For the first time ever, the Final Four performed three songs each on American Idol Wednesday. The themes were breakups, make-ups and dedications, and one of the singers will get dumped by America on Thursday. Who will it be?
Let's get right to the performances:
First song: "You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi
The performance: Obviously this is right up Caleb's alley, and he gave us pretty much exactly what we've come to expect vocally at this point. His marching straight up to Keith Urban and clapping him on the shoulder, followed by an (impromptu?) walk through the crowd is pretty charming — even if Keith looked less than thrilled.
What the judges say: Keith changes his tune when it comes to the critique, calling the performance "killer" and complimenting Caleb for putting his own spin on it at the end. Jennifer Lopez says she felt like she was at a rock concert. Harry Connick Jr. loves it too, but advises Caleb to vary the ad libs he incorporates into his songs.
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Second song: "Travellin' Band" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
The performance: Caleb tops his first outing with this performance. It's the same shtick, but he just kicks it up a notch this time around, speeding up the song a bit and making all of his movements seem natural and not gimmicky. Going blues for the last couple of lines is also an excellent, inventive artistic choice.
What the judges say: Not much, oddly. Jen tells Caleb he'll be "tough to beat." Harry says the performance was "fantastic," but spends most of his critique praising the band, and Keith does the same.
Third song: "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney
The performance: It's refreshing to see Caleb tackle a ballad after his first two barnburners, but he looks bored for the first part of the song, until he gets to the screechy part at the end. Caleb's much better at improvising with a full band rocking out behind him, but this is serviceable. And it's nice to see that his soft "oohs" are delivered with as much control as his ear-splitting yells.
What the judges say: Harry loved the softness and called the performance "phenomenal." Keith says Nicole Kidman is probably watching at home "freaking out" because she loves this song. (Do we believe this? Sound off below.) J.Lo says it was his best performance of the competition. (False.)
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First song: "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
The performance: Tackling any past Idol standout, let alone HRH Clarkson, is always risky business, and this is a shaky start for Jessica. It takes her a couple of lines to get the key right, and while she's probably going for disaffected during the verses, unfortunately she just comes off looking bored. Her guitar playing puts a nice hard rock spin on the song, but the performance as a whole just doesn't cut it — aside from a nice delivery on the "out of sight, out of mind" line.
What the judges say: "It's by no means an easy song to sing," begins J.Lo. She says Jessica clearly "felt" the song, but it wasn't the best choice for her and was "off" in parts. Harry tells Jessica he's glad she has two more songs to make up for it, and tells her to find a way to convey her emotions more. Keith wonders if it's hard for performers to rock out when the judges are sitting stoically at the table.
Second song: "So What" by Pink
The performance: It's obvious that Jess is trying to take Harry's advice to heart and show more emotion in her face as she's performing. There's just something missing from this song, though, and it doesn't really rise above karaoke level. It's unfortunate that the line "I'm a rock star" is repeated so much, because it sounds utterly unconvincing from Jess this week — even with shooting flames behind her and those knee-high boots.
What the judges say: Harry felt like he was at Benihana with the flames (ouch). He and Keith both knock Jessica's song choices, and we can't help but agree. J.Lo also says that she was rocking out to the song, rather than Jessica's performance. But all three say they're pulling for her third number.
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Third song: "You and I" by Lady Gaga
The performance: Still feels a little phoned in, but it's Jessica's best performance of the night. Although, wait a minute — the first part is a little drowsy, but Jessica's riffing at the end snaps my head to attention and really brings the performance to the next level. And as far as rearranging Lady Gaga songs, she does a much better job than Jena (see below). Do we think that Jessica's constant refrain of "I'm having so much fun" means that she suspects she'll be going home tomorrow night?
What the judges say: Keith says it was a perfect song choice, and Jen agrees that it's "what they've been waiting for all night." Harry also says that she nailed the performance.
