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'American Idol' recap: Caleb Johnson steady, strong in Top 6 Week

"American Idol" Top 6, from left: Caleb Johnson,

"American Idol" Top 6, from left: Caleb Johnson, Alex Preston, Jessica Meuse, Sam Woolf, Jena Irene and C.J. Harris on Thursday, April 17, 2014. (Credit: Fox / Michael Becker)

The hardest part of “American Idol” theme weeks is that the finalists basically have to learn and stage a song within a week. For “Rock and Roll and Country” week, the Top 6 had to learn two songs and the strain showed.

Aside from the ever-solid Caleb Johnson, none of the contenders could handle the pressure. Does that make Caleb the winner? Maybe, though the similarity of his two performances do raise the question of how versatile he would be in concert.

Here’s how the performances stacked up:

1. Caleb Johnson, “Sting Me”: It’s hard to make the Black Crowes seem fun, but Caleb made it look effortless. Even when he lost the mic and had to crawl on the floor to get it back, he was having a good time, which landed him a standing ovation from Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson “That was some real rock and roll stuff right there,” Lopez said. “You created a moment.” Keith Urban said Caleb handled the issues like a pro, adding, “Despite that big crack in the performance, you just spackled right over it."

2. Alex Preston, “Always on My Mind”: He slightly reworked the Elvis Presley classic into something that was more tender than troubled. It was a lovely moment of vulnerability filled with believable angst.  “You’re an artist,” Harry Connick Jr. said. “I really admire that.” Lopez added, “It was really beautiful.”

3. Sam Woolf, “It’s Time”: Young Sam is finally tapping into the right songs and delivering them well. His version of the Imagine Dragons smash was age-appropriate and still somehow rebellious for a guy who celebrate his 18th birthday by jamming with the other Idol finalists and having cupcakes. “Sam, I got goosies on that one,” Lopez said. “I believe you when you’re singing that song.” Urban said he had “a gravitas” at the end.

4. Jena Irene, “Barracuda”: She handles the Heart classic well with the band, even the harmonies were good. “You really set the bar high, baby, for everyone else,” Urban said. “You can cut loose.” Lopez declared, “She could take the whole thing.”

5. Caleb Johnson, “Undo It”: He spent a lot of energy making the Carrie Underwood song sound like Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it didn’t show much of a change from what he did with the Black Crowes song earlier. “I can’t wait to hear what country song you do later,” joked Urban.

6. Jessica Meuse, “Somebody to Love”: Her take on the Jefferson Airplane classic was relatively strong, though also uncomfortable. The judges have honed in on how Jessica, even more than young Sam, struggles with connecting with the camera and the audience. “That song really played to your vocal strengths,” Urban said. “Your voice is so powerful,” Lopez said. “We want the energy of your body to match what’s coming out of your mouth.”

7. Sam Woolf, “You’re Still the One”: He handled the Shania Twain song well, especially connecting with the crowd as the judges have been asking him to do. He didn’t seem totally comfortable with it, but managed to make it work for him. “You’re so cute it’s crazy,” Lopez said.

8. Jessica Meuse, “Jolene”: Her version of the Dolly Parton classic was too dark and seemed like it was drained of the original’s energy, though Jessica’s voice generally sounded strong. “I hated the arrangement,” Urban said. “I felt it didn’t need the weight and the darkness.” Lopez added, “That voice is magnificent.”

9. C.J. Harris, “American Woman”: OK, The Guess Who classic isn’t that tough to sing. It is, as Urban pointed out, “all attitude.” But C.J. couldn’t quite pull it off -- shaky at the beginning and then losing it in the middle. “You are a singer … [part of that] is singing in tune and focusing,” Connick said. “Pretty good, C.J.”

10. Jena Irene, “So Small”: She pretty much ruined the Carrie Underwood song with weird timing and weird phrasing. Some notes were wobbly. She adopted an odd arrangement that had no big finish. It was a mess, but Urban and Lopez like it. “You’re everything that ‘Idol’ is about,” Urban said. Connick didn’t fall for it, though. “I didn’t really know where you were going,” Connick said. “It didn’t work for me, but I don’t think it’s really going to matter tonight.”

11. C.J. Harris, “Whatever It Is”: He flubbed the Zac Brown Band song, singing consistently sharp and sounding tentative at times. He seemed totally lost. “It didn’t hit the mark,” Lopez said. “You can’t get by with songs like that anymore,” Connick said.

12. Alex Preston, “Animal”: Yikes. Normally the dependable one, Alex went off the rails on this. He’s off-key and winded in places, like he was racing to keep up with the Neon Trees song. “It was a little bit contained,” Lopez said. “You need to let that energy go.” After pointing out how he couldn't catch his breath in the song, Connick said, “It wasn’t your best.”

BOTTOM TWO: Alex, C.J. (actually C.J., Jessica)

SHOULD BE CUT: C.J.

ACTUALLY CUT: C.J.

Tags: American Idol

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