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Return to American Idol

Jax marks her spot on the way to the top


Cheryl Makin, @CherylMakin 11:43 a.m. EDT June 10, 2015
The "American Idol" journey is one Jax cherishes. Proud of her Top 3 finish, Jax is happy she was able to get closure during the May 13 finale.

EAST BRUNSWICK – Jax relishes her Top 3 "American Idol" status. While some may lament the "could have been" of a first-place crown, Jax is ever the positive punk-pop princess and more than happy with her third-place finish.

"The funny part about this was, I feel like it's cooler to come in third place," Jax said. "Cause third, it's not as mainstream as first place. And the JaxPack is so weird and freaky and we're like, 'Yea we took third place and we destroyed the show a little bit.' "

As for that destruction, which was topped by a no-holds-barred, show-stopping finale performance with Steven Tyler, Jax's enthusiasm is contagious.

"That moment was incredible," she said. "Steven is the craziest rock star you're ever gonna meet in your entire life. It was so fun being on stage with him. When we were in rehearsal, Steven made it feel like we weren't even rehearsing. It felt like we were just hanging out which is really super cool. He made rehearsal feel like a party. No nerves whatsoever. I got to be in the studio with Steven and he treated me like a rock star. He was super fun. He was crazy, man."

"My dad was worried," she joked. "I was like, 'Hey dad, no dig deal, I'm over here with Steven Tyler, just chillin' out.' "

Never thinking the journey on "American Idol" would have taken her to a Top 3 finish, Jax is grateful for every step along the way.

"This year has been such a roller coaster," she said. "I've packed about 50 years of experiences into this one year."

Now back home for three weeks before going on an American Idol tour, one would think Jax has been "chillin' out," taking a much deserved break. Not at all. Unless a trip to the StarPlex movie theater to see "Pitch Perfect 2" and runs to her triumvirate of favorites — the local Taco Bell, Wawa and Dunkin' Donuts — count, Jax has only upped her game to the next level.

A bundle of energy

The girl never sits. She never sleeps and she never sits. A bundle of energy, Jax with her trademark "X" on her left upper cheek and handless glove, is always on the move.

Even when Jax talks, she is animated, on warp speed, and not one to hold back or sugarcoat. She is also not one to be hurtful. Living by the "Golden Rule" — "Do unto others, as you would like done to you" — is tantamount to who she is.

So, who is she? As she will tell you, she is human. Despite her now obvious musical talent, Jax is very clear that she "is no different than anyone else." That was a big reason why she sang Christina Perri's "Human" on "American Idol." It was important to Jax to remind others that she — and her fellow contestants — were just "human."

There is no Jax without the music. Music is the 19-year-old's lifeblood. It is what drives her. When you talk about music with the singer-songwriter, the jovial tone becomes serious, even contemplative. Jax is focused when it comes to music. She writes when she cannot sleep, she writes when inspired.

Through her "American Idol" journey, Jax's purpose was only strengthened by her belief that she was put "on this earth to share happiness through music."

"I love music so much," she said. "Music speaks to my heart. It is the power, the strength."

Born in New York, Jax and her family moved to the suburb in time for her to enter the third grade at Memorial School. She left public school after the seventh grade in Hammarskjold Junior High School to pursue her passion — music. Jax has been singing as long as she has been talking. She talks and sings — a lot.

It was Jax's family who convinced her to try out for "American Idol."

"My dad, my mom and my little brother all said I should try out because it's a really great opportunity. It became bigger than we could have imagined," she said. "My parents and family have always been very supportive. I grew up with musical theater. I was always in plays and things like that. I was 'Little Orphan Annie.' When I moved to New Jersey from New York, I didn't have theater around me, so I ended up joining bands. And all of a sudden, I was in love with Janis Joplin, Billy Joel and Joan Jett. I fell in love with rock 'n' roll and I couldn't stop singing. I couldn't stop being on stage."

In September, Jax auditioned for "American Idol." Before judges Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Season VIII finalist Adam Lambert, her rendition of The Beatles "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" had them mesmerized and garnered her a coveted "Golden Ticket" to Hollywood.

Throughout the season, Jax was a favorite of viewers, judges Connick, Lopez and Keith Urban, Idol mentor Scott Borchetta and celebrity mentors such as Boy George, Kelly Clarkson and Martina McBride. At the finale of Season XIV, Connick said he knew what she had from the first moment he saw her.

"I remember the day — I can say this now — when I saw Jax audition, I really thought she had a pretty good chance to win," Connick said. "I'm so proud of her. She is a legitimate artist."

The elimination

While Jax was not named the "American Idol," she was a Top 3 finalist, making it further than any other Jersey artist in Idol history. There was some controversy as to how the Top 2 elimination was handled. Once her name was called in the first few seconds of the show, Jax was whisked off the stage without an opportunity to properly say goodbye. The was the only time in the history of Idol that an elimination was carried out in that manner. That move had fans and Jax upset.

