One day after Fox announced the next season of American Idol would be its last, Clark, Jax and Nick took the stage to determine who would compete in the second-to-last Idol finale ever. But no pressure or anything, right?
Before anyone sang a note or the judges even graced us with their presence, Ryan Seacrest started the episode off with a huge upset: Jax would be the one going home after losing by only 0.4 percent. To rub salt in the wound, Jax wasn't even granted a semi-dignified exit and was immediately shuffled away offstage without a chance to say goodbye to the fans, Keith, J.Lo or Harry. It was perhaps the most anti-climactic elimination I have ever seen.
But as they say, the show must go on. So how did Clark and Nick do? Check out our recap of their performances below:
Clark - Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind"
Clark is always at his best when embracing a "less is more" attitude. After starting out as a solo on piano on stage, Clark was eventually joined by a musical arrangement that helped the entire rendition feel fresh, yet understated. But more importantly, Clark, who can often come off as a bit stiff, managed to really bring emotion to the performance. Keith referred to it as "flapjacks drenched in syrup." I have no idea exactly what that means, but I completely agree.
Nick - Matchbox Twenty's "Bright Lights"
Nick is solid. He's consistent. He's relatable. But he isn't always exciting. That being said, he knows how to work a crowd. In recent weeks, Nick has figured out exactly how to get the audience energized and help them feel as though they're a part of something special and fun.
Clark - Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"
Clark showed some guts in doing a second slow, old-school song in a row, this time accompanied only by himself on guitar. But the risk more than paid off. His raspy, passionate cover proved that you don't need to necessarily be an "outward performer," as Harry called Nick, to connect with the crowd.
Nick - Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up"
This was a great song choice for Nick, who always gives himself over to every single performance, but rarely picks songs that mine his own emotional vulnerability. By putting Nick behind a piano (for the first time!) on a slower, more emotional song, viewers got to connect with him in a new, more intimate manner.
Clark - "Champion"
And now, that dreaded moment in any Idol finale when the contestants are forced to sing their original single. It's been 14 seasons, and the producers have still failed to find anything that match the magic of "A Moment Like This" (though Phillip Phillips' "Home" comes closest). To make matters worse, Clark is so far out of his element with this over-produced, lyrically verbose pop-rock anthem. He powered through, but never managed to seem comfortable performing what — if he were to win — would ultimately become his career calling card.
Nick - "Beautiful Life"
Each of the Idol singles this year sound like Fun. rejects, but Nick embraced his song in a way Clark clearly didn't - and for good reason. Both "Champion" and "Beautiful Life" would easily fit alongside each other on the same album, even though Nick and Clark are polar opposites artistically. And therein lies the problem of Idol. It isn't so much about nurturing individual artists, as it is about finding an individual to fit into their pre-made mold. That is not to reduce Nick's talent or artistry. He absolutely kills a performance of what is, ultimately, a completely forgettable song. It just so happens that Nick's aesthetic - the accessible, extroverted All-American pop rocker - is a much more marketable, Idol-friendly vibe than Clark's quiet, naturalistic soulfulness.
"That's what people go out and buy," Keith declared of "Beautiful Life," before admitting he's Team Nick. But who has your vote? Share your pick in the poll below!