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'American Idol' recap: Alex Preston impresses, but will likely be cut

Alex Preston performs A Great Big World's

Alex Preston performs A Great Big World's "Say Something" on "American Idol" airing Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Judge Harry Connick Jr. called it the performance of the night. Credit: Fox / Michael Becker

Somehow, it only seems fitting that Season 13 of “American Idol” is limping to a close, with its surest singer losing his voice and its shining young hope showing some mistakes due to her inexperience.

As it celebrated its 500th episode with a retrospective and greetings from many of its past winners, it only serves as a reminder that none of this season’s remaining singers could really compete against Kris Allen or Jordin Sparks.

Yes, I said it.

The show’s ratings continue to fall to record lows, recently hitting a dismal 1.7 rating among the coveted 18-to-49 demographic at a time when viewership should be climbing for the season. The ongoing ratings slide led Fox to cut next season to one night a week, though some were surprised it returned to the schedule at all.

Part of the problem is that, because of the ratings issues, the show is going to crazy new lengths to do what they feel will create better TV. That’s why producers tried (and failed) to save teen heartthrob Sam Woolf from elimination for a second time. It’s why they seem so bent on a Caleb Johnson-Jena Irene final, even though Alex Preston is probably the most musical and the most currently salable of the trio.

There were three rounds in the semifinals, here’s how they turned out:

 

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ROUND ONE: Randy’s Choice

Mentor Randy Jackson kept talking about how he thought long and hard about which songs would be best for the semifinalists and he actually did a pretty good job of helping them out with strong songs.

Caleb Johnson, “Never Tear Us Apart”: In better circumstances, Caleb would have nailed the INXS song. But with his strained voice, he had to make some unfortunate changes, adjusting some notes so he could reach them, but also messing with the classic melody. “Pace yourself,” Jennifer Lopez warned, as the judges tried to be reassuring. “I know his voice is really hurting him,” Jackson said. “It was a great job, dude.”

Alex Preston, “Pompeii”: The Bastille hit is uptempo, something that Alex wouldn’t normally choose, but he handled it well. When he played the kettle drum while he sang, he created one of those big moments the judges have wanted from him. “It was a different Alex,” Lopez said. “It was the elevated Alex that we’ve been looking for.” However, Connick wasn’t sold, saying, “It felt a little bit piecemeal to me.”

Jena Irene, “Titanium”: She was a bit breathless on some of the tougher parts of the David Guetta song, unable to close some of the notes out. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation,” Connick said. “You did a great job.” However, some noticed her mistakes. “It felt a little shaky,” Lopez said. “It wasn’t your best.”

ROUND 1 WINNER: Alex

 

ROUND 2: Judges’ Choice

The judges also tried to help the semifinalists with their picks, though they offered Caleb and Jena songs in their wheelhouses and gave Alex something from left field.

 

Caleb Johnson, “Demons”: He struggled with the Imagine Dragons hit, his voice coming out from under him. “Adrenaline helps us get it out,” Lopez said. “Think about how you can sing it now through your soul.”

Alex Preston, “Stay”: He reworked the Rihanna song in his own image and made it feel emotional and fresh, landing a standing ovation from Keith Urban and Lopez. “It was beautiful and it was all yours,” Lopez said.

Jena Irene, “Heart Attack”: She had a tough time with the verses of the Demi Lovato song and emphasized some weird words, though she did hit the towering high notes. “It was perfect,” Lopez said. “That was a great song for you.”

ROUND 2 WINNER: Alex

 

ROUND 3: Hometown’s choice

Fans in the semifinalists’ hometowns voted on which song they wanted to see their favorite play again.

 

Caleb Johnson, “Dazed and Confused”: For his last song of the night, Caleb let loose on the Led Zeppelin classic, howling like he had nothing left to lose. The performance gets Urban and Lopez up early, even before he smashes the mic stand onto the stage. “If ever there was a complete moment of miraculous healing, that would’ve been it,” Urban said. Lopez added, “That was a true idol moment.”

Alex Preston, “Story of My Life”: He did a nice job reprising the One Direction song, but it didn’t quite have the same emotional pull that it did the first time he performed it. “This song really strikes a chord for people,” Connick said. “It was very strong.”

Jena Irene, “Creep”: She completely nails the Radiohead song and gets a standing ovation from Urban and Lopez. “You so belong here,” Urban said. “[Your progress] has been mindblowing…. This is exactly what ‘Idol’ is all about.” Lopez added, “You’re gonna be so hard to beat.”

 

ROUND 3 WINNER: Caleb

 

WILL BE ELIMINATED Alex

SHOULD BE ELIMINATED Jena

ACTUALLY ELIMINATED Alex

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