As we continue to barrel through the last weeks of American Idol, we’re already waxing nostalgic for those hometown auditions, in which the top eight contestants first caught the eye of the judges. For Wednesday evening’s performances, we find the finalists challenged to make lightning strike twice and perform the first song they offered up to the panel. In addition to that, the super eight are paired together for duets.
Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Jennifer Lopez arrive with big smiles and lots of love for the fans. Of course, Jennifer has to be a bit more demure that the guys since she’s sporting a super-short white lace dress.
First to the stage is Jessica Meuse and we get to see her origin story, as well as footage from her initial audition. In a red dress, the Alabama native sings the original song “Blue-Eyed Lie” that first won her a golden ticket. I think it’s the most comfortable she’s ever looked on stage.
Keith starts off by comparing Jessica’s voice to that of Grace Slick. He loved it, but wants Jessica to move a bit more on stage with more energy. Jennifer loved the original material and thought the performance was “perfect.” Harry compares her to Cher and Nancy Sinatra and disagrees with Keith about her movement, saying that her performance was powerful. He asserts, “I love that song.”
Next up is C.J. Harris, who first earned his trip to Hollywood at the Salt Lake City auditions. His choice is “Soulshine” from the Allman Brothers Band. Jennifer is near tears as she tells him that it was even better than the first time. Harry compliments the work he’s done on his pitch. Keith also thinks it was vastly improved.
The first duet to the stage is comprised of Jena Irene and Alex Preston, who sing “Just Give Me A Reason.”
Returning to the solos, Sam Woolf is up next for a visit down memory lane. After seeing his baby pictures, we’re reminded that his audition song was Ed Sheeran‘s “Lego House.” If American Idol is sponsored by Coke, then Sam’s performance is sponsored by Kathy Ireland and Lamps Plus. The judges and girls in the audience love it. Harry advises Sam to make a connection in the audience. Keith likes his improvement but wants to see him be more soulful.
Jessica Meuse and Caleb Johnson perform “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.” as made famous by Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. It’s the perfect selection for these two, and now I want to see them tour. It’s probably the best duet of the night, hands-down.
Adorable Malaya Watson takes to the stage for a repeat performance of Aretha Franklin‘s “Ain’t No Way.” She delivers it with trademark Malaya old-school charm, while still sounding modern in her golden shoes.
Keith tells her how happy he is with how she’s grown. Jennifer tells her, “You’re blossoming into this star.” Harry calls it “a really, really strong performance.” Then he gives her some super technical advice to fine-tune her vocals. And this is the first time I notice that the images of the Facebook supporters cascading in the background basically resembles an old people waterfall.
Dexter Roberts is up for his solo, “One Mississippi” by Brett Eldredge, and is sitting atop a stool with his microphone. Jennifer is entranced throughout the entire performance. During her critique, she tells him, “Good job!” Harry praises the singing, as well as the song choice. Keith congratulates him as well, but encourages Dexter to focus even more on the lyrics.
Malaya Watson and Sam Woolf team up next for “Lucky” by Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz. Sweet Sam is a bit too shy for the saucy Malaya, who steals the show in her sparkly loafers, despite facing issues harmonizing.
The next soloist is Jena Irene, revisiting her audition song “Rolling in the Deep.” Harry compliments Jena’s voice during her performance. Keith tells her that she made the song her own. Jennifer advises Jena to aim for the top spot.
Alabama boys Dexter and C.J. pair up to sing “Alright” by Darius Rucker. Strumming their guitars, they seem to be having fun, even as the competition heats up.
Caleb Johnson takes the stage for his solo, “Chain of Fools.” It’s a very bluesy, rock version of the song, complete with a faux stained glass window effect behind him.
The panel is ecstatic, with Keith calling him “a rock and roll Viking.” Jennifer also gushes and says, “You kill the audience with it every time.” Harry calls it “a great performance,” but asks for at least one soft song from Caleb.
Last for the night is Alex Preston, whose audition song was an original, titled, “Fairytales.” His return to the stage has him singing the song with the smoke machine in full effect. The judges as a whole are complimentary and congratulate the contestants on the improvements they’ve made since first making their way onto the show.
But, as we all know, it’s not as important what the judges say, but what America thinks. So, let’s see what democracy is all about during the results show, shall we?
Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.
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