'American Idol' Top Five Keep Their Eyes on the Prize, From Finale to Florida Tour Kickoff
Clark Beckham debuts at Grand Ole Opry, Jax sings at Indy & Nick Fradiani is set to co-write with Jason Mraz.
It’s a long road from Hollywood -- home of the American Idol season 14 finale -- to Clearwater, Fla., where the top five finalists will play the first of 37 live shows this summer. During the seven weeks that elapsed between the season’s climax to tonight’s big opening, the Idols were free to do whatever they wanted, and most of them did the same thing: They worked.
“I didn’t take much of a break,” fourth-place finisher Rayvon Owen tells Billboard. “Maybe a week off after the finale to relax and process everything. Then I picked up the phone and started making calls to get some writing sessions going. I wanted to take advantage of the time between the finale and the tour so I very quickly got busy again. It was a different kind of busy from the Idol season; more self-motivated.” Owen knew he needed to get work done before he started the tour. “As far as being creative, it’s limited what you can do while you’re touring. You can write on the bus, but you can’t really record on the road. I wanted to write as many songs as I could and record a lot of vocals. I have eight or nine new songs in different stages, with three of them almost completely done.”
Owen also returned home to Virginia and did some charity work and then spent his birthday (June 27) in Nashville. He also did something he didn’t have to do while he was competing on Idol. “I went to the grocery store for the first time in a long time, and that was funny.” Funny because, now that he was outside of the American Idol “bubble,” he realized the power of the show when so many people recognized him.
The 19-year-old singer from East Brunswick, N.J., known as Jax also kept herself busy after the season finale. “I don’t know the word ‘break,’” she laughs. “Once we were all home, we had to know how to capitalize to the fullest because Idol is the greatest experience. This was our launching pad. I had a small tour set up on the East Coast. I went to children’s hospitals and old-age homes. I did a lot of press. I went to Sweden for Urban Ears and Los Angeles for Taco Bell.” And there was more traveling: Big Machine founder and CEO Scott Borchetta took Jax to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to sing the national anthem at an event.
Of course, Jax also spent time in East Brunswick. “The second I got home, I let it all out. I was super-emotional.” And there was work to be done. “I have my studio back home and I write there. I have a lot of material now that I just got over the craziest ride of my life. I’m still in the middle of it. I’m going to have my parents bring my keyboard on the road so I can write with some of the people on this tour. Nick [Fradiani] writes and Clark [Beckham] and Rayvon. The band is super-talented; I’d like to work with them too.”
Clark Beckham had a post-Idol plan. “I was just going to go home and do absolutely nothing -- watch Netflix and make up for lost time and sleep for a week, I was so tired from everything. I did that for a day. The next day, I realized I wanted to be working. I didn’t like not doing anything. I sang at a church dedication of a new building. I played piano at the Miss North Carolina pageant, some nice waltzy elegant music, and then I played ‘Georgia on My Mind’ and had a blast. I went to the CMT Awards because my friend had an extra ticket. I snuck my way over to where the nominees and presenters were sitting and saw Scott Borchetta. I yelled out his name and he gave me his credentials and told me to go wherever I wanted, so I sat next to Nick.”
Beckham has also been writing songs meant for his first album. He spoke at a Christian school and a Christian theater about his Idol journey, his faith and his musical goals. He released a couple of videos to YouTube, one a cover of The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” which he sang on Idol, and the other a remake of John Mayer’s “Gravity.” His most surprising revelation: “I started taking ballroom dance lessons, at World Champion dance studio in Henderson, Tenn. My grandfather has been dancing there for 18 years. He hooked me up with my first four lessons free, and it would have been insulting not to go. I really started to like it. I’m a terrible dancer, but I played sports and I know footwork, so I can be taught how to move. I’m not uncoordinated. It helps with posture, presence, confidence and even walking -- being aware of your body and your feet.”
Also performing at the church dedication he attended was the gospel group the Isaacs. “Later, they were singing at the Grand Ole Opry, and they put me on their guest list.” When he showed up, the Isaacs asked him if he had ever played the famed venue. “I told them six months earlier I was playing on the street and couldn’t even get a gig at a bar. No, I had not played the Grand Ole Opry! They asked if I wanted to sing their first song with them. So the first time I ever walked into the Opry, I was singing there.”
Beckham has been getting a lot of attention in his hometown of White House, Tenn. “I don’t mind getting stopped to meet people, but if I’m late for a movie or I have to catch a flight or if I haven’t showered and my hair looks like crap, I wear a hat. It’s hard to find a good hat for me because I have such a giant head and none of them fit. I found a hat that works and now I’m starting to be recognized by my hat. So I had to get another one.”
The youngest Idol on the summer tour is Tyanna Jones, 16. “Right after the finale I went back to school. I made all A's and one B. Next year I’ll be a senior,” she told Billboard. One of her biggest opportunities resulted from an invite from one of her Idol judges. “Harry [Connick, Jr.] asked me to be in one of his shows in New Jersey. He’s such a sweet guy with a big heart. I performed ‘Remember the Music,’ the Jennifer Hudson song from Empire.”
Jones has also been writing songs. “I started immediately when I got home after the finale. I’ll write something down, and as ideas come to me later in the day, I’ll add them. When I think of something, it’s usually in poetry form. I write words down in Notes on my iPhone, and then later I’ll write the same thing down on paper in case my Notes somehow get deleted. I write by myself. I want to share my music, but when I write it down I don’t want anyone to read it or hear it until it’s finished.”
Jones also appeared on The Chat, a talk show in her hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., and went to a homeless shelter to speak to the children living there.
For season 14 winner Nick Fradiani, the time between the finale and the live tour has been devoted to his career. He’s been to almost 20 cities since May 13, mainly doing radio promotion for his debut single, “Beautiful Life.” He has also done some concerts and has had writing sessions, both on his own and with others. “We’re trying to get as much material as we can,” he explains. “Some of the writers I’ve worked with are well known and some aren’t. It’s interesting when you work with someone you’ve just met. I’ve been co-writing my whole life, so this is an easy transition for me. I’ve got a big co-write coming up while I’m on tour, with Jason Mraz. We’re so different; our writing styles and genres aren’t the same at all.”
Fradiani has also filled his time by singing “Beautiful Life” at the FIFA Women’s World Cup game in Vancouver on July 4, making a video for the single and watching the song move up the Billboard charts. “It was pretty cool when the song cracked the top 40 at radio,” says the musician from Guilford, Conn. "To say my song is on the Billboard charts makes me really happy.”