The competition for American Idol Season XVIII has been as fierce as ever but we finally are down to the Top 4. Caleb Johnson, Jessica Meuse, Alex Preston, and Jena Irene tackled the topic of love on Wednesday night’s episode. But like love, it takes two…and our bets are on Jena and Caleb for the final face-off.
The top four contestants performed three songs each (for the first time ever): a breakup song, a personal dedication, and a makeup song! While there were a few stellar moments that evening, the one that stole the show was Jena Irene’s closing performance of Elvis Presley’s 1961 classic”Can’t Help Falling in Love.” In fact it was so draw-dropping it caused Jennifer Lopez to drop an F-bomb as she glanced over to Randy Jackson (also known as that weird audio glitch in the East coast feed) and left Jennifer running up onstage to give Jena a celebratory smooch! Did we mention JLo admitted to being almost in tears…Unless America screws this up, Jena is a lock for the top two! Let’s take a look at the night on the whole:
Caleb Johnson kicked off the night with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Being a Jersey girl myself, I could not help but rock out to this song. That said, I’d rock out to this song if it were a karaoke cover, but that was not the case here. Caleb nailed it and really showed he could command the stage like the budding rockstar her is. He sang like Bon Jovi and reminded me of a you Meatloaf! Next up, he tackled Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band” which he dedicated to his bandmates back in North Carolina. The on-stage band gave the song the extra stage presence it required but Caleb owned that performance all his own. Lastly, Caleb WOWED the audience with Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” It was a performance no one wanted to follow and I was pretty sure no one could top…until Jena’s Elvis rendition, that is!
Jessica started the night off with Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” I’ve seen Kelly perform this song live and Jessica sadly could not hold a candle to that performance. While her vocal range was good, she lacked the power and anger and freedom that song embodies. I just didn’t see a scorned lover on stage. Her followup, was Pink’s “So What” dedicated to “all her haters.” Unfortunately the pyrotechnics were all that got burned by her rendition which again lacked emotional commitment. Jessica came off stiff and aside from her leather jacket, didn’t come close to Pink’s rocker status. The judges agreed, twice telling Jessica that she wasn’t picking songs suited to her strengths. Finally, she closed the night with a twangy version of Gaga’s “You and I,” dedicated to a mystery man her life. This song was a home run for Jessica, who clearly has the talent, but lacks the confidence to be a finale contender. Let’s hope she channels that mystery love if she somehow makes it to the next round!
Alex went with Alex Clare’s “Too Close,” one of my favorite songs that received massive radio play this past year. While he hooked me with his acoustic laid back style, he failed to really hit the beats of the song that made it an instant Top 40 success. Similarly, his second choice was Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” another favorite of mine. If I was to take a road trip with one of these Idol contenders, I’m pretty sure I would pick Alex to control the air play. That said, while Alex has a knack for perfecting his choices, his performances lack the punch and originality of some of his competitors. His talent however is breaking down a song, pointed out best by Harry Connick Jr. “You took that tune down to the bare bones and you built it up in your style. It shows you’re a thinker, shows you’re concerned about the music that you play. I dig that.” I dug it as well. And I think if Alex can find a way to go one step further and really own these songs, he could still be a contender. This was proven most by his third performance of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” “The thing you’ve got that’s really specific to you is a particular kind of poetic vulnerability. That song was perfectly suited for you,” said Keith. “You really needed that. I think people will remember that performance,” added Harry. Let’s hope so when the voting comes in.
Jena kicked off her night with Pat Benatar’s hell hath no fury like a woman-scorned classic “Heartbreaker.” Despite getting some mildly negative feedback about her body movements and stage presence not being fully committed (Jena cited her high heel shoes and Harry suggested she go barefoot!), she really rocked the vocals. I certainly didn’t want to mess around with her! Her second song was Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Another solid performance although the judges had mixed feelings on her decision to change the songs melody- Keith being a fan of her originality and JLo feeling it took her out of the song. But after two very solid performances, Jena stunned the audience with the performance that left fans helpless to falling in love with her. As she belted out her final notes of Elvis’ song, JLo rushed the stage to hug her exclaiming,”I’ve never in three seasons gotten up to kiss somebody after a performance. It was so beautiful. I was so moved… Honestly, I can cry right now. It’s crazy. Look at me. I’m shaking. I’m so glad I was here to witness it.” Keith Urban was so equally moved he exclaimed “You’re a species unto yourself. You’re like a platypus, baby!” Platypus or not, it is clear that Jenna has no intention of going home any time soon.
To me, it is a sure lock of Caleb Johnson vs. Jena Irene in the finals. Caleb has more confidence on stage and clarity on who he is as a singer and performer. But, Jena has strong vocal consistency and the ability to throw you a performance that can leave you speechless. Unless Alex really steps it up a notch or Jessica has impeccable song selection, I’d say this is a heartbreaker between a boy and a girl. But that’s love!