Kelly Clarkson returns to the "Idol" stage, and the fans get some real-time power.

By Stephanie Schomer
April 02, 2015 at 04:36 PM EDT
  • TV Show

Tonight is an Idol event 14 years in the making. The original is back. Yes, Kelly Clarkson has returned to the Idol stage, both to entertain us and to guide our eager contestants. (She also proves to be the funniest person on the show. Sorry, Harry.)

And so, the entire evening has been dubbed Kelly Clarkson night. Kelly Clarkson performances, Kelly Clarkson advice, Kelly Clarkson song catalog. Sounds good to me. A 20-year-old Kelly appears on our screen, in pigtails, in a clip from her first audition for Paula, Randy, and Simon. (Remember them?) Even then, her star power was undeniable. And when you consider that her chart-topping, Grammy-winning career was launched on this very show, it’s not hard to remember why people are still lining up to audition, and why we are still watching this competition. (But the winner of tonight’s show, it’s worth noting, is Keith Urban, who’s wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Steve Carell getting his chest waxed in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, screaming “AHHHH KELLY CLARKSON.”) Aside from all the Kelly, there’s one more addition to tonight’s show: a Fan Save. What’s a Fan Save? After Ryan announces the bottom two, we’ll have five minutes to decide who stays and who goes, via Twitter. Okay. Gimmicks, sure. But okay. Are you drunk with power? I am.

After a fawning video tribute to Kelly Clarkson, season 2 winner Ruben Studdard appears to deliver the results envelope to Ryan. This feels cruel, no?

But let’s get down to it! First to make it through is Nick, and I think Kelly (and her rockin’ fishtail braid) is totally with me about Nick’s general hotness. Her advice for Nick: Open your eyes and make eye contact. He takes the stage and sings Kelly’s “Catch My Breath,” and after a really pretty and soft first verse, he breaks into the meat of the song. It’s a little strained and the pitch is questionable in parts, but he feels, like last week, a bit more emotionally connected than we’ve seen him. He’s working so hard! But J.Lo’s right when she tells him to spend more time with the movement coach. (She also references Marc Anthony’s weird leg-shake thing, which is a funny reminder that J.Lo is a real person and leads a real life.)

Jax is next to get good news, and she’s dressed for the occasion as a scary vampire seductress. I fall for Jax a little bit when we watch her rehearsing with Kelly. She’s so star struck and humbled by the opportunity to sing for this woman who won the show when Jax was probably in kindergarten. (Kelly says she has literally no notes for her, because Jax is legit that good.) When she takes the stage with “Beautiful Disaster,” three things happen for me. First, I remember how amazing this song is and immediately download it. Second, I realize that Jax is barefoot, hopefully in tribute to Kelly’s preferred performance mode. Third, I fully accept that Jax has the ability to win this entire competition. She looks gorgeous and this was such a controlled and understated performance. A++, young Jax.

NEXT: Tyanna sends a message to the haters.

Tyanna, thank god, is safe. In rehearsal with Kelly, she pretty much blows her away on “Mr. Know It All.” Kelly wants more emotion, though. “You ever been pissed off by anyone? Like a dude? Like a boyfriend?” she asks, and when precious little Tyanna says, quietly, “I’ve never had a boyfriend,” Kelly zings back “Well are you pissed off about that?!” She’s television gold, this woman (shame on me for almost forgetting). But Tyanna’s real motivation for singing this song is that she was bullied. (What is wrong with people?) So Tyanna promises to come out swinging tonight, but when she hits the stage, I’m not blown away in the beginning. It feels timid for such a bold song. But when she steps out from behind the mic, it’s a huge improvement, and we get a fantastic bit of sass from Tyanna. I just wanted more sass. How are we feeling about her? A few weeks ago I really thought she could take the whole thing. Now I’m not so sure.

Joey’s next to go through, and has selected “Miss Independent” for this week. Kelly predicts that Joey’s jazzy version will be one of the best performances of the week, and will totally redeem her “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” misstep. So the song starts and I’m kind of annoyed by it, because the verse feels almost too different from the original track, but once she hits the chorus, it’s kind of genius. Really fun, playful, and bold. Joey, I feel you this week. (Also, congrats! Girl just got engaged. Big year for Joey!)

