Even making it into the coveted, cozy contingent of the “American Idol” Top 5 doesn’t mean there’s even a second of smooth sailing. In fact, it’s almost like a new competition begins again, and even though the five chosen talents are sure of the summer tour, nothing else is a sure thing, especially when the April 29 challenge was to embrace the wide swing of reflecting hometown impressions of the judges, and then make a second choice to show a sonic imprint of the soul. Four of the tremendous voices vying for the title will make hometown trips next week, and for one, it means a sad parting, even before the performances are finished.
Big Machine Records’ top talent guy and Season 14’mentor, Scott Borchetta, took a big chunk of the mentoring burden this week, at times being brutally honest, but expressing how he “really cared” about the talents. He rolled out the first class treatment for the five, flying them by his own private jet to Nashville, and letting them soak in the history of select spots where great music is created, and then getting some very direct mentoring from Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride, who also mentored hopefuls in Season 6. As always, Jennifer Lopez’ wardrobe climbs the impact ladder as the weeks to the final vote become few, and she was a mass a black-and-white bedazzled beauty, making her entrance before Russell Crowe came forth with the awaited results, fulfilling the obligatory promotion of his film, The Water Diviner, before the nationwide audience. Clark Beckham came out first with Stevie Wonder’s timelessly powerful “Living for the City,” and no matter the vocal prowess that Clark possesses, he cannot summon the emotional grit and the portrait that the classic captures. His piano pauses were much more natural and human, and Keith Urban wished he had stayed there. Harry said that Clark didn’t find “the pocket” in the performance, and Jennifer again mentioned that Clark needs to emotionally connect with his audience. JAX sounded even more authentic with worn, ragged rasp to her voice on “Empire State of Mind,” which only exemplifies that she understands what it is to sing through times of not being totally perfect on stage, making her even more the artist, and Keith Urban commended that “artistic foundation.” Jennifer Lopez credited that JAX was completely able to win this competition, but didn’t feel this song. Harry seemed to concur with the credibility JAX demonstrated as a performer, noting how she “sang through” limitations to really deliver.
“Bright Lights” was Nick Fradiani’s first choice. The Matchbox 20 tune fits like the perfect bolt in Nick’s wheelhouse, and Jennifer Lopez was reeled right in with the rest of the audience, raving right the close. Revisiting rock standards is Fridiani’s niche, and tonight, he showed he had incorporated and digested the advice about just relaxing and letting things happen. He was totally at ease. Harry Connick, Jr. felt that same comfortable groove, Keith said he was beginning to see “killer instinct” in Fradiani, and Jennifer couldn’t keep from sounding like a teenager, in a near-squeal, shouting out “You’re peaking at the right time!” as if her responses during the performance didn’t speak loudly enough.
In his own hometown tribute, Harry Connick, Jr. performs “City Beneath the Sea,” and no matter the mixed reviews, no one can deny his sincerity or depth as a live performer. Ryan Seacrest announces that he has a news flash, and Tyanna Jones and Rayvon Owen make their way to stage marks. Owen is granted the spot in the Top 4, and that means farewell to the Tyanna, who performed “Run the World (Girls)” looking more mature and elegant than ever in her black jumpsuit. Harry told her early in the competition that he had a hard time finding anything that she could not sing, and she will surely be singing, and growing into her “spectacular gift” of her voice, as Harry offered as parting words. Jennifer gave the assurance that the rest of her journey would be great, and Keith praised her last “Idol” stage performance. She won’t wait long to perform before a loyal and loving Jacksonville crowd, because a tour stop at the Florida Theatre comes July 15.
Rayvon had to feel relief as he sang “Need You Now,” for the first time knowing it wasn’t for his survival, and he took the results card from Ryan as a souvenir. Keith credited that he loves when an artist makes a song his own, but then cautioned that he would’ve preferred “less dramatics and more heart.” Jennifer admonished yet again that performance is about connection, and although the singing was really “pretty,” there had to be more. Harry said Rayvon was “100% on point, and he felt the earnestness. There was an interlude of Keith extolling his transplanted home territory of Nashville, and then Harry saying that the “gravy” that the talents were challenged to show in their next selections had to “taste good” to the soul. Jay DeMarcus took charge was more mentoring for this portion, and Martina McBride sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” showing fusion of heart and elegance. Martina bears witness to sticking it out to find success, seeing as she and her husband started out in the merchandise booths on the road with Garth Brooks. After a break for some science fun sending voice waves through water drops with Destin Sandlin of YouTube’s Smarter Every Day, Clark Beckham was determined to stick to his guns with Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” despite Bochetta telling him that the song could take him to the “Holiday Inn of music.” The panel wasn’t sold on the song either, Jennifer Lopez noting that it was not the performance to “blow away” an audience, Keith saying it was no killer song, and Harry calling it “tepid.” From that point, Beckham seemed nearly begging everyone to see his passion, and Keith pointed out the huge difference between “liking you and liking the music,” while Harry told Clark to “get into that groovy stuff” and sing to Jennifer! JAX made every point that the judges were getting at with her performance of Christina Perri’s “Human,” missing perfect pitch, but capturing every element of a moving performance. Even before she took the stage, Martina McBride had no comments, and Harry called it a perfect example of what the judges are always talking about. Jennifer loves that JAX looks at her audience and draws them in, and Keith said she killed it. JAX got another unexpected surprise at the Blackbird Studios, where Steven Tyler has been recording his country flavored album. Not only did she get to sing a sample with her Idol, she locked up performing with him for the finale on May 13.
Rayvon stayed on a roll with his performance of “Believe,” better than Justin Bieber could ever deliver, and dedicated to his mom, living out every note from the audience. This was not just the best mentoring session, as noted by Borchetta, it was the most real, emotionally rich performance ever for Owen. True gospel soul was summoned up, and everyone was taken to church! A lingering embrace with his mother was the capstone. Keith Urban said. It was “phenomenal,” remarking that Rayvon’s mom was in church through the whole song. Jennifer said simply, “Beautiful– that’s it!” Ever the stickler for details, Harry said every one of the fifteen writers of the song were made proud by that performance. Nick was the closer for the night, and before he was introduced to the week’s mentor, he switched to the Rascal Flatts’ hit, “What Hurts the Most,” and he hit on all cylinders, singing with just a microphone. It was a reception of raving applause from the audience, and Jennifer saying “You’re the star of the night .” Harry said that Nick had nailed it, and Keith was sure that social media would be showing support for the performances.
Who will hit the biggest home run on the hometown visits?