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'American Idol' 13 recap: Alex Preston charms on Top 5 week

"American Idol" Top 5 (from left): Jena Irene,

"American Idol" Top 5 (from left): Jena Irene, Alex Preston, Caleb Johnson, Sam Woolf and Jessica Meuse on Thursday, April 24, 2014. (Credit: Fox / Michael Becker)

The most interesting part of “Idol Request Week” is how well the country (the producers?) did picking songs for the Top 5.

It was, as Harry Connick Jr., said late in the show, as if the country really cared about the contestants. Leaning on lots of current and recent hits, as well as special guests Ariana Grande and Zooey Deschanel, the show felt the freshest it has seemed all season. Maybe they try another “request week” before the finals?

Here’s how the Top 5’s performances stacked up:

PHOTOS: Finals Semifinals | Auditions | "Idol" judges past and present | Winners and finalists | Where are they now?

1. Alex Preston, “Say Something”: After an off week, Alex is back at what he does best, thanks to America’s help. His take on A Great Big World was stunningly poignant, as he seemed to struggle with the song’s emotions. Keith Urban gave him a standing ovation, calling it “amazing.” “It was a beautiful performance,” Connick said. “For me, that was the performance of the night.”

2. Jena Irene, “My Body”: When we’re looking for the point where Jena became a serious contender to win the show, it was right here with the Young the Giant song. She passed Caleb with the ease in her performance, showing that she’s growing at a remarkably fast rate as a singer. The power in her voice is now matched by the strength of her performances, landing her a standing ovation from Urban, who added that she’s a “lean-in performer.” “You have a style about you now,” Jennifer Lopez said. “That’s what people will come back for.” “You look like you’re having fun,” Connick said. “I like watching you have fun.”

3. Caleb Johnson, “Still of the Night”: The Whitesnake song was completely in his wheelhouse and he knocked it out of the park. It was the liveliest performance of the night, landing him a standing ovation from Lopez and Urban. “That’s what I call bringing down the house,” Lopez said. “It was crazy in here.” As fun as the performance was, though, it does raise the question of what Caleb’s post-“Idol” world would be like, even if he wins. Two songs from last night’s show made the iTunes charts today -- Alex’s “Say Something” and Sam Woolf’s “How to Save a Life.”

4. Sam Woolf, “How to Save a Life”: If there’s someone learning faster than Jena Irene about how to perform, it’s Young Sam. What he did on The Fray song is something he would have been incapable of doing just a few weeks ago. He sounded good and looked like he actually belonged on the big stage. The judges didn’t quite see it that way. Connick made the weird comment that “there were some pitch issues” and then praising him for the way his voice broke at the end. “By the end, you had me,” Urban said.

5. Caleb Johnson, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”: This was a pretty version of the Aerosmith song, with all of the Steven Tyler-isms stripped away. Urban said he needed to let his feelings drive the song rather than his skills, but Lopez loved it. “You took it more to a ballad,” she said. “I got goosies.”

6. Alex Preston, “Sweater Weather”: He does a nice job with The Neighbourhood song, not changing anything too much. “You pulled it off nicely,” Lopez said, adding that he may have needed to pump it up. “It’s always about the entertainment factor.” Connick said he could hear this on the radio. “I thought it was a strong opening for the show,” he added.

7. Jena, Alex and Sam, “Best Day of My Life”: Their take on the American Authors song was kind of a throwaway, but it was a fun throwaway.

8. Sam Woolf, “Sing”: “Sam is America’s little brother,” mentor Jason Mraz said. Little Bro did all right with Ed Sheeran’s current hit, which is totally out of his comfort zone. Lopez said he looked the most relaxed he’s ever been. However, Connick said that Sam couldn’t quite keep up with the speed of the song. “You were laying back so far behind that you were diffusing some of the funk that was behind you,” Connick said.

9. Caleb & Jessica, “Beast of Burden”: Caleb looks like he was helping Jessica be a better performer during the Rolling Stones classic and it nearly worked.

10. Jena Irene, “Valerie”: After her strong success with Young the Giant, she couldn’t quite make the Zutons song work for her. Maybe she was trying to avoid comparisons to the late Amy Winehouse, who remade the song with Mark Ronson, but slowing it down kind of drained some of the song’s soul. “The tempo of that song was so not you,” Lopez said, though she still assured her, “You know you da star.”

11. Jessica Meuse, “Summertime Sadness”: Her discomfort was noticeable on the Lana Del Rey song and it distracted from a nice vocal performance. “That’s such a perfect song for you,” Connick said. “You have an incredible voice.” However, Lopez said she needed more. “It’s about finding a little bit more in your body with the song and the feeling of it,” she said. “It left me a little bit cold.”

12. Jessica Meuse, “Human”: She can hit the big notes in the Christina Perri song, but it’s the lower ones where she struggles. To compound the problems, it also ended weakly. “It wasn’t my favorite performance you’ve done,” Connick said.

BOTTOM TWO Jessica, Sam

WILL BE ELIMINATED: Jessica

SHOULD BE ELIMINATED: Jessica

ACTUALLY ELIMINATED: ???

Tags: American Idol

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