Tonight's episode of "American Idol" is an important one for contestant Clark Beckham. Its results decide whether his summer job will be singing on stages across America or back on the streets in Nashville's South Broadway tourist district, where he sang for tips as a street performer last summer.
Beckham, the Lee University alumnus from White House, Tenn., is one of six remaining finalists on Fox Network's reality TV talent show. The five singers who advance tonight will participate in "American Idol Live!," the show's annual summer tour that gives fans a chance to hear their favorite singers in person as well as get autographs and photos.
In a surprise move two weeks ago, "Idol" announced a new change for its 14th consecutive national tour. Only the top five finalists will travel this summer as opposed to taking all 10 finalists on the road, as has been the case until now. The five will be accompanied by a live band, also a change from last year when singers performed to backing tracks.
"American Idol" airs at 8 p.m. today on Fox Network. The "American Idol Live!" tour stops in Nashville on July 17 for a performance in Ryman Auditorium at 8 p.m. CDT. Tickets are $53.50, $63.50 and $73.50 plus service fees, and they can be ordered online at ryman.com/events/AmericanIdolLive.
Billboard.com reports that the "Idol" tour has suffered from "sluggish ticket sales" in recent years, and suggests this cast cut is a cost-saving measure, as was the choice to scale the show's air time this season to one night from two. Also the size of this year's tour venues has been downsized to theaters, casinos and opera houses instead of stadiums. For example, Season 10's tour, which featured Rossville's Lauren Alaina, played the Bridgestone Arena on its Nashville stop. When Season 14's "American Idol Live!" stops in Nashville on July 17, it will be at the Ryman Auditorium. Nashville is one of 37 cities on the tour, which begins July 7 in Clearwater, Fla., and ends Aug. 28 in Riverside, Calif.
Beckham is shaping up to be the odds-on favorite to win the contest. In fact, Gold Derby gambling website declares him the "overwhelming favorite" with 4/7 odds to win. After Beckham's performance last week, "Idol" judge Harry Connick Jr. called him "the only musician left in the competition." His videos are ranked in the Top 3 most-watched on "Idol's" website.
The singer has distanced himself from the competition by accompanying himself either on piano or guitar, and he has written several of his own arrangements when he could just rely on "Idol's" live band of professional musicians. Beckham's song choices have set him up as a crooner and soul/blues artist. Tonight's theme will put him to the test since "arena anthems" are not his wheelhouse.
"In 'American Idol' you've got to prove your versatility, and I think that Clark's strength is versatility," says Jimmy Phillips, director of Lee University's Campus Choir. Beckham sang with the choir for several years while an undergraduate.
"I've heard Clark do songs written in that style, and I think he'll make the transition," Phillips predicts.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.