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Jax is back in Jersey with the 'American Idol' tour


Cheryl Makin, @CherylMakin 3:36 p.m. EDT July 19, 2015

With Jax Pack members rejoicing and counting down the days, Jersey's favorite "American Idol," is headed back to her home state for three shows this month and early August.

Describing the tour experience as "euphoric," the 19-year-old Jax is ready to rock the Garden State with her fellow Top 5 — winner Nick Fradiani, 29, Clark Beckham, 23, Tyanna Jones, 16, and Rayvon Owen, 24.

The 37-city tour kicked off July 7 with several stops in Florida. On July 22, the singers will hit the Garden State with a show at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, followed by Caesars Atlantic City, Circus Maximus, on Aug. 1, and the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Aug. 2.

Also in the tri-state area, the Top 5 will be at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater in Chautauqua, New York, on July 24, at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on July 25, and at New York's Beacon Theatre on Aug. 5. Then the Top 5 twill head out west and conclude in California at the end of August.

"Opening night was perfect," Jax said in an exclusive interview. "The whole place was pretty packed. The energy was really great. It was really great that it all came together on stage."

As each show hits the stage, Jax said that "everything keeps ironing itself out. There's always a couple holes and we have to figure them out and fix them. It keeps getting tighter and tighter to us."

Rehearsals in Florida

With the Top 5 love as strong as ever, Jax said it was "amazing" being back together with her "American Idol" family. With the exception of Fradiani, they had been in rehearsals for just four days prior to the first show. Fradiani joined them the day before opening night.

"Rehearsals were stressful 'cause Nick was not there until the very last day," Jax said from the tour bus she shares with her "Idol" family. "He rehearsed earlier with the band, so we didn't get any time to rehearse with Nick. It was just the four of us trying to catch things up."

For Jax, the rehearsals reminded her of the pressure from "Hollywood Week."

"We learned all of our songs in like a couple hours and then, we were up all night trying to get it all done but it didn't seem humanly possible," she said. "It was rough, I'm not gonna lie. It was good though, the production just always slowly comes together. We work really well together."

The reunion of the "Idol" contenders was totally natural, Jax said. Since the May 13 finale, most of the finalists headed home to rest and work on a variety of projects. As the winner, Fradiani had specified "Idol" commitments, but the others kept busy as well. Never one to let a minute pass her by, Jax sang the national anthem at a few sporting events, namely the Indianapolis 500 pre-show with Big Machine founder/CEO and Season XIV mentor Scott Borchetta, and the NYPD/FDNY Sun Bowl. She participated in an event in Sweden for Urban Ears, conducted numerous meet-and-greets with Jax Pack members and made appearances at nursing homes, children's hospitals and several East Brunswick schools. At the company's request, the Taco Bell aficionado met with representatives from the chain at its Los Angeles headquarters.

Yet, after the whirlwind, extremely pressured and tight American Idol schedule from February to May, coming home to East Brunswick was something that took some adjustment for the Top 3 Idol.

"It's harder to be home because I don't have anyone to relate to," Jax said. "Now, I feel like I'm back with my family. Even though we are all in a tiny little tour bus and tight quarters, it feels like home."

The tour begins

During the tour, various Idol contestants will be opening for the Top 5. Kicking it off for the Florida gigs was Joey Cook, who made it to the Top 7 in Season XIV.

"I love Joey. She is kind of like a mom to me," Jax said of her former roommate. "She is killin' it. She is awesome at getting the crowd hyped. I think she is a great addition to the tour."

As the tour come closer to home, Top 24 contestant Adam Ezegelian will open the Aug. 1 Atlantic City show and Top 8 Qaasim Middleton will do the honors at the Aug. 15 New York show.

"I know all the Jersey shows are sold out which is so fun," Jax said. "I am so pumped for Jersey. I'm looking forward to that and Nashville (July 17) the most."

And now that the competition portion of Season XIV "American Idol" is over, the former contestants can enjoy simply performing together. The tour is their "victory lap."

"I don't think we ever felt like we were competing in the first place, so I wouldn't say it is so different," she said. "But we don't have the pressure of being cut every night. It's definitely less gruesome."

Performing solo and in groups, "American Idol Live!" spotlights the Top 5 in ways not seen in the weekly episodes. According to Jax, there is a different vibe to the live show, which also has a full band.

"It is super intimate," Jax said. "We all get a minute to share our stories with you. It's a different feel than there was on the show. You get to see a bunch of different sides of us that you couldn't see in the show where we only got like 90 seconds each. We each get more time and we are having such a good time on stage together. Our chemistry is unreal. I think we give you the most that we could in two hours or so."

In the Florida shows, Jones charmed the audience with "Sweet Dreams" by Beyonce and "Lips Are Moving" by Meghan Trainor while Owen soloed on "Jealous" by Nick Jonas and a mash-up of "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry and "Thinking About You" by Frank Ocean.

