American Idol Season 14 Episode 23 Review: “Top 8 Perform”

American Idolh

For one night only, we get to return to where it all began. Kelly Clarkson comes home to American Idol to show these kids what it means to win the show and what to do after claiming the crown. “Her dream realized is theirs to chase.” Not only does Kelly return to mentor the contestants, but the night’s theme is all about our extraordinary original Idol. The result? The most satisfying two-hour episode of this show in a long, long time.

The night kicks off with a clip of a fresh-faced waitress from Burleson, Texas in 2002, declaring why she wants to be the first American Idol. That clip is then followed by a montage of Kelly’s amazing success story, with song and video clips from the last 13 years. And perhaps as a reminder to the contestants that every Idol winner doesn’t rise to the Kelly Clarkson level of success, season 2 winner Ruben Studdard is on hand to deliver the results envelope to Ryan Seacrest.

A new twist is unveiled, letting us know that when the bottom two contestants are revealed, they will each be given the chance to perform. America will then take to the twitterverse to vote who should be saved, in real time.

The first name called for the night is Nick Fradiani. He performs “Catch My Breath” and Kelly’s only wish for him is that “he opens his dang eyes.” I actually like the male take on this Kelly song that I love, and I realize this will be a tough night for me. I love Kelly and her songs so much, it’s going to be hard for me to hear them come from others without being biased. I also find out there are few things in this world that bring joy to my heart like Jennifer Lopez lip-syncing along to a Kelly Clarkson song. Jen would like to see Nick work on his stage movement without thinking so much about it, while Harry says it was not his favorite Nick vocal, but likes that the performance seemed comfortable.

Jax for the win, just for the fact that she chose one of the two songs that I was hoping to hear performed this night. She puts her own Jax style on “Beautiful Disaster” and strips it down. During her mentor session with the Idol OG, Kelly tells her she is an artist and has no notes to give her.  I’m still not sold on the goth-inspired/biker-chic look, and I feel kind of like Jax is playing dress up, pretending to be someone else. I don’t get a natural vibe from how she portrays herself. I LOVE the song, and I like her version of it fine. I just don’t know if I believe her. From the bare feet to the long black train dress, something just doesn’t feel right. Jennifer thinks it’s a “pure version of Jax” and Harry thinks it’s “fantastic.” Keith thinks there’s so much artistry there, but also sees inconsistency with her performances.

Our Idol top 9 take the stage together for this week’s group number, Kelly’s “People Like Us.” Again, this is a KC song that I love, and I’m worried with what’s about to happen. I love the vibe of Kelly’s rocked-out/edgy version, and this performance feels like a high school show choir version, without cool choreography. (And I don’t mean the New Directions of McKinley High, mind you.)

Tyanna Jones takes the third spot, and I am still waiting for her to return to her front-runner glory. As an ode to bullies in her life, she takes on “Mr. Know It All.” I think Tyanna does okay;  she’s just fallen into the trap where I love Kelly’s version so much, that this pales in comparison. I almost feel like it would have been a better idea to have chosen songs that weren’t singles, maybe. Harry feels like this is a mysterious song and also thinks there’s so much mystery surrounding Tyanna. He feels as if he doesn’t really know her at all. Keith doesn’t feel like she committed to what the song is truly about.

And as if the Ruben Studdard cameo wasn’t enough to remind these Idol hopefuls about fading into obscurity, Candice Glover is in the audience for a shout-out. I have no idea what season she won or how talented she is, because I didn’t watch her season. All I know is, I still have no idea who she is.

Next up is Joey Cook, and she takes us back to Kelly’s first single from her debut album, “Miss Independent.” I think if you’re going to do a well-known song by a well-known artist, this is the way to do it. Joey puts her own stamp on it, and it’s a win for me. During her mentor session, Kelly predicts that this will be one of the best performances of the night. I could see Joey not winning this competition and still being one of the biggest names to come from this season. Keith loves the fact that she didn’t simply change the song, but that she built a completely new version, effortlessly. Harry gives her an A+ for bravery, and for always staying left-of-center; he just wishes there wasn’t so much “novelty” with a jazz performance.

It’s now Kelly’s turn to shine, as she takes the stage for “Heartbeat Song.” I can’t say enough how much happy Kelly Clarkson fills my heart with. If J.Lo is my girl crush, then Kelly is my secret best friend that nobody knows about. (“I auditioned with Kelly Clarkson for American Idol in 2002 in Dallas, and we went on a midnight doughnut run together.” That’s always my lie when doing the team-building activity “2 Truths & a Lie.”) After Kelly’s performance, Ryan declares “That’s how you do it.” #truth

Quentin Alexander takes the fifth spot and brings us all to the “Dark Side.” Much like Joey, he makes this song his own, and it works. Kelly calls him “kind of the coolest guy on the show,” and you almost can’t argue with her on that one. Jennifer Lopez has her first official Paula Abdul moment as she rejoices “I’m so glad we saved you!” Um, you didn’t. (In her defense, though, he was a judges’ Wild Card pick.) Keith thinks that real beauty is in truth, and he feels like Quentin performs with truth. (That’s a little deep for me.)

The next name called is Qaasim Middleton, who landed me in some social media hot water last week. He may or may not have had an upset family member send me a lengthy Facebook message blasting me for my “evil” and “mean-spirited” reviews. (Excuse me, I use random hashtags. How dare you.) He brings us “Stronger,” and it’s also a completely different take. It’s actually my favorite performance of his of the season, and no, I’m not just saying that to avoid the angry mob that might come after me. Maybe it’s because it’s a Kelly song, maybe it’s because he’s not flailing about the stage, but it works for me. (I’m still not voting for him, though.) Harry offers up some criticism and says it wasn’t his best, and Keith feels as though Qaasim felt “unsure” about the performance. (Oh no, boys… brace yourselves for an angry letter.)

We get another flashback to Kelly’s original Idol audition, where she performed “At Last” by Etta James. She again takes the stage, this time paying tribute to how it all began by performing this song. I love Kelly Clarkson. Remind me to tell you about the time we went on a midnight doughnut run sometime…

The seventh spot goes to Clark Beckham. He brings with him the not-so-common Kelly song “The Trouble With Love Is,” which is also from her first album. He is full of soul and just makes my eyes and ears happy. Keith thinks Clark has set the bar so high  and describes his tone and his voice as beautiful. (So is his face, Keith.) J.Lo has goosies from head to toe  and loves his “movie star good looks.” (Me too, Jen.) Harry loves the fact that he sang a Kelly Clarkson song, on a stage where he is following a Kelly Clarkson performance, and nailed it. (Word, HCJ.)

The bottom two of the night are revealed, and it’s end-game for either Daniel Seavey or Rayvon Owen. Each get a chance to perform their song, and Daniel is up first with “Breakaway.” He delivers what I feel is a bottom two worthy performance.  Rayvon serves up his own take on “Since U Been Gone” and I love it. During his mentor session, Kelly says “I never would have made it this season!” Um, Kel? Yeah you would have… and you would have won, still. Rayvon performs with a harp on the stage (and I love harps like I love mermaids), and the judges don’t seem to love it like I do. Harry thinks he’s “all chops, no gravy,” and J.Lo encourages him to “keep pushing, keep going.”

After five minutes of commercials and filler, to allow time for America to work their Twitter magic with #SaveDaniel and #SaveRayvon, it is time to… DIM THE LIGHTS!

Rayvon Owen claims the eighth spot, and it’s curtains for our American Junior.

Thank you Kelly Clarkson, for reminding why I fell in love with American Idol all those years ago.

[Photo via FOX]

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