Will Jax be crowned the next "American Idol" on Wednesday night?
In one of only a few times in the show's 14-year history, it may be too soon to tell. Generally, by the time we reach Finale Week, there is an odds-on favorite.
But, as judge Jennifer Lopez noted last week, this season there is no front-runner. "We have kind of a battle of the artists," she said. "It's not a battle of the Big Voice vs. The Songwriter . . . the traditional 'Idol' cast. This is the first time where we have four individual artists -- any one of them, with the right performances, stealing the show, can take it."
After the elimination of falsetto-loving R&B singer Rayvon Owen last week, the "Idol" field is down to three -- the Atlantic Beach native Jax, bluesy singer Clark Beckham and mainstream rocker Nick Fradiani. And Lopez is right, any one of them could take home the title.
Jax, who auditioned for the show at Nassau Coliseum last summer, is the best performer by far, combining her inventive arrangements with her distinctive, powerful voice. In a touching moment during her hometown visit, her father, John Miskanic, offered a great pep talk. "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."
Beckham and Fradiani may have something to say about that, though. The blond-haired bluesman Beckham has been a fan favorite all season, generally racking up the most sales on the iTunes chart and, in recent weeks, the most complaints from the judges. Fradiani, on the other hand, has grown into the judges' favorite, landing the only standing ovation from the judges last week for his version of Edwin McCain's "I'll Be."
In a rare "Idol" occurrence, Tuesday night's finale performances (9 p.m., Fox/5) could actually sway enough votes to determine this season's winner. However, Season 14's winner isn't the only thing up in the air about "American Idol."
The one-time ratings juggernaut posted several weeks of record-low ratings, with double-digit drops that put the show behind CBS' "Survivor" and ABC's "The Middle," especially after "Empire" ended its run in March with "Idol" as its lead-in. Though "Idol" execs like to point out that NBC's "The Voice" has yet to yield a Kelly Clarkson-level superstar, "Voice" execs can point to an iTunes Top 10 regularly filled with its contestants, while most weeks, "Idol" singers can barely scratch the Top 200. (It's no real surprise that Fox execs announced Monday that next year's "Idol" will be the final one.)
"Idol" actually had a true controversial moment this season. Judge Harry Connick Jr. misunderstood contestant Quentin Alexander's complaints about his friends being up for elimination and went after him, calling him disrespectful and saying, "Quentin if it's that wack, you can always go home." That kind of tough talk used to generate huge publicity, but this season it barely registered as a blip.
In a way, it lowers the stakes for Jax, Beckham and Fradiani for Tuesday night's show, where one will be eliminated immediately and the Top Two will sing three songs apiece. The winner will be crowned during a two-hour special tomorrow from 8-10 p.m.
However, we can still hope that voters will do the right thing and crown Jax the next "American Idol."