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'American Idol' Recap: Top Three Battle on 500th Episode

The hopefuls vocally duked it out with songs picked by their hometowns, the judges and Randy Jackson.

American Idol Top 3 season 13 S
Michael Becker / Fox

With just one week to go before the finale, the top three American Idol finalists went for broke in the race to be the final two.

And what better way to put the pressure on Caleb Johnson, Alex Preston and Jena Irene than to have it all go down on the show’s 500th episode? It all kicked off with a montage of the show’s greatest moments. There was the first time we saw Kelly Clarkson, the transformation of Clay Aiken, KEITH!, William Hung  Bikini Girl (?) and even Simon Cowell’s correct prediction about Carrie Undewood’s record sales.

Plus, winners Underwood, Phillip Phillips,  David Cook, Kris AllenCandice Glover, Lee DeWyze, Fantasia Barrino, Scotty McCreery, and Jordin Sparks all gave videotaped thank yous to the show for their starts, while the remainder of the top 10 gave support from the audience.

Of course, no top three week would be complete without homecoming footage, and there were plenty of great moments to be seen. The evening also included a special appearance by The Chainsmokers and a performance, of sorts, of their hit song, “Selfie.”

The show began with disturbing news from the Idol doctor that Caleb Johnson is struggling with bronchitis and a “small vocal cord” hemorrhage.  Would he be up to the challenge on a night where each singer had to do three songs? Here is how it played out.

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Judges Past and Present: The Good, the Bad and the Boring

The first round of songs was chosen by Randy Jackson. For Johnson, Jackson chose “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS because he thought it would give him a chance to show off his “bluesy side.” Seated in a king’s throne of sorts, Johnson sang the song in a higher key, and showed no signs of struggle. Keith Urban told him he did a “great job,” and praised the “blues soul thing” in his voice. Jennifer Lopez said, “you on your worst night is better than (most) people on their best night.” Harry Connick Jr. said the song was  a “great choice” but was concerned that he would hurt himself.

For Preston, Jackson went with “Pompeii” by Bastille, because he wanted so see how he does with a band driven record that has some “tempo.”  Preston performed with a drum line, and in a cool moment, he took on the sticks and played percussion while singing. This was the most showmanship the New Hampshire singer displayed to date. Lopez said it was “a different Alex.” Connick said the song gave him everything he needed, but said it felt too “piecemeal.” Urban said he is “at his best” when he’s not thinking about singing.

For Irene, Jackson chose “Titanium,” by David Guetta and Sia, because he feels she is a cross between Paramore and EDM.  Performing over the stage on a lift, Jena started off in her lower register, but hit all the high notes the song requires. Connick said the song was in her “alley” and loved how comfortable she was on stage with a song that is made for the studio. Urban said she mixes fun with conviction. Lopez, however, felt it was shaky and stiff.

The second round was selected by the judges, and for Johnson, they went with a current band: Imagine Dragons, and “Demons.” He put on a valiant effort, but this was the first time Johnson struggled with pitch, and the whole performance felt flat. Urban said he felt for him, and said he sensed a “Steve Perry” vibe in his vocals. Lopez advised him to find the emotion in the song, because that is when you nail the notes. Connick skipped a critique, and instead asked Johnson what kind of record he would want to make.

For Preston, the judges chose “Stay” by Rihanna because it was something “unexpected.” The gender switch on the song isn’t really a problem--30 Seconds to Mars covered it beautifully at iHeartRadio last year. Preston, armed with a guitar and backed by strings, Preston delivered the ballad with a beautiful vocal. Could this be his Kris Allen moment? “I knew you would sing the heck out of that song” said Lopez. “It was all yours.” Connick wondered what kind of performer Preston is, and Preston had a great answer: “My concerts will be fun.” Urban praised his artistic choices once again.

For Irene, the judges went with “Heart Attack” by Demi Lovato, and it was a good, youthful pick for the teen, who went on the attack with the high notes with a good, solid performance. Urban loved her range, Lopez said she was loose, and Connick once again skipped a critique and asked what kind of performance she would give. Irene said she wanted to “rage” with the audience with instruments.

STORY: 'American Idol' Celebrates 500th Episode: The Highs and Lows of 13 Seasons

The third round featured picks from the top three’s hometowns. Johnson’s home base knocked it out of the park with their pick of “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin. Despite being sick, Johnson fought through his issues, smashing his mic and creating what Lopez called “a true Idol moment,” while the audience erupted in chants for his name.

Preston’s hometown picked One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” and it really reflected just exactly what kind of artist he is, and he nailed it with the little vocal inflections that make Alex his own man. Lopez said she feels bad for America, because the choice was going to be tough. Connick called it a classic Alex performance, but Urban felt he did better with “Stay.”

Wrapping up the evening, Irene did a reprise of “Creep” by Radiohead. Thank you to her high school for picking this song. It is everything right about Irene--the drama, the piano and emotion. It was odd that the song was clapping to the beat, but they were just excited. Lopez and Urban gave the teen a standing ovation, while Connick said she was “even better” than the last time she sang it.

So who is going home? Hit us up in the comments!