American Idol season 14 runner-up Clark Beckham walked into his hotel lobby near Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla., and was the first of the top five finalists on this year’s summer tour to spot another alum after seven weeks apart, following the May 13 finale in Hollywood.
“Tyanna [Jones] and her mother were on a couch and I walked up from behind and threw a pillow at them. That’s how I said hello. Then Jax came in from the gym and she said, ‘I’m all sweaty, don’t touch me,’ and I picked her up and gave her a hug anyway. I feel like we were never apart. We just picked right up where we left off.”
Having missed his flight from Los Angeles to Clearwater, Rayvon Owen didn’t arrive until the next morning. “I came in from the airport by myself and the first person I saw was Jax, so I ran over and gave her a big hug. Then I went to my room and Clark, who has been my roommate since the top 48, was in the shower and I saw him when he got out. Tyanna came to our room because we needed to rehearse the national anthem, which we were singing that afternoon at the Tampa Bay Rays game. We had to quickly throw the arrangement together in my hotel room. Unfortunately, the Rays lost."
The latest Idol winner Nick Fradiani arrived on Sunday, after performing his coronation single and FIFA theme song “Beautiful Life” at the Women’s World Cup game on July 4. “I had one rehearsal on my own. The others had a head-start.” But the winner of season 14 is not worried. “The songs I’m playing, I know. I’m doing my single, an original song from my band and a cover that wouldn’t clear on Idol, something I always wanted to do, an R&B song I turned in to my own style. The night before [opening night], I’ll do one run-through and we’ll be fine.” Fradiani will have an intense experience being on the road, as he will spend a lot of his time writing songs for his debut album. “I’m totally excited,” he says. “I’ll be doing radio promotion in every city too. It’ll be a test of my stamina.”
The final Idol to show up arrived in Florida this morning -- New Orleans resident Joey Cook, who is making a special guest appearance on the first six dates of the summer tour. “Jax and I saw each other in the glass elevators in our hotel. I was in one going down and she was in the next elevator over going up. We could see each other but we couldn’t hear anything so I pretended to climb up the wall.”
The reunited singers are happy to be working together again. “It feels really good to get back onstage,” Owen told Billboard. “The band sounds incredible. So far it’s a little stressful because there’s a lot of material to learn in a very short time. People have high expectations. This is a national tour, and we have to bring our A-game. It’s not something you can take lightly.”
With only four days of rehearsal before opening night Tuesday, the Idols have resisted all invitations to spend evenings out in Clearwater, even missing fireworks at a local amphitheater on July 4 in favor of going back to their hotel and doing additional rehearsals on their own. “It’s hard work, but that’s where I’m comfortable, so I like it,” says Beckham. “I’d like to rehearse more. If it were up to me, we’d be working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They’re real careful that we don’t get too tired or burnt out, but I’m used to working with football coaches. And they don’t think, ‘Are you OK?’ You practice at 5 a.m. before school and then practice three hours after school. I would be fine if this were a football-esque experience.”
After Tuesday night’s opening show, the Idols will play 36 more dates through the end of August. Jax is looking forward to being on the road for the summer. “I’ve been on road trips before and I grew up singing in garage bands with boys who don’t shower. They were young and gross and I’m used to that, to roughing it. I’d rather tough it out than live luxuriously. I’m not good at the luxurious life. That’s one thing I learned on Idol.”
Jones, still just 16 years old and about to be a senior in high school in the fall, has her own reason for looking forward to the tour experience. “I want to continue in the music business, doing my own tours and being in the studio. This is going to prepare me for being up all hours and sleeping on the bus and waking up in a different place and wondering where we are.”
On Monday night (July 6), the five Idols (plus one) are sequestered at Ruth Eckherd Hall, enjoying one of the many excellent dinners prepared by the venue’s catering department this week. Then the finalists will take the stage for the first complete run-through of their show. On Tuesday night, the Eckherd’s 2,200 seats will be filled with Idol fans ready to see their favorites perform.
“This is the victory lap for us,” says Jax. “No nerves, no judges. I really hope I get to meet the fans who are coming out.” The East Brunswick, N.J., native has been building social-media relationships with her fans, dubbed the JAXPack, on Twitter. They’ve already given her "a thousand dollars worth of Taco Bell gift cards. And Dunkin' Donuts too. These girls know what I eat.”