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'American Idol' recap: Tyanna Jones strong, Jax stumbles in Top 11

"American Idol XIV" Top 12 (back, from left to right): Quentin Alexander, Maddie Walker, Adanna Duru, Clark Beckham, Sarina-Joi Crowe, Jax, Tyanna Jones and Qaasim Middleton, (front, from left to right) Nick Fradiani, Daniel Seavey and Rayvon Owen arrive on the silver carpet during the Top 12 finalists party at The District by Hannah An in West Hollywood, Calif., on March 11, 2015. Credit: Fox / Patrick Rideaux

When Harry Connick Jr. starts wearing a “You’re Talented” T-shirt, it’s clearly going to be a bumpy ride.

As promising as “American Idol’s” Season 14 crop seemed in the earlier rounds, the pressure is ramping up and the strain is starting to show. And sometimes, Harsh Harry seems like he’s the only one who sees it (or at least the only one who wants to talk about it).

Atlantic Beach native Jax was one singer who cracked a little under the stress.

Her version of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” (yes, the one with the video done at Oheka Castle) was uncharacteristically, well, blank. It seemed slowed down not for effect, but so she could keep up with the lyrics, and was pitched too low so that she could hit the high notes at the end. Jax proved herself early on as a great song interpreter and that’s what made her an early front-runner. She fell back to the pack a bit with this uneven performance, though extra points for grabbing the dude in the crowd’s fedora and pushing him around a bit in keeping with the song’s theme.  

“I think one of your talents, one of your many talents, is being able to take an old song and make it sound new or taking a new song and making it sound different,” Connick said. “That, to me, sounded like a carbon copy of Taylor’s version.”

Jennifer Lopez said Jax needed to pick songs that suited her better. “I’m not sure that was the right song for you,” she said. “I didn’t feel really Jax on that song. I felt you got overtaken by the music.”

And Keith Urban told her she was struggling because the song was too low for her, so much so that she even oddly sang the harmony for a bit. “Either take the song up to a different key or choose another song so you can be Jax,” he advised. “I felt that it held you back a little bit.”

She wasn’t the only one in the Top 11 who struggled. But perhaps the judges could turn some of his constructive criticism at the show’s producers first? Getting rid of the results shows this season made perfect sense, especially once “Empire”-mania kicked into high gear. But changing the show’s entire format to accommodate it seems a little ridiculous.

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There is plenty of suspense in a performance show. There is no need to drag out the results until the end of every show and put extra pressure on the finalists before they sing. And there is really no need for the special chairs that are lit red or green to show which singers are safe.

Just announce the one who was eliminated at the top of the show and have the rest of the performance show go on as usual. If you really need this to play out until the show’s final minutes, then let the singer about to be cut perform the song for the Judges’ Save at the very end. You’ll get better performances this way, which is, you know, the heart of the show — not “Is My Chair Red or Green?”

Before we get to how the Top 11 stacked up, can we just cut them all a little slack? They had to compete twice this week so that Fox could pre-empt them Wednesday for the “Empire” finale. Yeah, yeah, “No Apologies.” (Online voting continues until Tuesday.)

On to the rankings:

1. Tyanna Jones, “Tightrope”: Leave it to the 16-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, to deliver a poised, fearless performance. Her take on the Janelle Monae hit was energetic and fun, while still vocally powerful. No small feat. She got standing ovations from Lopez and Urban, but an even bigger compliment from Connick, who said, “If I were a judge in the Olympics, after that performance, I would not have clapped. I would not have stood up. I would have simply sat here quietly and given you a 10.” (Note to Harry: This is not the Olympics. Standing and clapping is OK when you feel like it.)

2. Adanna Duru, “Runaway Baby”: After being picked as a wild card for the Top 12, Adanna was on point for the difficult-to-sing Bruno Mars hit, from the vocals to the choreography to the fierceness. “That’s why we saved you,” Urban said, comparing her to Tina Turner. Lopez went into a lengthy thing about control that I couldn’t focus on because I kept wanting J.Lo to bust out the Janet Jackson song.

3. Joey Cook, “Fancy”: Her jazzy take on the Iggy Azalea hit was clever and cool, earning a standing ovation from Urban. Oddly, Lopez said she wanted more of the original’s melody, but what melody was Joey going to do when Iggy is rapping? “The arrangement was absolutely brilliant,” Connick said. “I thought that was phenomenal.” Who dat? Who dat? J-O-E-Y smartly offered arrangement credit to Postmodern Jukebox.

4. Quentin Alexander, “Rolling in the Deep”: His alt-soul version of the Adele smash was good, but it seems like a little of his fire went out after needing a wild card bid to advance. “You bring a different flavor than everyone else,” Lopez said. “It’s always cool.” Connick said the interpretation was a bit shallow.

5. Clark Beckham, “Taking it to the Streets”: The Doobie Brothers classic is not really a vocal showcase, but Clark turned it into one in places. Someone needs to find him some better material for his great voice. “It wasn’t my favorite, but just keep doing what you’re doing,” Connick said.

6. Jax, “Blank Space”: It’s good for Jax to get these stumbles out of the way early so that she can learn what works and what doesn’t for her. “You were a little bit lost at sea,” Connick said. That said, she still has charisma to burn.

7. Qaasim Middleton, “Jet”: Speaking of stumbles, this was a spectacular one for the Brooklyn teenager. He certainly believes in “Go big or go home,” but hopefully this off-key, hard-to-watch take on the Paul McCartney and Wings classic won’t send him home. Connick worried that Qaasim may be a one-trick pony, and said that his performance didn’t really suit the song. Lopez booed Connick over that. Urban loved that he took a risk and played the guitar. “It’s the best I’ve heard you sing and I feel like it’s because you were playing,” he added.

8. Rayvon Owen, “Burn”: Sometimes, Rayvon couldn’t keep up with the beat on the Ellie Goulding song. Sometimes, his voice gave out on the upper and lower ends. And sometimes, he was good. “You caught the energy of the room,” Lopez said. “It was really great ... best one from you yet.” Connick wants him to choose a different arc for his songs.

9. Nick Fradiani, “Wake Me Up”: He started off great on the Avicii song, but then the wheels came off and his spoken-word bit was just plain bad. “It got a little bit screamy,” Lopez said. “You got it back at the end.”

10. Daniel Seavey, “Happy”: The cute teen did a good job on the Pharrell hit and that should be enough to keep him around. Connick, who had been supercritical of young Daniel the night before, called it his best performance yet. “It’s impossible not to root for you,” Lopez said.

11. Maddie Walker, “She’s Country”: She started the Jason Aldean song off-key and never really recovered. “I love your attitude that you’re sassy and sweet at the same time,” Lopez said. However, Ryan Seacrest revealed that Maddie was in pain and then she immediately left the stage to seek medical attention and did not return during the show.

BOTTOM TWO Maddie, Nick





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