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'American Idol' Recap: Rise of the Musical Platypus

The top four took on the themes of makeups, breakups, and dedications on Wednesday night.

Ryan Seacrest American Idol 2014 L
Michael Becker / FOX

With just two weeks to go before the finale, the American Idol top four competed for the biggest prize so far in the competition--a coveted top three position and the much lauded hometown visits.

 “Unfortunately this group is going to have to break up,” said Ryan Seacrest, showing off some new scruff.

The evening was broken into three categories of breakups, dedications and makeup songs. It gave viewers plenty to chew on, including a game changing performance by Jena Irene, the redemption of controversial contestant  Caleb Johnson, Jennifer Lopez demonstrating the proper way to not sing in heels, and the weirdest Keith Urban critique in Idol history. 

Johnson kicked things off with  Bon Jovi’s anthemic “You Give Love a Bad Name.” That song is  legendary in Idol history as Blake Lewis famously beat boxed it in Season Six, but judge Keith Urban apparently never heard it, asking, “what else can you do with it?” Johnson came out swinging, and slayed the song with the swagger of a rock star. Urban said he “took it to your own place” while  Lopez said she feels like she is at a rock concert any time Johnson sings. Harry Connick Jr. advised him to change up his runs, licks and ad-libs for his future as a touring artist.

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For round two of “dedication songs,” Johnson pulled out “Travelin Band” by Creedence Clearwater Revival as an ode to his old band. The pick was totally in his comfort zone, and his decision to slow down the ending to a near strip tease was a nice touch. Lopez said the song was in his “wheelhouse,” Connick imagined what it would be like if Minor’s band were Johnson’s travelling band, and Urban said it was “excellent.”

For the third round of “makeup songs', Johnson showed his softer side with Paul McCartney’s tender, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and he showed the judges exactly what they had been begging for.  “It was nice to hear you sing softly ... that was absolutely phenomenal,” said Connick. Urban said his wife, Nicole Kidman, was probably “at home freaking out” over the song, and Lopez told him it was his best performance.

Jess Meuse took a big gamble covering  Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone.” The song, a tough one to sing, didn’t work for Meuse’s lower register, and she suffered from pitch problems. She did look cool playing a white electric guitar. Lopez said she felt the song, but it wasn’t a great choice. Connick did not think it was her best performance, but agreed with Lopez that she was feeling it. Urban said she needed more confidence for the attitude the song required.

Meuses’ dedication of “So What” by Pink was another high degree of difficulty, again challenging her lower range. She added some spunk at the end, snarling at the judges with the line “You weren’t there” and throwing down the mic stand. Connick said “I think you have an incredible voice,” but the two songs were not the best choices for her. Urban said she has to find another song to suit her voice. Lopez said the song “wasn’t right for you.”

Her final song of Lady Gaga’s “You and I” was a much better fit for the Slapout, Alabama song. This is the most relaxed she has been all season, with tremendous confidence. She finally found her voice, and went out on a high note. “I’m glad you did that song,” said Lopez. “You killed it,” said Connick. “Killer, brilliant,” said Urban.”

For Alex Preston’s first song, Alex Clare’s “Too Close,” the troubadour delivered a bluesy and  acoustic version of the popular club hit. Urban didn’t feel it had enough weight, and suggested he take more command in his phrasing. Lopez called him “unique,” but was concerned he is repeating himself every week.  Connick once again praised the way he deconstructs songs.

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Preston sweetly dedicated “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz to his girlfriend, American Idol and X-Factor alum Jillian Jensen.  He crooned the breezy song aided by a ukulele, a delight for fans of the multi-instrumentalist. Lopez still is concerned about Preston keeping the song “linear” and not amping things up. Connick enjoyed Preston changing the key to a “minor four” chord, but felt he didn’t do enough to change things up. Urban felt he came alive during the final eight bars of the song.

For his makeup song, Preston turned in a beautiful performance of “Yellow” by Coldplay. Preston’s quiet lullaby was not as strong as “Too Close,” but it may have been enough to get him into the top three.  Connick loved it and said he was glad he didn’t have to judge,” Lopez said he was “integral to the competiton” and Urban called his artistry “poetic.”

Irene’s break-up song, Pat Benatar’s, “Heartbreaker,” played to her strengths. She has big vocals and a natural love of engaging the audience, and had no trouble hitting the glory note at the end.   Urban, however, didn’t feel there was an energetic release in the song. Lopez went with the audience, and loved what she called a “commanding performance.” Connick gave her vocals a “ten out of ten.” Additionally, the judges had a field day debating Irene’s choice of footware,  with Lopez  demonstrating how to perform in high heels.

Irene’s dedication song of “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga was a terrific choice, as it showcased the dramatic theatricality in her personae. She also  looked great under the laser lights.  Urban thought it was “really, really good,” Lopez didn’t like how she played with the melody, and Connick wanted to know why she didn’t go high on the “I don’t want your revenge,” and Irene explained that she felt that when she tried it, she was yelling.

For her final bow, Irene went with Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” Seated behind the piano, Irene took the classic song and played with the arrangement, creating a stunning moment on stage that included a very rare occurrence-Lopez rising from behind the table to give the teen a kiss. “It’s my third year doing this..I have never gotten up to kiss somebody.” Connick raved, and said “very simply put...it was incredible.” Urban praised the teen with the strangest comment of the night: “you are a species unto yourself...you’re a musical platypus baby.” One question: what was that glitch during the performance? Something went awry there. 

So who is going home? Will Caleb still be earning your votes? Is Jess in trouble? Is Alex the best boyfriend, ever? Did Jena just win tonight?  Should Ryan shave? And how excited are you that we are getting a 14th season?  Hit us up in the comments!

Twitter: @Idol_Worship @MicheleAmabile