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'American Idol' recap: Caleb Johnson amazes on Top 4 week

A look at

A look at "American Idol's" final four contestants: Alex Preston, left, Jena Irene, Caleb Johnson and Jessica Meuse on May 1, 2014. Credit: Fox / Michael Becker

It may have been “Love Week” on “American Idol,” but the judges were oddly critical, especially considering they are only two weeks from the finale.

Now, there are always big-picture shenanigans involved when it comes to “Idol” producers. (Their failed attempts to save Sam Woolf from going home last week by creating a “twist,” where a unanimous vote from the Top 5 to have no elimination that week, took their boldness to a whole new level.) So it’s not clear whether they are trying to rev up the fanbases of Alex Preston and Jessica Meuse by criticizing them or if they actually mean it, but it really is incredible that they are still picking apart performances at this point in the competition.

It all adds to the feeling that the wheels are falling off TV’s one-time juggernaut. When Jennifer Lopez let an expletive fly (when she thought she was off-camera) in praise of Jena Irene’s performance of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” not only could the director not cut away in time, he had to splice in a crowd shot that interrupted the sound of Jena’s song. Heck, Ryan Seacrest didn’t even shave last night.

The fact that none of the Top 4 could really pull together three compelling “Breakups, Makeups and Dedications” performances raises an issue about what the finale is going to be like.

In any case, here’s how their performances stacked up:

1, Caleb Johnson, “Maybe I’m Amazed”: Sometimes it seems that Caleb knows that he is so far ahead of his competition as a performer that he doesn’t need to try as hard. The way he connected to the Paul McCartney classic shows what happens when he applies himself. He’s basically untouchable. He takes “Amazed” to an emotional level that no one else in the competition can touch and gets a standing ovation from Lopez and Keith Urban. “That was absolutely phenomenal,” Harry Connick Jr. said. Lopez added, “That was probably your best performance since the beginning.”

2. Jena Irene, “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”: She did a good job with recasting the Elvis Presley classic as a piano ballad. However, Lopez went crazy for it. She even went on stage to congratulate Jena, saying, “I have to kiss you.” “You reinvented it,” Lopez said. “I was so moved .?.?. It was something else.” Urban said, “You’re like a musical platypus, baby .?.?. You’re so unique.”

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3. Alex Preston, “Yellow”: His take on the Coldplay song was truly lovely and really the only performance this week that could be on the radio now. “You really needed that,” Connick said. “There’s been some great performances tonight -- that was one of them.” After discussing her worries for him all night, Lopez tells him, “You’re integral to this competition.”

4. Jessica Meuse, “You and I”: After struggling all night, Jessica finally connects with a song and seems comfortable performing it, making the Lady Gaga song feel like it was hers. “That is the perfect song for you,” Urban said. “Killer!” Connick applauded her persistence after several bad critiques. “What did the girl from Slapout do? She came out swinging,” Connick said.

5. Alex Preston, “Too Close”: He reworks the Alex Clare EDM hit nicely, even giving it a nice jazzy run at the end. “You’re a thinker, you’re concerned about the music that you play,” Connick said. Urban says he needs to work on his phrasing. Lopez says he needs to think about creating a moment. “I’m concerned about how is he going to win this against a Caleb, against a Jena?” she asked.

6. Alex Preston, “I’m Yours”: It was a sweet version of the Jason Mraz song dedicated to his girlfriend. That was not enough for the judges. “I worry about you in this competition,” Lopez said. “You need to do something. Surprise us in some way.”

7. Caleb Johnson, “Travelin’ Band”: The Creedence Clearwater Revival song was fun, but felt a little rushed. While it does show that Caleb knows how to lead a band authoritatively, it felt like a throwaway. The judges loved it, though. “That’s so in your wheelhouse,” Lopez said. “You’re gonna be tough to beat, I think.”

8. Caleb Johnson, “You Give Love a Bad Name”: He had fun with the Bon Jovi anthem, even stopping to sing in Urban’s face. He added towering notes higher than the original, but he didn’t feel like he cared about the song. Urban said he knew how to make it not a cover but a “Caleb slayer.” Connick said he needs different ad-libs. “Caleb is ready for prime time,” Lopez said.

9. Jena Irene, “Heartbreaker”: The Pat Benatar seemed like a natural for her, but she kind of blew the big note at the end. She also looked uncomfortable onstage. “It felt like the moves weren’t borne of the music,” Urban said. “It was a very commanding performance to me,” said Lopez, who was then prompted on giving Jena a demonstration of strutting in heels.

10. Jena Irene, “Bad Romance”: She turned the Lady Gaga dance hit into a metal “rager.” Her version takes a little too much liberty with the melody, making it way too screechy. Lopez said she didn’t like the change because she loved the melody. Urban liked that she changed the melody. “I thought it was really, really good,” he said.

11. Jessica Meuse, “Since U Been Gone”: Her take on the Kelly Clarkson smash seemed lifeless. It’s bad when seated J.Lo has more energy than you do when performing. “It didn’t compliment your vocal style,” Lopez said. “It felt a little low in the beginning.” Connick said, “I know you can do better than that.”

12. Jessica Meuse, “So What”: The flamepots were working overtime, but this was far from hot. It’s hard to do a powerful anthem when you’re barely able to walk three feet from your mic stand. “I’ve heard you do better,” Connick said. Urban added, “A song that doesn’t suit you is no reflection on your talent.” No, but it is a reflection on whether you should be on “American Idol.”


BOTTOM TWO: Jessica, Alex




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