Next to take the stage is Ms. Kelly Clarkson herself. “Heartbeat Song” is something that I really can’t stop listening to. ARE WE LISTENING TO HER SING? Flawless. Chills chills chills. “That’s how you do it!” says Ryan. That is how you do it. I hope the contestants were paying attention.

The good news for Quentin is, he’s safe. The bad news for Quentin is, he has to follow Kelly. Tall order. But our most soulful singer gets brilliant advice from Kelly as he practices “Dark Side.” (Is Scott Borchetta still on this show?) This is one of the more upbeat—though still moody—tunes we’ve seen from Quentin, and I really like it. He’s stepping outside of his box, and it’s totally working. He’s kind of dressed like Frankie Avalon in Grease. I dig it. It might be my favorite performance from him. J.Lo loved it and accidentally says she’s so glad they saved Quentin. (They didn’t.) Harry thinks he needs to spend more time becoming a “musician.” It’s a fair critique, but I do think that this performance will resonate with the folks at home. Ryan delivers a note, from Kelly to Quentin, that reads, “I want to make sweet love to those eyes.” Nicely done, Idol.

Qaasim is safe, and he’s taking a risk with an acoustic version of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” His critique last week was to basically chill the f— out, and good for him for listening! This is a thoughtful side of Qaasim. The vocal, though, is not even close to perfect. He just doesn’t have the natural range or strength of a lot of our other contestants. He’s a hell of an entertainer, but this was a bit of a bummer.

Kelly returns to the stage and sings “At Last,” the song she first auditioned with so many years ago. It’s perfect, and afterward Kelly meets Harry for the first time, and when he tells her that his daughters love her, she quips, “Why didn’t you bring them? You’re kind of a crap dad for that.” Perfect.

NEXT: Where’s the gravy, Rayvon?

We’re now down to three contestants: Daniel, Rayvon, and Clark. I am obviously terrified that Clark is going to be in the bottom two. HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF. Clark is safe. I’m jazzed to hear him sing “The Trouble With Love Is,” and Kelly pushes him, as all the other mentors have, to connect, and be vulnerable. We want to see those baby blues, Clarky. He finishes rehearsal and Kelly says, “I think I’m pregnant.” She is so good! Somebody get her a sitcom, now.

Anyway, Clark SLAYS it. My god, I think I’m pregnant, too. So is Jennifer. She’s bawling. Baby Daniel Seavey is actually bowing to Clark. Wow. That’s really all there is to say.

It comes down to Daniel and Rayvon, and the power is with us. We’re deciding, in real time, who to keep. Via Twitter. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I might be just too old for this much social media. Do our votes from last week not mean anything? Are they factored in? Can someone please explain this math to me? Ryan?

Daniel will perform first, and the poor thing has laryngitis. And “Breakaway” is a big song. This is, as you can imagine, a difficult thing to watch and listen to. He wants it so bad, and it’s just not there. And Danny knows it. We’ve gotta #saverayvon.

Rayvon will try to win us over with “Since U Been Gone,” arguably my favorite Kelly song, though I’m sure Rayvon will find a way to make it boring. Oh yeah, he’s going to slow it down. Don’t mess with a perfect song, man. Does anyone else feel like he’s totally altering the meaning of this song with this snooze of a version? Voice is beautiful, as usual, but this performance is actually bringing me an unreasonable amount of rage. Harry, with my favorite critique tonight, says “You have all the chops. But where is your gravy!?” This makes perfect sense. Rayvon’s got no damn gravy.

So now we’ve got five minutes to tweet either #SaveRayvon or #SaveDaniel. I’m mad at both of these performances and, frankly, am just relieved that this is the bottom two. I don’t want to #SaveAnyone, but because I like the participatory nature of this show, I’m throwing my tweet to Rayvon.

Five long minutes later, America has chosen to #SaveRayvon. So long, dear Daniel Seavey. You are so small and kind, and we will miss your blush-colored suit. Rayvon, congrats, but please find your personality before next week.

I’m calling Kelly Clarkson week a success. It was a night in which everything happened exactly as I would have planned! That is something that has literally never happened before with this show. But the greatest takeaway of the evening, for me, is that I don’t listen to nearly enough Kelly Clarkson music. But that, I’ll remedy tomorrow. Tonight, I have to go watch Love Actually. Until next week, dear Idol friends.

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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  • 06/11/02
  • Simon Fuller
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