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'American Idol' Season 13 recap: Top 8 (again) time travel to the '80s, with Alex Preston, Caleb Johnson on top

by Carolyn Menyes   Apr 10, 2014 14:19 PM EDT

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I'm not saying American Idol is totally fixed, but the Top 8 "Redux" Wednesday night (April 10) was fittingly themed for the 1980s, so you know... 8 on the '80s.

With past Idol favorite David Cook as this week's mentor, the cream of this year's crop rose to the top with some super solid performances. As this point, though, we know who is going to be consistently good and who's going to be a little shaky. So, without further ado, let's get into who was good, bad and passable on this week's American Idol:

The Good:

Alex Preston: It's 2014, so I'm pretty sure by now we all know the lyrics to The Police's "Every Breath You Take" are actually super creepy. Often mistaken for a lover's anthem, this is actually a song for the stalkers out there. Yeah. But, for a second, I kind of forgot that when Alex Preston performed the song on Idol. As he is wont to do, he gave a completely new arrangement to the classic song. He stripped it down with an acoustic guitar and a swell of strings, making for a truly beautiful performance. I'm calling Alex Preston for the top 2.

Caleb Johnson: Of course Caleb Johnson would own '80s night. Though he was born in 1991, he's little more than a vessel for classic rock. His weapon of rock this week? Journey's classic ballad "Faithfully." It was nice to see Caleb do something a little more subdued this week, and he proved that the rasp in his voice works not just for the power of cock rock, but it can be really pretty when applied correctly to a love song. Caleb closed out the show and while this wasn't one monstrous, eventful performance, it was so pretty in that old school rock way that it made for a nice little ending on this week's episode.

Jena Irene: Even though she covered Paramore's "Decode" a few weeks ago, the ties between Jena Irene and Paramore's Hayley Williams have never been more clear than this week, when the 17-year-old tackled Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'N' Roll." To help distinguish herself from just a cover artist, Jena gave a little bit of a haunting spin on this classic track, starting from the piano and giving a dark, almost gloomy performance. With each week, Jena becomes more comfortable on stage. She strutted around the surface area almost like a seasoned professional. Jena still has a little work to do, but this was her biggest, best showing to date. After a rocky start and narrowly missing the top 13, Jena is making herself a frontrunner.

The Bad:

C.J. Harris: C.J. Harris can't enunciate for anything, and that was fully showcased during his take on Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." Equipped with an acoustic guitar (a theme for this season), C.J. was all sorts of relaxed, he swayed with the beat and was really just chill to death. One of my major faults with C.J. is just how forgettable he ends up being. I just watched this performance, like, two minutes ago and I already can't think of anything else to say. And this is my job. This makes it seem unlikely that America will also remember to vote for him...

Sam Woolf: Sam Woolf so nearly got the boot last week on Idol, so he really had something to prove this week. So, naturally, he went with a quiet, subdued acoustic performance of "Time After Time..." OK... The judges have hounded Sam about his inability to connect with the audience (much like Jessica Meuse), and even though he was surrounded by 15-year-old girls who would LOVE for him to be singing a love song about them, he failed to look at a single one, instead pleading with the American public via the camera with his eyes. Seriously. SO much eye contact. This performance was fine, I guess, but I don't think this week is necessarily going to be a safe one for Sam. Seems like the Idol judges probably wasted that save.

Jessica Meuse: The one thing I love the most about Jessica Meuse is her ability to perform basically any kind of music. She can do the country thing, the rock thing and even the pop thing (if she so chooses). This week, she went for the rock thing with a performance of Blondie's "Call Me," which leads me to the thing I dislike the most about Jessica: her lack of ability to connect to any of the music she sings on Idol. And, oh my god, was this performance flat. She could've added a little attitude, a little snark or even a little sexiness, and instead she just sang the song and walked around the stage, occasionally making eye contact with the camera or an audience member. I'm not so much buying that she really cares about the show at this point.

The Mediocre:

Dexter Roberts: The biggest issue with Dexter Roberts thus far on American Idol is that he seems to be a country cover artist. Give this guy some proper writers in the studio and he'd be fine, but when you have him performing other artists' work, he just seems like a really good karaoke act. This week, with Georgia Satellite's "Keep Your Hand To Yourself," a bit of Dexter's actual personality as an artist showed... maybe? He was gritty, a little fratty and definitely snarky. There were spider hands involved, OK? It was like there was a real person on stage! Maybe this was just him adapting to the attitude of the song, though, so I'm not too hopeful about his own consistent distinctiveness quite yet. Musically, Dexter adapted his vocals to the song and there were no major missteps there. He's probably safe again.

Malaya Watson: I guess it's my inherent bias, but I think so much of the music from the '80s is boring and cheesy, including the song Malaya Watson chose to sing, Chaka Khan's "Through The Fire." The hokey keyboard hook, the drawn out mid-tempo melody. Yawn for this song choice. (And sorry, Chaka Khan fans.) Vocally, we all know Malaya can belt it out and we know she has range, so she handled this song like an old pro. At this point in the competition, that's what the contestants should be doing. But I doubt this memorability of this performance, which could put Malaya in a touch of danger. And there ain't no save this week.

Who Should Go Home? C.J., maybe Sam
Who Will Go Home? Sam, maybe C.J.

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