4:00pm PT by Michele Amabile Angermiller, Billboard
'American Idol' Season 14: Why Jax Should Win (Opinion)
Way back in January, American Idol viewers watched an 18-year old girl from New Jersey walk into a New York audition room, sit at the piano and perform a delicate, intricate version of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
In that moment, Season 14 of the Fox singing competition officially began with the arrival of Jackie Cole Miskanic — otherwise known as Jax. Fittingly, it should end with Jax standing in the confetti.
Even at that first tryout, her talent was undeniable, as guest judge and Idol legend Adam Lambert practically sealed the deal, saying he was “drawn in immediately," and adding, "You have the ‘it’ thing."
That she does, right down to her signature “X” on her cheek and her easy-to-remember stage name. If there is one thing Jax brings to the competition every week, it’s a sense of style, an important ingredient in the making of a pop superstar.
In what was the ultimate display of “Idol Worship," at Jax's homecoming in East Brunswick, N.J., so many little girls emulated their heroine by painting the “X” on their own cheeks. But here is the thing: as much as Jax has the look and feel of a star, she also possesses a girl-next-door quality and a humbleness that make her accessible, and that is part of her appeal. All of these attributes were laid bare on the Idol stage in her vocal rendering of “Human” by Christina Perri, launching her into the top three and possibly paving the way toward victory.
Early in her journey, Jax demonstrated her ability to artistically utilize her vocals and make a song undeniably her own. During Hollywood Week, a brief teaser of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” demonstrated a quiet elegance in her phrasing, and her sultry and captivating interpretation of “Toxic” by Britney Spears offered a mere glimpse into the way she creatively uses her vocal cords.
There also is a certain cool factor to Jax. To wit: She unearthed Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” daring to sing a cappella before going into an interesting arrangement that showed us just the kind of artist she can be — a punk-pop goddess with a tone that can fit in quite nicely on the radio. Even better, the Jersey girl took fellow Garden State hero Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and turned it inside out — think: Lady Gaga meets Tori Amos — to dramatic effect. Simply put: Jax has moxie.
From the moment Jax lets out her first note, you know it's her singing. Isn’t that the mark of an artist?
Of course, it hasn’t all been pretty. Jax had a shaky moment with a near-disastrous take on Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” But even then, her musical theater training saved her, as she managed to sell it with her undeniable stage presence and ability to connect with the audience. If there is one thing we can say about Jax, she is fearless when it comes to interacting with fans in the front row.
Plus, she’s quirky and makes interesting song choices. Who else would go “high risk,” as Harry Connick, Jr. put it during “Songs From the Movies” week, and pick an Adam Sandler tune from The Wedding Singer? She took what is basically a cute joke song and turned it into something Colbie Caillat might record.
And then there was that moment during semifinals week as she embraced her inner rock star and grabbed hold of The Who’s “My Generation," turning it into a millennial anthem. That is Jax's strength — taking old songs and making them sound current and cool. But at the same time, she reins it in at the piano, like she did with her achingly tender turn with Evanescence’s “My Immortal.” Jax can be fearless and free and exquisitely human all at once.
Finally, it must be said: If either she or Nick Fradiani make the top two, it would be the first time in eons that a singer from the Northeast would have a shot at the Idol title. With the exception of season nine’s Lee DeWyze and season six’s Jordin Sparks, every winner has been from the South. It would be a nice change of pace to see a different region represented in the win category. But from a marketing and pop culture standpoint, the victor should be Jax.