For one night only, we get to return to where it all began. Kelly Clarkson comes home to American IdolÂ to show these kids what it means to win the show and what to do after claiming the crown. â€œHer dream realized is theirs to chase.â€ Not only does Kelly return to mentor the contestants, but the nightâ€™s theme is all about our extraordinary original Idol. The result? The most satisfying two-hour episode of this show in a long, long time.
The night kicks off with a clip of a fresh-faced waitress from Burleson, Texas in 2002, declaring why she wants to be the first American Idol. That clip is then followed by a montage of Kellyâ€™s amazing success story, with song and video clips from the last 13 years. And perhaps as a reminder to the contestants that every Idol winner doesnâ€™t rise to the Kelly Clarkson level of success, season 2 winner Ruben Studdard is on hand to deliver the results envelope to Ryan Seacrest.
A new twist is unveiled, letting us know that when the bottom two contestants are revealed, they will each be given the chance to perform. America will then take to the twitterverse to vote who should be saved, in real time.
The first name called for the night is Nick Fradiani. He performs â€œCatch My Breathâ€ and Kellyâ€™s only wish for him is that â€œhe opens his dang eyes.â€ I actually like the male take on this Kelly song that I love, and I realize this will be a tough night for me. I love Kelly and her songs so much, itâ€™s going to be hard for me to hear them come from others without being biased. I also find out there are few things in this world that bring joy to my heart like Jennifer Lopez lip-syncing along to a Kelly Clarkson song. Jen would like to see Nick work on his stage movement without thinking so much about it, while Harry says it was not his favorite Nick vocal, but likes that the performance seemed comfortable.
Jax for the win, just for the fact that she chose one of the two songs that I was hoping to hear performed this night. She puts her own Jax style on â€œBeautiful Disasterâ€ and strips it down. During her mentor session with the Idol OG, Kelly tells her she is an artist and has no notes to give her.Â Iâ€™m still not sold on the goth-inspired/biker-chic look, and I feel kind of like Jax is playing dress up, pretending to be someone else. I donâ€™t get a natural vibe from how she portrays herself. I LOVE the song, and I like her version of it fine. I just donâ€™t know if I believe her. From the bare feet to the long black train dress, something just doesnâ€™t feel right. Jennifer thinks itâ€™s a â€œpure version of Jaxâ€ and Harry thinks itâ€™s â€œfantastic.â€ Keith thinks thereâ€™s so much artistry there, but also sees inconsistency with her performances.
Our Idol top 9 take the stage together for this weekâ€™s group number, Kellyâ€™s â€œPeople Like Us.â€ Again, this is a KC song that I love, and Iâ€™m worried with whatâ€™s about to happen. I love the vibe of Kellyâ€™s rocked-out/edgy version, and this performance feels like a high school show choir version, without cool choreography. (And I donâ€™t mean the New Directions of McKinley High, mind you.)
Tyanna Jones takes the third spot, and I am still waiting for her to return to her front-runner glory. As an ode to bullies in her life, she takes on â€œMr. Know It All.â€ I think Tyanna does okay; Â sheâ€™s just fallen into the trap where I love Kellyâ€™s version so much, that this pales in comparison. I almost feel like it would have been a better idea to have chosen songs that werenâ€™t singles, maybe. Harry feels like this is a mysterious song and also thinks thereâ€™s so much mystery surrounding Tyanna. He feels as if he doesnâ€™t really know her at all. Keith doesnâ€™t feel like she committed to what the song is truly about.
And as if the Ruben Studdard cameo wasnâ€™t enough to remind these Idol hopefuls about fading into obscurity, Candice Glover is in the audience for a shout-out. I have no idea what season she won or how talented she is, because I didnâ€™t watch her season. All I know is, I still have no idea who she is.
Next up is Joey Cook, and she takes us back to Kellyâ€™s first single from her debut album, â€œMiss Independent.â€ I think if youâ€™re going to do a well-known song by a well-known artist, this is the way to do it. Joey puts her own stamp on it, and itâ€™s a win for me. During her mentor session, Kelly predicts that this will be one of the best performances of the night. I could see Joey not winning this competition and still being one of the biggest names to come from this season. Keith loves the fact that she didnâ€™t simply change the song, but that she built a completely new version, effortlessly. Harry gives her an A+ for bravery, and for always staying left-of-center; he just wishes there wasnâ€™t so much â€œnoveltyâ€ with a jazz performance.