First song: "Too Close" by Alex Clare
The performance: Does Alex get props for putting his own spin on this song? Yes in terms of originality, but no because all it manages to do is wrangle it into his coffee shopcomfort zone. And so, like Caleb, the performance is fine but not even a little bit different than anything we've seen Alex do thus far. Personally I would have been much more interested to see if he could have handled the tune in its original anthemic version.
What the judges say: Harry loves the way Alex "deconstructed" the song, and Keith does too — although he notes that a lot of Alex's performances are missing "weight." Jennifer is also concerned that he does the same thing every time he gets on stage.
Second song: "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz
The performance: Has anyone ever seen Jason Mraz and Alex Preston in the same room? Every time they perform simultaneously, does an angel sprout a ukulele and/or a fedora and pen an acoustic ballad that features some scat-riffing in its final verse? Alright, I'll stop. But seriously, could Alex have made a safer choice? This is the quarterfinals, not Hollywood Week. The performance was fine — as if it could have been anything but.
What the judges say: Jen loved it, but reiterates that Alex needs to surprise the audience and kick it up a notch in these final weeks. Preach, J.Lo! Harry says the cover was too straightforward, and he wishes Alex would have reinvented the song like he did with "Too Close." Keith says it was good, given that each performer had to learn four(?) songs this week.
Third song: "Yellow" by Coldplay
The performance: Alex puts a little more of his own trademark onto this number than he did with "I'm Yours," but it's still mostly just a straightforward cover. Though he looks completely comfortable and relaxed behind the microphone, he sounds like he's straining to hit some of the higher notes.
What the judges say: Harry says that was the type of performance Alex needed, and he wouldn't know who to vote for. Keith compliments Alex's "poetic vulnerability." J.Lo says it was a "perfect" song choice and beautiful performance.
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First song: "Heartbreaker" by Pat Benatar
The performance: Now this is a performance. If the judges are seeking "moments," there's about four in this song alone — the standout being Jena's insane note at the end of the first verse, held for a couple of beats longer than Benatar does in the original. And she's got the attitude to match — despite being just 17.
What the judges say: Keith praises Jena's range, but he feels like she didn't commit to the song fully. Jen disagrees, and likes that Jena opted to be more controlled and commanding as opposed to just losing herself in the song. Harry gives it a 10 vocally, but like Keith, wishes Jena would be more connected. (Jena admits that she was a little uncomfortable in heels, HA.)
Second song: "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga
The performance: Wince. Not feeling this slowed-down rock arrangement by Jena, although her decision to change up the key on the chorus is interesting and definitely the most pleasing part of the song. But it's so strange — Jena's tone is ostensibly perfect for this song, and yet it just doesn't work here.
What the judges say: Keith also likes her changing the melody for the chorus. J.Lo says Jena "gives Caleb a run for his money," even though she wasn't a fan of the arrangement. She's quick to add that Alex and Jessica are still in it, too! (Lies.) Harry asks Jena why she didn't go high in the chorus. "It just sounded like I was yelling, and I didn't want to sound like I was yelling," Jena explains. We the viewers appreciate that, Jena!
Third song: "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" by Elvis Presley
The performance: Jena's delivery during this piano ballad is just gorgeous. She could have shown a little more restraint on the second verse (which prompted a loud — and hilariously censored — "F---!!!" from Jennifer Lopez, who stands up before the performance is even over), but the performance is mostly without flaw. Best of the night. J.Lo gets up to kiss her.
What the judges say: "F---!" (Or "fun," if you believe what Jennifer tells Ryan Seacrest afterwards.) .-Lo basically just loses her mind and says she can't believe how well Jena reinvented the Elvis classic. Harry says it took a ton of "courage" for Jena to rearrange the song like that. "Very simply put, it was incredible," he concludes. Keith is also blown away, calls the song "spellbinding" and compares Jena to a "musical platypus." (Unique, he clarifies.)
What did you think? What were your favorite and least favorite performances? Is the #IdolSelfie the most awkward thing to ever happen on the show? And who will be sent packing tomorrow night? Weigh in below — and catch up on Idol performances and clips here.
American Idol airs Wednesdays at 8/7c and Thursdays at 9/8c on Fox.