Zhavia started off as the golden girl of The Four, but by this week, she’d become the fledgling singing show’s token villain, from one-to-watch to the one-we-love-to-hate. Between the judges’ fawning favoritism to all the sneaky, subtitled shots of a stankfaced, swelled-headed Zhavia sitting smugly in her illuminated throne talking smack about the other contestants, she’d been rendered utterly unlikable.
And that may have been Fox’s plan all along. Because when a sweet 20-year-old named Kendyle Paige came to the show and had the audacity to claim she was better than The Four’s chosen one, the result was a Davey-Goliath battle of epic TV proportions. Judge Meghan Trainor, exhibiting a strong opinion for the first time this season, may not have been pleased with the results, but I have a feeling the producers were.
Kendyle’s cute face, plucky spirit, and casual-Friday duds were totally belied by the rock ’n’ roll growl she let loose on Bebe Rexha’s “Me, Myself & I,” so much so that judge Diddy immediately took notice, removing his eyeglasses and straightening in his seat. (I am sure someone has made of GIF of that reaction already.) This felt very American Idol: the girl next door who comes out of nowhere, unleashes her beast, and slays. Meghan was not convinced (though she said she “respected Kendyle’s hustle”), but judge DJ Khaled was “vibin’” with Kendyle, and somehow he, Diddy, and Republic Records’ Charlie Walk, after a heated confrontation, persuaded Meghan to cast the deciding fourth, unanimous vote to send Kendyle to the challenging stage. And Kendyle challenged … Zhavia.
This is when I straightened up in my own seat. It was on.
Zhavia’s subsequent cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” did not shine bright. In her defense, she was still plagued by the health issues that put her on doctor’s-ordered vocal rest last week. But this performance was rough. The fluctuations between her strained upper notes and froggy lower register, combined with her garbled enunciation, made this almost painful to the ear. But looking at her, with her waist-length dreadlocks, drag-queen eye makeup, and Cher Lloyd attitude, there was no denying that she looked like a star.
Kendyle’s rendition of Zayn Malik’s “Pillowtalk” was stronger and more focused, if less exciting. An unimpressed Meghan grimaced throughout (I am sure GIFs of her reaction exist on the Interweb as well), later telling her, “Your performance may have outshined Zhavia tonight, but as an artist, I want to buy Zhavia’s album.” Meghan had a point (Charlie and a “stressed-out” DJ Khaled agreed), but after all of the Zhavia-pimping this season, it did feel like a bit of a ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead moment when the studio audience voted for … KENDYLE.
Zhavia, who didn’t even bother to congratulate her opponent, looked pissed. But not as pissed as Meghan — especially when Meghan attempted to state her opinion and Diddy disrespectfully steamrolled over her. “Can I speak? I didn’t get to talk!” she shouted through her tears. (Man, this show is just chock-full of awkward moments, isn’t it?) Finally, Meghan blubbered, “I’m heartbroken, because I know Zhavia’s a star, and in my head, she was the winner.”
Well, next week is this season’s penultimate “comeback episode,” so my guess is Meghan can dry those tears, because Zhavia won’t be gone for long. I suspect Zhavia and this season’s other gone-too-soon golden child, Lex Lu, will return to the competition. However, some other contestants did not get very far this week and they are definitely gone for good. Here’s how the rest of the episode panned out…
An incumbent member of the current Four, Jason Warrior, may have said this 22-year-old R&B/pop singer was “fine as hell,” but her rendition of the Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” left a lot to be desired; her voice was just too thin and generic. “You have something special, but your voice is not strong enough for primetime right now,” shrugged Diddy. “I didn’t get goose bumps over your voice, and I think that’s a big part of the package,” said Charlie. Meghan liked Nicolina’s vocals but thought her stage presence was “stiff and uncomfortable.” Four no votes ensued. Ouch. Nicolina said she’s been funneling all of her stashed-away college funds into her music career instead; perhaps it’s time for her to take out some student loans and move on to Plan B.
An industry veteran-ringer whose CV includes a Columbia Records deal, background singing for Brandy, Keri Hilson, and, Keyshia Cole, and six seasons on Glee, RaVaughn was instantly recognized by Khaled. I liked her ’90s Toni Braxton/Mary J. Blige vibe on Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” (even if she didn’t quite possess Demi’s vocal power); Diddy’s liked RaVaughn’s laid-back style and told her, “You look like a Bad Boy artist.” (Meanwhile, shady Zhavia, not yet knowing the verdict that awaited her at the end of the night, sniped that RaVaughn’s performance “didn’t do it” for her. DJ Khaled blasted an airhorn in appreciation (please someone take that away from him right now), and eventually all four judges gave RaVaughn a chance. And she challenged … Jason Warrior. Jason had successfully defended his seat last week — would he be able to live up to his surname and fight off another worthy opponent?
