiani could win the sash and crown without taking a single freaking risk. Nick has stayed squarely in his AC lane with classic rock hits from The Boss and Tom Petty, but while he’s adept in the driver’s seat, there’s never any danger of speeding or taking unexpected turns. Where’s the thrill in that?
The Nick performance you need to watch: Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most”
WHO REALLY SHOULD HAVE WON THIS SEASON
JY: Sarina-Joi Crowe had it all: The inspiring backstory (if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try and try again) matched only by her voice. Her sound harkened back to the olden days of Idol where big-voiced singers ruled, except she came in a contemporary package that could be heard on the radio today.
Sarina-Joi’s choice of this incredibly difficult Jessie J song is perfect for the semi-finals. It showcased all the power in her voice while simultaneously remaining controlled. And let’s be real, any performance that ends with (*spoiler alert*) a high kick is a performance I can get behind.
The Sarina-Joi performance you need to watch: Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best”