Beckham's set list included "Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles, "Earned It," by The Weekend, "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman and "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5. The newly crowned 2015 "American Idol" Fradiani showcased "American Girl" by Tom Petty, "I Won't Give Up," by Jason Mraz, "No Diggity" by Blackstreet as well as "Coming Your Way" by his band Beach Avenue and his "American Idol" coronation song "Beautiful Life."

Jax reprised season favorites "My Generation" by The Who, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl (Guy)" by Jet, "You Give Love A Bad Name" by Bon Jovi and "White Flag" by Dido. A huge Paramore fan, Jax also sang their "Brick By Boring Brick." As an added attraction, she belted out her girl power "coronation" song "Forcefield."

"I got to pick the Paramore song, but I might do a Steven Tyler song instead of a Paramore song at the Jersey shows," Jax said as Beckham joined her on the tour bus. "We will see what's up. For one of the Jersey gigs, I plan on dressing up as a zombie. I never asked permission, but I think I'll just wing it and be a zombie. One of the fans sent me a zombie T-shirt and I'll deck myself out."

In various group formations, the Idols performed tunes such as "Are You Gonna Go My Way" by Lenny Kravitz, "God Bless The Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts, "People Like Us" by Kelly Clarkson, "I Bet My Life" by Imagine Dragons, "Chandelier" by Sia, "See You Again" by Wiz Kalifah, "Lie to Me" by Jonny Lang and "Some Nights" by Fun.

Giving her all

Known for her ability to connect with the audience through the television screen, Jax said that in the live setting the connection is an amazing experience. Without the judges or camera to worry about, that connection is amplified.

"It's beyond crazy!," she said. "The crowd is my favorite part. It's like, 'I'm gonna go jump in the crowd now.' The first show I did, I pulled a little girl up on stage with me. She was totally 'Jaxified' and I was like, 'I have to bring her up.' She was jumping around with me. She was killin' it. I had such a good time with her."

Acknowledging that concert-goers have paid to see the Idols perform, Jax is dedicated to giving her best each and every night of the tour.

"They are paying to see us," she said. "I want to make them feel like they are getting their money's worth and feel like they are part of the show with me. They really are. Everybody has been incredible. This is what I live to do. I'm in my element."

Never far from Jax's mind is her beloved Jax Pack. At each show, she makes it a point to meet with them.

"I wait outside at the end of the show by the tour bus," she said. "I've seen so many. Everywhere I look there's a kid with an 'X' on her face. It's fantastic that I was able to have that kind of impact on somebody. That they will come see a concert. I remember when I was that age. These little girls remind me of myself so much. I do everything in my power to give back to these people."

The tour bus life

Jax said she enjoys the jam-packed tour schedule.

"It's very tight," she said. "Like I have press now, then sound check, rehearsal, maybe meet and greet. We get a certain amount of time to eat and get ready. More meet and greets, then show and shower, get clothes on, then more meet and greets and back on the bus. I have the attention span of a squirrel, so this is good for me."

Pre-tour, Jax said she was a bit worried about the tour bus situation as in "smelly boys." She and Owen have renewed their Netflix-binging camaraderie and even in a small space, the five have managed to have a "good time together."

"We are getting into a good routine with hygiene here," she said, laughing. "Truth is we are all pretty smelly. I actually just came back from a 5-mile run and am sitting here eating granola bars. Clark is here with a towel on his head. It's not as bad as I thought. We get along way too well. People would never think we would."

Each of the Top 5 have their own unique style and none come from the same background, whether it be religion, geography or family make-up. Yet, the love they have for each other and the bond they share is very real.

"We all do come from completely universes, but we click really well and have always clicked really well from day one," said Jax, who added that she and Nick are "almost the same person." "It just so happened that we ended up in the Top 5 together. There were a couple people that you got close to in the beginning of the show and all of those people happen to be these people. It's awesome. I love Rayvon, love Nick, love Clark and Tyanna. She is like my little sister. We are the weirdest family of all time."

Jax thinks that part of their closeness comes from their mutual love of music and desire for it as a profession.

"There's an amount of respect and appreciation all the time even if we come from different places," she added.

What comes next

As for Jax's after-tour plans, nothing is set in concrete. She most likely will be working with "Taco Bell" in some manner (and not behind the counter!). A record of her own will be forthcoming.

"I have a bunch of projects I'll continue to be working on after the tour," she said. "I hope to be working on a record at some point. That's primarily my job, besides all the craziness that goes on around me. Knowing myself, I'll be in some weird situation, like racing some big head race cars in Sweden. I have no direct game plan, but the bottom line is that I'll be working. Even if it's the weirdest project ever, I'm still working. I'm so in love with my job."

Jax also is back in writing mode, which she noted has changed lyrically.

"During Idol it was hard," she said. "But, now I've got my mini-keyboard on the tour bus with me. My writing is always a bit different depending on my experience. I think I have a pretty specific style when it comes to the music end of it. You can pretty much tell chord wise, that 'oh Jax wrote that,' but lyrically its a different ball game now. I got so much brain food from the show. I have so much to tell and so many stories. It's like I couldn't even make this stuff up if I tried."

Tickets for "American Idol Live!" are available through the venues or via AmericanIdol.com/tour. For more information, go to americanidol.com.