RaVaughn vs. Jason Warrior
Diddy and Charlie had advised Jason to show more nuances to his performance style and not just go for broke with cranked-to-11 maximum volume all the time. Of course Jason ignored this sage advice, and he wailed David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium” at the top of his lungs. But you know, wailing EDM is a good style for Jason; he’d actually do well in real life collaborating with superstar DJs on bangin’ club remixes. So, I liked this.
RaVaughn remained in mellow slow-jam mode for her cover of her ex-employer Brandy’s “Have You Ever.” It caused it energy in the studio sag a bit, after Jason’s tour de force, but I was vibin’, as Khaled might say. I don’t know why RaVaughn hemmed and hawed when the judges asked her earlier about her artistic direction; she seemed to know her brand pretty well. And her brand seemed very much in Diddy’s wheelhouse.
But surprisingly, while Meghan thought RaVaughn had the potential to beat Jason, Diddy actually disagreed. The audience was torn — and in the closest vote of the season, with a difference of only 1 percent, Jason squeaked through again. Damn. Another tough career break for RaVaughn.
If this 22-year-old Southern gentleman went on the rebooted American Idol (and I think he should!), he’d be America’s sweetheart, with his light-up-the-screen smile and aw-shucks demeanor. I liked his supple voice and endearing personality, but a swaggalicious track like “Jealous” by Nick Jonas wasn’t the best song choice, and on a nasty, cutthroat competition like The Four, he was the wrong fit. “I think you’re really sweet, but we’re not in the sweet business. We’re in the star business,” barked Charlie. Charlie had a point, but I was surprised that all four judges — even Meghan — passed on this poor kid. “This is a cold industry we’re in,” Diddy noted.
This Southern white rapper — the next Bubba Sparxxx? — definitely seemed “ready to eat” (this show’s lame catchphrase, which is totally not catching on) when he charged the stage and rallied the crowd. “I seen you just came to the stage, and you takin’ over. I like that!” raved Diddy. Nick demonstrated further confidence by choosing to do his own gutsy interpolation of Diddy’s “Bad Boy for Life.” Yes, he had confidence. He had swag. But I wasn’t impressed by his poor-man’s-Eminem flow. I felt he shouted most of this song.
But the judges were impressed. “Charlie and I were saying this was either going be a disaster or amazing … and it was amazing,” said Meghan. (Meh. I thought it was somewhere in between.) DJ Khaled demanded a battle between Nick and resident rapper Rell Jerv. And after four yes votes, Khaled got his wish.
Nick Harrison vs. Rell Jerv
Rell’s version “Feeling Alright” was much less manic and passionate than Nick’s performance, and his style was dated and stiff (“Rell wasn’t on,” griped Charlie), but his rapping style was more sophisticated and definitely tighter.
Nick was a fiercer performer, however, with his cover of Mobb Deep’s fittingly titled “Survival of the Fittest” galvanizing the audience and all but securing his victory. I preferred this to his first attempt. Even Rell had to admit: “Nick is great; he’s a tough competitor.”
Diddy said, “I think Nick showed that he wanted it more.” Meghan preferred Rell’s songwriting, but still sided with Nick. Charlie thought Rell had more long-term potential. The audience voted and agreed with Diddy and Meghan. Poor Rell. He later revealed that the reason he was off his game tonight was it was the anniversary of his brother/mentor’s death. This setback must have hurt.
This 30-year-old Canadian cover-band singer did the Chris Stapleton version of “Tennessee Whiskey” and, well, he sang it like a cover-band singer. There was no passion, no pathos, no guts, no glory. “I just wanted a little bit more from you,” said Meghan. “That song is about pain, it’s a deep, yearning desire, and I didn’t feel that desire. It didn’t move me emotionally,” said Diddy. Josh whined that his “performance didn’t deserve this” when he got four noes, but I think the judges got this verdict right.
So now the Four comprise holdovers old-school old-soul stylist Tim Johnson Jr. (who was not challenged this week) and Jason Warrior, along with underdog Kendyle Paige and rapper Nick Harrison. Will any of them keep their seats once Zhavia inevitably returns to exact her revenge? And will it all end in tears for Meghan Trainor? Watch this space.