“American Idol” opened its final week, then at Detroit’s Fillmore theatre on March 4 with royal fanfare, with a performance from none other than Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, to ring in the evening. The legendary Franklin sang “I Will Survive,” included as “the Aretha version” on her latest release ”Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.” The message must have been intentional, because at 72, not only is the singer herself thriving, but by the end of the night, only eight from the dozen Idol guys would go forward, leaving the four getting lowest votes to head back home. Every one of the guys was dancing, with Savion Wright showing his characteristic spirit, and Keith Urban offering the first standing ovation to Queen Aretha, who told Ryan Seacrest how good it felt to be home “in the D.”
No one knew his fate until his name was called, and youngest contestant, Daniel Seavey, was genuinely shocked when his name came up, but he slid right into “How Sweet It Is” with more of a smooth shuffle than any swagger to his blue-eyed soul style. Keith Urban offered congratulations with, “you made it, man,” and encouraging Daniel to be unafraid to go high with the song, considering his range. Jennifer Lopez said . It was clear that Daniel was more relaxed, and Harry Connick, Jr. coached that Daniel should let “this great band push you” and the performance. It was a lot to take in for someone so young, but Seavey is showing he’s a star pupil. Mark Andrew was next on stage, with The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” He has a complete ease onstage, as well as in his own skin, and it all comes through. Jennifer Lopez wasn’t sure about the song performed “that way,” relating to the arrangement, while Harry liked that fresh twist, but cautioned that the performance was like “a jam band” rehearsal. Keith said, “I’m glad you’re here,” so America will hear Mark, and decide for themselves. Rayvon Owen made a striking impression, singing “My Girl” in sleek black, with smooth style. Harry and Keith both thought Rayvon’s performance was strong, but coaxed him to show a little edge, and be a little darker in his future performances. Jennifer Lopez was captivated, saying he made the song his own. The audience has no problem eating Owen up!
Adam Ezegelian insisted that he was “just me” onstage, just like the toymaker is on the streets or in his creative shop, but it’s certain that he is a performer, tearing into “I Want You Back” in tie and tails this time. He told host, Seacrest, that he might wear a tutu for the finale, and Keith Urban raved “love you here,” and that the song was a perfect choice. Harry Connick, Jr. added to the praise, saying it was “the voice” that truly makes Adam stand out, saying he “nailed every note.” Jennifer added a last “good job.” Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records, said that the performances proved that the buzz about Season 14’s talent was well-earned, and then he gave a glowing introduction to Clark Beckham, who gave his own unique interpretation of “Tracks of My Tears.” It was definitely different, with a certain staccato tempo with a big speed-up at the end. Jennifer glowed with praise for Beckham’s talent, saying that he needed to let the feeling come through, while Harry said the song lacked a beginning, a middle, and an end. Keith Urban said he would have preferred a performance with no band, and just Clark with an acoustic guitar. Nick Fadriani, the season’s elder performer at 29, started a Stevie Wonder festival of sorts, starting with his “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” in a more traditional arrangement. Harry said Nick was “very strong” tonight, but needed to smile more, which he actually did a few times. Keith asked Nick if he was comfortable with his guitar, adding that if he wasn’t, he should leave it behind. Ms. Lopez credited the performance as another good job.
The standout performance of the night came next, as Qaasim Middleton made sure that not only was Brooklyn in the house, but plenty of funk, too, with his super-energized Stevie Wonder classic, “I Wish,” complete with his exuberant, helicopter swirling. “You’re so good,” Keith Urban gushed, saying that Qaasim explodes onstage. Jennifer said “you’re so damn funky” to her fellow New Yorker, but that she wished America could hear the singer that he was. Harry thought the singing was just fine, and said that if anyone asked about what the judges were looking for, “that’s what we’re looking for,” pointing at Middleton. A sad tone came over the proceedings, as the time came for the final name to be called, filling the last of the eight slots. That name was Quentin Alexander, famous for having his coat held by Jennifer Lopez. Alexander captured the perfect feel for Stevie’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” needing no assistance of any kind. Jennifer Lopez called his performance “so good,” with Harry complimenting, “I felt that,” and Keith closing comments with “you know who you are,” before giving a well earned bow of credit and farewell to Michael Simeon, Trevor Douglas, Riley Bria, and Savion Wright. Each of these young men has immense talent, and a special future awaiting.
Tomorrow, eight from among the ladies will be chosen from the vote. “American Idol” airs Wednesday and Thursday on FOX. Season 14 is quickly surging toward the finish.