“American Idol” is never simple.

So just when it seemed like Atlantic Beach native Jax was storming her way into the finals with two strong performances, the judges had to throw her a curve ball and then criticize the way she tried to hit it.

In the Judges Choice round, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban gave the three remaining guys relative easy songs. Clark Beckham got The Weeknd’s current hit “Earned It.” Nick Fradiani got Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.” And Rayvon Owen got Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful,” right before he was finally eliminated after spending more than a month at the bottom of the voting.

And Jax? She got Paramore’s wide-ranging rocker “Misery Business,” which even Connick admitted was difficult to sing. Then, when she adapted it to a more “Idol”-like acoustic-driven arrangement, all three judges criticized her attempt to soften the hard-rocking song.

Connick declared Nick Fradiani the winner of that round, as he delivered an extraordinarily faithful version of “I’ll Be.”

At least Jax was able to have a great visit to her home in East Brunswick, N.J., where she got emotional at her high school. “This is the longest I’ve been away from home my entire life,” she said.

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She also got a great pep talk from her father, John Miskanic. “I don’t want you to forget what got you here -- the struggle, the sacrifice and the hard work -- because you’re up against these giants,” he told her. “You gotta win... You’re like Seabiscuit. You don’t lose.”

Here’s how the rest of the night shook out:

1. JAX, “My Generation”: “American Idol, this is our generation!” Jax screamed near the end of The Who classic, somehow balancing the singing competition need for mainstream acceptance with the song’s counter-cultural defiance. No small task, but she nailed it. “That was your best performance right there,” Urban said. Lopez said, “You killed that.” Connick said he was happy she made the most of her opportunities. “By far, the best performance you’ve done so far,” he said.

2. JAX, “My Immortal”: Her piano-driven take on the Evanescence hit was as pretty and hard to ignore as the glittering pedestal that raised her and her piano high above the stage. She took a chance by keeping the song quiet the entire time, but it paid off with her emotion. “There’s a humility and a confidence that you have that I think is integral for a superstar,” Lopez said. “You always have to remember where you come from … I think you’re amazing.”

3. CLARK BECKHAM, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”: He burns down the Otis Redding classic, showing that he fares way better when he’s comfortable with the material, though Urban was right when he said it lacked a bit of struggle. “I felt like I got to know you a little bit more,” Connick said. “It was nice to see.” Lopez said this where you’re at home. “I felt your heart on it,” he said.

4. CLARK BECKHAM, “Earned It”: He nails the “50 Shades of Grey” soundtrack hit from The Weeknd, showing that he could really fit into today’s radio formats easily. “It was really, really strong,” Connick said. Lopez said he did his own version. “Towards the end, it got electric,” she said. “I got the goosies.”

5. NICK FRADIANI, “I’ll Be”: It’s interesting how in the past the judges would want the contestants to put their stamp on a song, but in Nick’s case they fall all over themselves praising him, even though he sang it just like Edwin McCain. “That was a great vocal,” Connick said. “I really thought you nailed that song.” Urban, who gave the song the night’s only standing ovation, said he pictured him as a rock singer-songwriter.

6. NICK FRADIANI, “Because the Night”: Nick started off off-key, but righted himself pretty quickly on the Bruce Springsteen/Patti Smith song. It was sort of a low-risk, low-reward choice, but Nick made it through pretty well. “I thought it was fantastic,” Connick said. “Every week, I’m seeing more and more of you.” Urban said it was a perfect song for him. “I don’t feel like you’re connecting with the words as much,” Lopez said.

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7. JAX, “Misery Business”: Jax wisely turns Paramore’s powerhouse smash into an acoustic number, allowing her voice to soar without screaming like Hayley Williams does in the original. “You sang phenomenally,” Urban said, but he and Lopez wanted the louder version. “It’s the week before the finale,” Lopez said. “You gotta steal the show.”

8. CLARK BECKHAM, “Beautiful Day”: The U2 song is really tough to sing, with traps at the low end (which snare Clark immediately) and at the top, where Clark actually shines. “That was really suited to your voice,” Lopez said. “It was a really, really good performance.” Connick said the band was exceptional, but thought his delivery was confused at the beginning. “It was a little bit counting steps,” Urban said. “You should have risen up a little more to the band.”

9. NICK FRADIANI, “Back Home”: His choice of the Andy Grammer song kind of raises the question of what he would be in his post-“Idol” career. Does the world need another Andy Grammer? “Each week we’ve seen you get better and better,” Lopez said. “I don’t know how people are going to choose among all of you.” Connick said no critique was needed.

 

SHOULD BE CUT Nick

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WILL BE CUT Nick

ACTUALLY CUT ???