Itâ€™s now Kellyâ€™s turn to shine, as she takes the stage for â€œHeartbeat Song.â€ I canâ€™t say enough how much happy Kelly Clarkson fills my heart with. If J.Lo is my girl crush, then Kelly is my secret best friend that nobody knows about. (â€œI auditioned with Kelly Clarkson for American Idol in 2002 in Dallas, and we went on a midnight doughnut run together.â€ Thatâ€™s always my lie when doing the team-building activity â€œ2 Truths & a Lie.â€) After Kellyâ€™s performance, Ryan declares â€œThatâ€™s how you do it.â€ #truth
Quentin Alexander takes the fifth spot and brings us all to the â€œDark Side.â€ Much like Joey, he makes this song his own, and it works. Kelly calls him â€œkind of the coolest guy on the show,â€ and you almost canâ€™t argue with her on that one. Jennifer Lopez has her first official Paula Abdul moment as she rejoices â€œIâ€™m so glad we saved you!â€ Um, you didnâ€™t. (In her defense, though, he was a judgesâ€™ Wild Card pick.) Keith thinks that real beauty is in truth, and he feels like Quentin performs with truth. (Thatâ€™s a little deep for me.)
The next name called is Qaasim Middleton, who landed me in some social media hot water last week. He may or may not have had an upset family member send me a lengthy Facebook message blasting me for my â€œevilâ€ and â€œmean-spiritedâ€ reviews. (Excuse me, I use random hashtags. How dare you.) He brings us â€œStronger,â€ and itâ€™s also a completely different take. Itâ€™s actually my favorite performance of his of the season, and no, Iâ€™m not just saying that to avoid the angry mob that might come after me. Maybe itâ€™s because itâ€™s a Kelly song, maybe itâ€™s because heâ€™s not flailing about the stage, but it works for me. (Iâ€™m still not voting for him, though.) Harry offers up some criticism and says it wasnâ€™t his best, and Keith feels as though Qaasim felt â€œunsureâ€ about the performance. (Oh no, boysâ€¦ brace yourselves for an angry letter.)
We get another flashback to Kellyâ€™s original Idol audition, where she performed â€œAt Lastâ€ by Etta James. She again takes the stage, this time paying tribute to how it all began by performing this song. I love Kelly Clarkson. Remind me to tell you about the time we went on a midnight doughnut run sometimeâ€¦
The seventh spot goes to Clark Beckham. He brings with him the not-so-common Kelly song â€œThe Trouble With Love Is,â€ which is also from her first album. He is full of soul and just makes my eyes and ears happy. Keith thinks Clark has set the bar so high Â and describes his tone and his voice as beautiful. (So is his face, Keith.) J.Lo has goosies from head to toe Â and loves his â€œmovie star good looks.â€ (Me too, Jen.) Harry loves the fact that he sang a Kelly Clarkson song, on a stage where he is following a Kelly Clarkson performance, and nailed it. (Word, HCJ.)
The bottom two of the night are revealed, and itâ€™s end-game for either Daniel Seavey or Rayvon Owen. Each get a chance to perform their song, and Daniel is up first with â€œBreakaway.â€ He delivers what I feel is a bottom two worthy performance.Â Rayvon serves up his own take on â€œSince U Been Goneâ€ and I love it. During his mentor session, Kelly says â€œI never would have made it this season!â€ Um, Kel? Yeah you would haveâ€¦ and you would have won, still. Rayvon performs with a harp on the stage (and I love harps like I love mermaids), and the judges donâ€™t seem to love it like I do. Harry thinks heâ€™s â€œall chops, no gravy,â€ and J.Lo encourages him to â€œkeep pushing, keep going.â€
After five minutes of commercials and filler, to allow time for America to work their Twitter magic with #SaveDaniel and #SaveRayvon, it is time toâ€¦ DIM THE LIGHTS!
Rayvon Owen claims the eighth spot, and itâ€™s curtains for our American Junior.
Thank you Kelly Clarkson, for reminding why I fell in love with American Idol all those years ago.
[Photo via FOX]