As theme weeks go, “Back to the Start Week” is pretty good for “American Idol.”
It lets the finalists return to a song they know well and use it to show off their skills. It also allows them to get more of their personal stories out to their fans.
Here’s how the night shook out:
1. Alex Preston, “Fairytales”: This is why they should let the finalists sing their own songs. It’s a risk, but it will often pay off, as it did for Alex. His original showed off his voice in ways that we haven’t seen yet this season and it let people know what he will sound like after the show is over. “You’ve stepped it up enormously,” Keith Urban said.
2. Caleb Johnson, “Chain of Fools”: He impressively turned the Aretha Franklin classic into a bluesy Led Zeppelin stomp. “You are a blues warrior, a soul conqueror, a rock and roll Viking,” Urban said. Harry Connick Jr. tells him he’s safe and should try something else.
3. Malaya Watson, “Ain’t No Way”: Her version of the Aretha Franklin classic was powerful, showing how she has learned how to harness her vocals without giving up any emotion. “Malaya! On fire!” Urban said, giving her a standing ovation. “You’re going to be such a huge star,” Jennifer Lopez said. “You’re going to run away with this competition.”
4. Jessica Meuse & Caleb Johnson, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”: This was really fun until the abrupt ending. Jessica continued her Stevie Nicks motif and Caleb was way more over-the-top than Tom Petty ever was on the original.
5. Jena Irene, “Rolling in the Deep”: Jena upends the Adele smash and turns it into a loungey, trip-hop anthem. It doesn’t sound as good as the original, but it certainly avoids any direct comparisons between her and Adele, which is smart. “You made it your own,” Urban said. “I thought that was incredibly bold.”
6. Malaya Watson & Sam Woolf, “Lucky”: So much cuteness! The Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat duet was cute to begin with, but the teen sensations’ loose version was fun to watch.
7. Dexter Roberts, “One Mississippi”: His version of the Brett Eldredge ballad was a nice surprise, showing a soft side that he hasn’t revealed much so far this season. “It was great to hear you sing,” Connick said. “I was touched by it.”
8. C.J. Harris, “Soul Shine”: The Allman Brothers song fits him like a glove, aside from his ongoing issue with staying on key, which Connick sort of gave him a pass on this week. “I’m rooting for you,” Lopez said. “You just touch people.”
9. Sam Woolf, “Lego House”: Everything about this was odd. Young Sam strayed from the Ed Sheeran original in weird ways that didn’t actually help the song. He emphasized odd phrases, sped up in strange places. And he was surrounded by lamps onstage for some reason. The judging came after a commercial break, but the judges were supportive. “You’re getting better every week,” Urban said. “I’m really, really happy with where you’re headed.”
10. Jessica Meuse, “Blue Eyed Lie”: Her original song was good, but it didn’t really allow her to show off her voice very well. It’s more attitude and Stevie Nicks vibe than actual vocal dynamics. “I can hear your album,” Lopez said. “I thought you did a really good job.”
11. Jena Irene and Alex Preston, “Just Give Me a Reason”: This is a train wreck. Jena is singing in some crazy key that ruins any harmonies in the Pink song. They have zero chemistry even after Seacrest made them talk about how much they like each other. They’re lucky this wasn’t judged and isn’t supposed to count for votes, but how can it not count against them?
12. C.J. Harris & Dexter Roberts, “Alright”: They kind of flubbed their way through the Darius Rucker song, creating some of the worst harmonies of the evening. They did genuinely seem to like each other, though, which should counter any negative effects from this.
BOTTOM THREE: C.J., Jessica, Sam (Actually C.J., Sam, Malaya)
WILL BE ELIMINATED: C.J.
SHOULD BE ELIMINATED: Jessica
ACTUALLY ELIMINATED: No one. Judges saved Sam