'American Idol': Top Nine Celebrate Kelly Clarkson

The first-season winner pushed the contestants to take her songs to the next level.
Courtesy of FOX
'American Idol'

Former American Idol winner and current pop superstar Kelly Clarkson dropped in on Idol to offer advice based on her own experiences to the top nine, who all sang Clarkson’s hits. Tonight’s episode also offered a twist: After all the votes were counted, the bottom two sang for a fan save, as viewers weighed in on Twitter for a live deliberation.

Second-season winner Ruben Studdard also returned to the Idol stage to deliver the official results from last week’s nationwide vote. Nick Fradiani was the first, through. He sang “Catch My Breath,” and the judges all agreed that he still needs to loosen up onstage, with Jennifer Lopez suggesting he work with someone on his stage movement. Fradiani still hasn’t done anything to wow, but as the most experienced contestant in the competition, he continually turns in a consistently solid performance.

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Jax Cole advanced next, wearing a stunning black dress with sheer sleeves, and sang “Beautiful Disaster.” She maintained most of the melody, but still made the arrangement her own, with some particularly interesting syncopation at the end. Cole’s artistry showed through without overpowering her vocal ability.

The top nine did a group performance of Clarkson’s “People Like Us,” and it was yet another mediocre group performance. Idol just doesn’t seem as invested in these group numbers as it used to be. The top 24 “Feelin’ Good” teaser from the beginning of the season is an exception, but the group performances in the live shows make these artists seem like they have no chemistry with one another.

Next, Tyanna Jones sang “Mr. Know It All.” Jones picked the song in the hopes of showing a rougher side, pulling from the emotions brought on by her experiences of being bullied. “Tyanna picked one of the sassiest songs in my catalogue,” Clarkson said. She did the powerful lyrics justice, and as Harry Connick Jr. pointed out, she sang so strongly, and from her heart, that it didn’t really matter that there were a few pitch problems.

In her rehearsal with Clarkson, Joey Cook surprised — and impressed — the superstar with her unique arrangement of arguably the best song from Clarkson’s catalogue: “Miss Independent.” Cook sang a jazzy version of the song that didn’t lose the original’s emotional potency. “You make me hear a lyric in a way I’ve never heard it before,” Keith Urban said of the performance, which was easily one of the best of the night.

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Clarkson performed her new “Heartbeat Song” before the next contestant, Quentin Alexander, advanced. Alexander narrowly edged out Cole for the best-dressed of the evening, singing “Dark Side” in an all-white suit. It was a striking performance, and Alexander incorporated Clarkson’s advice to go quieter on some of the notes, which made his arrangement more dynamic.

Qaasim Middleton sang an acoustic version of “Stronger” and accompanied himself on the guitar. He followed the judges’ advice by toning down his performance and keeping it simple, but it didn’t quite work. It was a decent performance, but not his best. But Middleton is still one of the best performers in the competition.

Clarkson pushed Clark Beckham to open up and bring vulnerability to his rendition of “The Trouble With Love Is.” Finding an emotional connection has been an ongoing problem for Beckham, who has yet to push himself out of his comfort zone. And he finally did it, giving his personal best to date and securing a Lopez standing ovation.

Rayvon Owen and Daniel Seavey were the bottom two, meaning they had to sing for the Twitter save. Seavey, who struggled with laryngitis this week, sang “Breakaway.” He had to keep the song pretty low to accommodate for his inflamed vocal chords, but that didn’t stop him from going for a big belt near the end. It was an average performance, and he was a little overpowered by the huge song.

Owen sang “Since U Been Gone,” another one of Clarkson’s best singles. It was a vocally strong performance, but as the judges pointed out, Owen still hasn’t found what makes him special.

Their fate was left to viewers, who used #SaveRayvon and #SaveDaniel on Twitter to cast their votes in real time. Owen secured the fan save, meaning it was the end of the road for 15-year-old Daniel Seavey. The Twitter vote seemed like a precarious way to handle the elimination this week. What did you think about the twist?