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'American Idol' Recap: A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock and Roll and a Grumpy Cat

The top six took on the songs of Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and the Imagine Dragons.

Caleb Johnson -- H 2014
Caleb Johnson

The six remaining hopefuls competing on American Idol took on the dual themes of country and rock while the show continued its streak of celebrity appearances.

Last night’s guests, Disney breakout artists R5 and finicky feline Grumpy Cat, took center stage on an evening that featured songs by Imagine Dragons, Heart, The Black Crowes, and Season four winner Carrie Underwood, who tweeted that Idols Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene “made my songs sound so good! You should be proud…I know I am.”

Unlike previous weeks, the antics were kept to a minimum, save for a few Ryan Seacrest selfies with R5 and of course, Grumpy Cat. The real spotlight shone where it belonged: on the contestants.

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Jena Irene kicked things off with a bang, covering Heart’s “Barracuda.”  Once again rocking her banging bangs, Irene owned the classic rock anthem with undeniable stage presence and her own dark, alternative twisting of the notes. Keith Urban, clearly enjoying her “killer” performance, exclaiming “you set the bar high.” Jennifer Lopez  told Irene she had “a real chance at getting” to the finale. Harry Connick Jr. said “you have such a strong voice and it was such a perfect match for that song.”

For her second song, Underwood’s “So Small,” Irene once again went to her dark side, reinterpreting the song as an emo ballad, giving Lopez “goosies.” “You are such a good singer, and you are everything Idol is all about," said Urban.  Connick didn’t know where she was going with the arrangement, but didn’t think his opinion would matter.

Sam Woolf’s interpretation of “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons was a smart match for his buttery tone. This was his best performance so far, but Urban wanted him to add more “gravitas” to the song. Lopez, however, loved it. “I got goosies..I believed you when you were singing that song, I really felt with that song that you came into your own as an artist.” Connick felt a “sense of commitment” to the song. "You are blossoming,” he said.

For his country choice, Woolf selected Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.” While Woolf finally embraced his heartthrob moniker by reaching out to the girls in the front row, he struggled with his lower register. Urban told him to “ease into” the song, while Lopez praised him going to the girls and connecting. “You’re so cute, it’s crazy!” she said. Connick called him out on singing the song in the same volume.

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Roots Rocker C.J. Harris tapped into his inner Lenny Kravitz covering “American Woman” by The Guess Who. Harris infused his soulful vocals into the chorus, but lacked the attitude to pull off the song’s lyrics, prompting Urban to point out the disconnect in the Alabama gentleman’s struggle to convey an angry song. Connick still harped on Harris’ “intonation” problems with “singing in tune and focusing,” while Lopez felt he “pulled it off.”

Harris should have had a better night with his country selection of “Whatever It Is” by Zac Brown Band, but his pitch problems plagued his entire performance. Urban noted that he was singing “sharp” and should have scrapped the song. Lopez said she expected a “tiny bit more” from him.

Alex Preston stepped out of his comfort zone with the alternative rock song “Animal” by Neon Trees. Preston stuck to the original arrangement and stomped his foot with the chorus, but Preston struggled with his lower register and went flat several times. Urban felt the band was on top of Preston, and didn’t dominate on the song. “Rock and roll is all about… letting go,” said Lopez, “but it “didn’t have that.” Connick gave him a “pass” because he is usually “so good all the time,” even though he acknowledged the singer was out of breath.

Preston’s second go with “Always on My Mind,” by Willie Nelson, was a far better pick. Preston sang in a high falsetto, peppering the notes with little intonations that cemented exactly the kind of artist he is. “You’re an artist, and I really admire that,” said Connick. Urban wanted a little more heartbreak in the song, and Lopez said it was “really beautiful.”

Resident rocker Caleb Johnson picked “Sting Me” by The Black Crowes song and just blew the roof off the joint.  Johnson flat out owned the stage, dropping to his knees, playing off the background singers, and losing his microphone in the process! Lopez gave him a standing ovation, and praised that he “created a moment.” Connick said his performance was “virtually impossible to beat.” Urban loved how Johnson slid into the microphone and “spackled” over a crack in the performance.  Said mentor Randy Jackson, “That’s Rock and Roll right there!”

His first moment, in Lopez’s words, was so “epic,” it was hard to top with his country selection of Underwood’s “Undo It.” Johnson did a fine job with it, but it did not match the energy of his rock selection. To be honest, Caleb’s wheelhouse is rock, and at this point in the competition, the fans know that. Urban loved it, however, and called it a “great song choice.”

Jess Meuse went psychedelic with “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane. Choosing to use an acoustic guitar, Meuse did what she does best-stand dead center behind the microphone while growling the lyrics. “I practiced some dancing,” she told Connick, who advised her to listen to hip hop last week.  Connick felt the advice worked, and said he thought she  “was really strong.” “I want your body to inform the rhythmic delivery, which is what you just did.” Urban called it “vocally strong” and played to her strengths, but still needed to see some “release”.  Lopez said Meuses’ voice is beautiful, and explained that the judges were looking for the energy in her body to match what they are hearing.

For Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Meuse played with the arrangement, turning the song into a ferocious alternative rock song and infusing it with a few minor key changes. Urban said he hated the arrangement, but Connick said it was delivered in a strong and convincing way. Lopez was glad that Meuse listened to the judges’ advice to augment her already beautiful voice.

So who is going home? Voter results are reflecting that Meuse, Preston, and Harris could be in trouble.  What do you think, Worshippers?

Twitter: @Idol_Worship, @MicheleAmabile