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American Idol Recap: Top 8 (Kelly Clarkson Night)

The guest mentor for the Top 8 of "American Idol," Season 14, was the one who started it all: the first winner, Kelly Clarkson. They would be singing her songs.

• Ruben Studdard, who won Season 2, delivered the evening's results. Afterwards, Ryan Seacrest broke the news about the "Idol Fan Save," with the bottom two competing for live votes via Twitter.
• The first to make it through was Nick Fradiani. He chose "Catch My Breath," which he'd already covered with his band. She advised him to strive for eye contact. He wore a denim jacket over a white T-shirt, channeling that Bruce Springsteen vibe. This wasn't his best performance, starting out a little wobbly on the verse. Fortunately for him, the chorus was slightly stronger. Keith Urban said the song was suited for his voice, especially the lower notes. He said he still needs to loosen up. Jennifer Lopez suggested he work more with the coaches on his movement. She liked his energy, though. Harry Connick Jr. said it wasn't his favorite vocal by Nick, but he seemed a little more comfortable onstage.
• Jax had chosen "Beautiful Disaster." Kelly called her an artist and said she had no notes for her. She sat on the grand piano, wearing a black halter dress with a sheer black cape, barefoot. On the bridge, she walked down the steps as she emoted. Jennifer liked the pure tone of her voice, although she felt the arrangement was lacking a little something. Harry thought it was fantastic. Keith agreed that she's an artist. He said there's still some inconsistency, which he attributed to worrying about doing the right things in her performance. Still, he noted great artistry.
• Then was a group song, "People Like Us," and the Top 9 were all smiles as they moved through the choreography in a live performance.
• Tyanna Jones, with her hair now dyed red and pulled into a Mohawk, sang "Mr. Know-It-All," pulling from her experiences being bullied. Not only was her look more mature -- gray leggings and a black fitted blazer -- but her decision to sing about something real made it a much more powerful experience. Harry called it a great gift to be able to connect with the lyrics. He felt there might have been some pitch issues but felt her interpretation made up for it. Keith thought that maybe she hadn't connected with all of the sentiments behind the song, although her talent is undeniably. Jennifer told her she has amazing pipes.
• Also in the audience, sitting with Ruben Studdard, was Vonzell Solomon, as well as Candace Glover, who won Season 12 and is in the studio making her second album.
• The next to sing was Joey Cook, doing "Miss Independent." Kelly liked her unusual take on the song. She wore a red dress with a sweetheart neckline and a green necklace, rocking violet hair. Her jazzy version of the song was a lot of fun but also gave her a chance to show off her nuanced vocals. It was retro while being wholly new, and Keith gave her a standing ovation. He praised her for not just changing songs but building new songs. He found it artistic and effortless. Jennifer agreed, calling it one of the best performances of the night. Harry gave her an A-plus for bravery with the arrangement. The only thing he criticized was that she not hearken visually so much back to 50 years ago, since jazz is modern, too. Ryan announced that Joey had gotten engaged over the weekend, and she showed a picture of the two of them kissing. Very cute.
• Kelly Clarkson took the stage then to sing "The Heartbeat Song," wearing a red dress with an A-line skirt and off-the-shoulder sleeves. She undoubtedly made it that much harder for whoever was unlucky enough to sing right after her.
• That "lucky" person was Quentin Alexander, singing "Dark Side" in a white suit with a blue and white collar on his shirt. He stood in front of an image of a snowy mountaintop. He sang it beautifully, making the upbeat song very emotional, ending with a smoldering gaze into the camera. Jennifer praised him for his song choice and said, "You killed it." She added, "I'm so glad we saved you," and Harry corrected her, but then she jumped in quickly and said he'd been a Wild Card. Keith also liked it, saying that every time he performs it's with truth. Harry thought he needs to spend more time on the technical parts, to learn more about harmony and chords. Ryan brought it back to the positive, handing Quentin a note from Kelly Clarkson in Sharpie that said, "I want to make sweet love to those amazing eyes."
• Next to learn he was safe, Qaasim Middleton, who was doing an acoustic version of "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)." He wanted to show another side of himself. It was a smart way to make himself stand out. He wore a black vest and pants that were black on top and red at the bottom. Unfortunately, he had some pitch problems with the chorus. Harry said that he loves runs, but he has to sing them right. He advised him to stick to the melody or sing the runs right. Keith thought that Qaasim got stuck in the middle, not knowing where to go. Jennifer also emphasized that it's important to practice.
• Then Kelly took the stage again, this time to sing "At Last," which was her initial audition song. Even more impressive than her previous number, showing the maturity and experience she's gained since Season 1.
• Clark Beckham knocked it out of the park with his performance of "The Trouble with Love Is." Keith told him to make sure to always lead with the feeling, rather than his voice. Jennifer felt that's what he had done in the song, which gave her goosies from head to toe. She also complimented his "movie star good looks." Harry agreed with Keith's advice and praised him for following Kelly Clarkson's own performance, singing one of her songs, and nailing it.
• In the bottom two, singing for America's save, Daniel Seavey sang "Break Away," wearing a rust-colored suit and a white shirt. He's much better at singing to the camera than some of the other contestants, which is probably one of the things that's kept him in the competition so far. The song was just a little too big for him. Jennifer thought that was a super challenging song, and he'd done an OK job with it. Harry urged him to "practice, practice, practice." Keith felt that he had a lot going through him, since he looks great on camera.
• Finally was Rayvon Owen, who'd chosen "Since U Been Gone." He sang it sitting on a stool, with a string quartet. It was kind of sleepy with messed up enunciation, but it was an interesting attempt to make it something different. Harry used the expression "all chops and no gravy." He said that, basically, he's technically good but "where's the gravy?" Keith felt that this was one of the best performances for him. Jennifer thought he'd done a beautiful job and "this is not an easy competition." She urged him to "keep digging, keep pushing."
• Then it was time for the audience to weigh in. Ryan read the rules: For the next five minutes, viewers could pick by writing either #SaveRayvon or #SaveDaniel.
• And the first recipient of a Fan Save was Rayvon, who gave Daniel a big hug and told him, "I love you, Daniel," which you could hear through the muffled mike.
• As far as next week is concerned, Qaasim is definitely in trouble, although it's hard to say who will join him. Will they put Rayvon in danger again? It's certainly possible. If not, then Nick Fradiani may pay for not only singing first but also continuing to have problems connecting with the audience. However, he seems to have quite the fan base, which means that, if it's not Rayvon heading for a show-down with Qaasim, it could very well be Tyanna Jones, who received a lot of negative criticism from the judges. However, unless Qaasim pulls off a miracle, he'll be the one taking a bow from Season 14.
Tags: american idol, music, television

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