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'American Idol' Top 5 wows in Jersey's sold-out show


Cheryl Makin, @CherylMakin 11:30 a.m. EDT July 23, 2015

MORRISTOWN – When the "American Idol Live!" tour buses rolled into town Wednesday, they knew they were in "Jaxland," as coined by Top 5 finalist Rayvon Owen. From the opening number of "Are You Gonna Go My Way" by Lenny Kravitz to the closing "Some Nights" by Fun., Jersey clearly came out in force to see their homegirl Jax take the stage.

Jersey represented — with "X's" and over-the-top energy. As runner-up Clark Beckham said "This is the first sold out show of the tour!" In fact, all three of the Garden State shows in the 37-city tour sold out. The singers launched their New Jersey appearances Wednesday at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown; this will be followed by Caesars Atlantic City, Circus Maximus, on Aug. 1, and the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank on Aug. 2. The tour kicked off July 7 with several stops in Florida, and continues through the summer.

On Wednesday, "American Idol" winner Nick Fradiani was the first to welcome the exuberant crowd.

"We are all so happy to be here! You know Jax is happy to be here!," Fradiani said.

As the night went on, the back row, especially "Back Row Man," made their presence known complete with the requisite "How you doin'?!"

"I never know what he is sayin'," Beckham said. "But I love him."

The Jersey Girl herself confessed how much she missed home with a shonfident "Hi New Jersey" that blossomed into a bubbly "It has been way too long! I missed you guys so much! I miss the accents! I miss the pizza! Oh my gosh, I miss everything about this place! I miss how mean you guys are like me. We're like tough. Everybody is so nice around the world. They can't handle the Jersey girls. We did it. We sold out New Jersey! You guys are amazing!"

Each of the Idols — Jax, Fradiani, Beckham, Owen and Tyanna Jones — made it clear that were happy to be there and do what they do best — sing their faces off. Man, can these five sing. Beckham and Owen were hitting falsettos left and right, Jax gave it her own special brand of punk pop power while Jones was holding improbable notes and Fradiani was rockin' something fierce. Their exuberance was inspiring.

Beckham — who is a really funny guy — said it best when he noted there were "no cameras, no judges. Just people." It was clear all five were loving the moment and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The show was on-your-feet fun, nothing to prove, no critiques to dwell on and thankfully, no more eliminations.

In the smaller theater setting and with only five performers, the audience got a bit more from each Idol. There were intimate moments, personal insights and pure talent showcased. During the course of the show, each Idol was highlighted in song and had a turn telling their story — how they wound up on that Season XIV "American Idol" stage.

"We get to give a closer look at us on a musical level and a personal level," Beckham said.

We learned Jax once watched a Britney Spears concert facing backwards, so the audience was facing her and she could perform to them. Beckham used to intersperse commercial jingles into background music at weddings — just because he could, Jones is the middle child of 11, Fradiani played college basketball and Owen had auditioned for "American Idol" six times before making it. Who knew?

On that "home," stage, Jax became emotional and teared up when talking about her journey, having been given a global platform to perform and the people that have become her family — the "American Idol" Top 5, other contestants, those from the show and the JaxPack that just keeps growing. It was sweet and honest and no surprise from the girl we first met singing "I Want To Hold Your Hand" at the New York auditions months ago.

"Thank you for the chance to live our dreams," she said. "The chance to be rock stars. I am eternally grateful."

And of course, the Top 5 sang. Wow, did they sing. In this day and age of autotuned perfection, these five hit every high note, low note and every one in between on their own. There were ballads, high energy tunes, covers, originals, solos and group numbers. They backed up each other and shared the stage as only friends can.

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 "Thinkin Bout You" by Frank Ocean.

Beckham opened with his soulstirring "Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles. Later he gave us "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman and "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5 — there may have been some swooning on that number. The newly crowned 2015 "American Idol" Fradiani showcased "American Girl" by Tom Petty, surprised everyone with "No Diggity" by Blackstreet and took us back to that finale moment in May with his "American Idol" coronation song "Beautiful Life."

Personally, I really loved the Chapman cover and "No Diggity," the later to the embarrassment of my 19-year-old daughter ("You know what that's about right?!"). Jones' take on "Lip's Are Movin" had everybody movin' and I was more than a little jealous of Owen's vocals on the Jonas' hit (okay, I was jealous of every number).

Jax reprised Season XIV favorites — rockin' out to "My Generation" by The Who, and "Are You Gonna Be My Girl (Guy)" by Jet before taking a seat at the piano and making us surrender to the plaintive "White Flag" by Dido and singing along to the hot "You Give Love A Bad Name" by Bon Jovi. As an extra special treat, she paid homage to the finale and her favorite duet partner Steven Tyler by performing his newest and first country single, "Love Is Your Name." Yea. I loved each and every Jax number. What can I say? She's my girl. She energized the crowd, had us on our feet with our "X's up" and connected.

There was meaning in many of the "American Idol Live!" song choices. As Jax told her story of her dad's experience as a first responder in 9/11 and how it changed his and her family's life, the three Top 5 men sang "God Bless The Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts. Fradiani recounted his own journey in music, hoping inspiring others not to let go of their dreams. He ended his tale with Jason Mraz's "I Wont Give Up."

After the show, all five Idols agreed that while many of the songs were season XIV favorites, what was "extra awesome" was the fact that the tour set list allowed them to branch out with other songs of their own choice. There was freedom in the set list and it showed. We even got to hear originals — Beckham's groove driven "I'm Not Going To Give Away Your Love" and Fradiani's fun "Coming Your Way" that he wrote with his band Beach Avenue.

In various group formations, the Idols performed tunes such as "People Like Us" by Kelly Clarkson, "I Bet My Life" by Imagine Dragons, "Chandelier" by Sia, "See You Again" by Wiz Kalifah and Charlie Puth, and "Lie to Me" by Jonny Lang. There is a certain magic when all five are together. Their voices created a harmonious hum, blending beautifully and soaring on the solos. The joy these musicians feel when singing needed no translation — even to a sold-out crowd from Jersey.

As each believes in their soul and as inspired by their "American Idol" mentor Scott Borchetta, "music has value." His students have become teachers.

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

For a repository of our exclusive digital and print coverage of Jax's Journey, go to MyCentralJersey.com and type in Jax in the search field on the home page.