That night, Jax thanked her devoted fans — the Jax Pack — on Twitter with a simple "Love you all."

"I could have never accomplished any of this without you," she said later. "JaxPack is in my heart and we will continue to be a family because the future is bright."

Jax said it wasn't the fact that she was eliminated that upset her, but the way it was handled.

"I was, of course, upset that I was cut, but I needed to have closure. I'm such a huge advocate for closure," she said. "And this was the hugest moment of my life. Obviously I worked hard and I felt like I deserved a moment to say goodbye but really everyone else worked harder than me. Seriously, there were sleepless nights of fans on Twitter, some people paid to come out there. I was hurt. I was so heartbroken, but it wasn't even for me. The fact that I got cut didn't even hurt as much as the fact that I couldn't thank everybody."

Jax said that Connick came to see her in her dressing room after the show. After he introduced Jax to his wife and daughters, he let Jax know how he felt about the night.

"He was angry at the show," she said. "He said that it was inhumane. He said 'I don't take any credit for that. I was not behind that. I had no idea that's how they were going to do that.' "

Jax needed a proper ending to her journey. After bringing down the house with her "Piece of My Heart" performance with Tyler at the finale, Jax was handed the mic by Ryan Seacrest to answer a question. Jax answered, but hung onto the mic. She had more to say. Jax stepped forward and thanked all those — judges, crew, band, fellow contestants, fans — who supported her along the way and gave her the "epic platform" that is "American Idol."

"I had to," she said. "It's funny but on live TV, there's no room for being spontaneous. Every move is sketched out. It scares people a little bit. Everybody kinda froze, but I needed it. I needed to do what I did."

For Jax, it was hard "being swept away the night before like that."

"I actually felt guilty," she said. "I don't know whose call it was, but it wasn't my call to do the elimination the way I was cut. They warned us before the show which freaked me out a little bit. It felt kind of disrespectful to me. I had to thank the judges. Everybody had such a huge input — the crew, the band, the judges, the fans, my family. I never got to see the crowd. I looked up and saw the 'Jax Pack' signs. And then they took me out and took me to the press. I was getting frazzled."

Summer plans

That was then, this is now. Her first single, "Forcefield," is available on iTunes. Written for her as a "coronation song," "Forcefield" is a strong, empowerment song that she called "very Jax." She was excited to release what she called a "Chick Power Anthem."

"It's for all the girls out there that aren't afraid of being themselves and following their dreams," she said. "They inspire me."

Missing her "American Idol" family, Jax looking forward to being reunited with the Top 5 as they head to Florida at the end of June for rehearsals for the "American Idol Live!" tour. According to "American Idol," the Top 5 — Nick Fradiani, Clark Beckham, Jax, Rayvon Owen and Tyanna Jones — with a live band will showcase their individual artistry and talents.

The Top 5 will travel by bus to 37 cities. They first hit the tri-state area with a show on July 22 in Morristown. Shows on July 25 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Aug. 1 in Atlantic City, Aug. 2 in Red Bank and Aug. 5 in New York. The tour kicks off on July 7 in Florida and ends on Aug. 28 in California.

"I have to be on a bus with smelly boys!," she said. "I don't think I'm ready for it. Oh, I hope there is air conditioning. I'm hoping that there are bathrooms on the tour buses. Otherwise, everyone is going to get really cranky, really fast. I didn't pay attention in the meeting, so I'm not entirely sure where we are going, but I'm excited. I don't know if I am ready for this. Don't know if I've got the guns for this yet. Gotta start working out and eating all these cupcakes."

Jax intends to bring a Build-A-Bear she named Jaxson along as a mascot. Jaxson is a gift from two JaxPack members. She also intends to hold meet-and-greets outside the venues.

"I plan on meeting as many JaxPack members as I can," she said.

Jax adores her "American Idol" family. Though the show is a competition, Jax said the support they gave and the love they have for each other belies that fact.

As for her Top 3 boys, Fradiani and Beckham, Jax said the two are very different but both are very funny and caring men.

"Nick is totally 'Grandpa' on one hand but then a minute later he is like a little boy. Like he's younger than me. He is such a big brother to me," she said. "They both are brotherly to me in different ways. Clark has such a good heart. You can really talk to him. Nick can have you laughing all the time for a minute, while Clark doesn't joke as much. But when he does, you are laughing for days. Remember when he told me all Taco Bells were closing? I totally believed him."

As for her future after the tour, it will involve sharing more of her music. Just where and with who or what are yet to be determined.

Staff Writer Cheryl Makin: 732-565-7256; cmakin@mycentraljersey.com