After a 10-month journey that took him from busking the streets of Nashville to the stage of "American Idol," Clark Beckham lost the title to Connecticut pop singer Nick Fradiani on Wednesday.
In a departure from previous years, host Ryan Seacrest did not reveal how close the vote may have been, but as of Wednesday morning online polls showed a difference of three to four percentage points.
Beckham was the Southeast Tennessee hometown favorite because of his strong local ties. He graduated with a degree in history from Lee University a year ago. After enrolling in Lee, he attended Redemption Pointe church on Bailey Avenue in Chattanooga, where he sang in the choir and was on the church praise team.
Beckham has credited Lee with preparing him musically for the national stage, and he again recognized his alma mater on air Wednesday night. The two finalists honored their most influential teacher with tickets to the "Idol" finale. Beckham brought Jim Phillips, director of Lee's campus choir, to Los Angeles where Phillips was presented keys to a new Ford Focus.
As the winner, Fradiani will sign a record deal today with Big Machine Record Label in Nashville. But even as runner-up, the national audience Beckham built over four months of weekly "American Idol" episodes has made him a household name with a ready-made fan base that virtually ensures a record deal of his own.
"I trust that I'm going to go where God wants me to go," Beckham told the Times Free Press before the championship round. "Proverbs 19 says a man has many plans but the plans of God triumph. I just trust him. I'm going to work really hard to make this music thing happen."
"Clark is a humble guy, an incredibly authentic young man," said Kevin Wallace, lead pastor of Redemption Pointe Church on Bailey Avenue, the Highland Park church that Beckham began attending while he was a student at Lee and now is a member of the church's Praise Team.
"Clark will keep on singing. That's his gift and his passion," Wallace said. "He did it before 'American Idol,' and he'll still be singing in some way to glorify God and minister to people. His career, in some way, will have a positive effect on the music industry."
Voter's polls and iTunes downloads of the finalists' performances have shown Beckham as the consistent front-runner on "Idol" until two weeks ago. A standoff over artistic differences between Beckham and "Idol" mentor Scott Borchetta portrayed the singer as obstinate and unwilling to listen to the professional's advice in that week's video package. Even so, Beckham advanced the following week despite the video smackdown. A Newsday.com article noted that the judges' "seemingly began holding Clark to a higher standard" following that incident, while at the same time championing Fradiani, who lives in Connecticut.
"I don't think we can blame Borchetta entirely [for Beckham's loss to Fradiani], although I do feel that Borchetta was rather unfair to him in that episode," said Paul Conn, Lee University president. "Either way, Clark's won big-time — he's reached a level of celebrity that is something he can build on as he develops a career in music."
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.