The first part of American Idol’s two-night finale started with the intense results reveal: Jax Cole was sent home, and Clark Beckham and Nick Fradiani were left to compete for the title. The results of last week’s votes came as a surprise considering just how original Cole is when compared to the two finalists. She has had a strong sense of artistry without losing the technical parts of her performances since day one, and she surely would have brought an interesting element to the finale.
But there was hardly any time to process her departure, as the show had to go on. Beckham opened things up with a reprisal performance of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” which he originally sang during the House Of Blues showcase earlier this season. Accompanying himself on the piano, Beckham kept his vocals tight throughout the performance, never missing a note. It highlighted Beckham’s soulful sound, and the judges loved it.
Fradiani reprised his performance of “Bright Lights” by Matchbox 20 from the top-five night, which was indeed one of the best nights he had in this competition. Fradiani gave an electrifying performance and really connected with the audience — so much so that the judges had to wait several seconds for the applause to die down before they could give their overwhelmingly positive feedback.
According to Jennifer Lopez, round one was a tie. Even after Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. hot the crowd to start chanting for her to choose, she stuck to her convictions, saying it was still too close to call.
Beckham kicked off round two with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and it was without a doubt the most passionate and sultry performance he has ever given. Beckham could have used all that emotion weeks ago, but he sure picked one hell of a time to blossom and show what he’s really capable of. “It was awesome, beautiful, heartfelt, amazing,” Lopez succinctly said.
This time, Fradiani actually got behind a piano and sang Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” It was a smart move for Fradiani to play piano, as that has generally been Beckham’s thing, and Fradiani has proven himself to be more of a guitar guy. With this performance, he showed that he can do what Beckham does with just as much skill and, as it turns out, more dynamism. Connick, however, decided Beckham won the second round.
Next, we got a sneak peak of the single Beckham will release if he’s crowned American Idol. The song is called “Champion,” and the lyrics are admittedly cheesy, but the song sits in a really lovely part of his register.
Fradiani debuted his single, “Beautiful Life,” which he described as a mixture of the Goo Goo Dolls and Fun. It was equally cheesy lyrically, which is how these original Idol singles tend to go. But it’s definitely ready for the radio, and Urban thought Fradiani took the third round.
Tonight’s votes will determine the fourteenth American Idol, and the second-to-last American Idol ever, as next season will be the show’s last. Both Beckham and Fradiani made strong showings tonight, leaning into their strengths and giving some of their best performances yet. Who do you hope takes home the crown?
This article first appeared on THR.com.