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'American Idol' Season 13 recap: top 3 go home, as Caleb Johnson battles voice issues and Jena Irene creeps to first place

by Carolyn Menyes   May 14, 2014 22:13 PM EDT

Somehow, it's already May 14. And somehow, American Idol has whittled its competitors down to three: Caleb Johnson, Alex Preston and Jena Irene. This week, the top 3 performed a pick by Randy Jackson, a pick by the three judges and a pick from their previously performed songs chosen by their hometown.

Oh, and American Idol also celebrated its 500th episode this week, with video shoutouts from past winners, such as Carrie Underwood, Phillip Phillips and Jordin Sparks.

At this point, all three performers are solid, but with Alex battling nerves and Caleb battling bronchitis and basically a blown voice, this show was maybe a little less consistent that it should have been.

But, let's get back to the performances. Here's a list nine to one, from the worst to best.

9. Caleb Johnson, "Demons": I feel like the American Idol judges are really pushing for Caleb Johnson. For his second choice, he tackled Imagine Dragons' "Demons," and boy were his vocal troubles coming through loud and clear. Maybe if Caleb hadn't established himself as such a powerhouse singer earlier in the competition, this performance could have slid through, but he was just properly bad and flat on this. I feel lie he didn't even sing for 30 percent or so of the actual song. I actually remember Harry Connick Jr. telling Caleb not to blow his voice out before the end of the season, but he did. I don't know if he can recover...

8. Jena Irene, "Titanium": Uhh... Idol judges... why did you think that Jena Irene nailed those high notes on David Guetta and Sia's "Titanium?" Because... uh... she didn't. Was it just me or was everything about this performance flat? Jena's vocals, her energy. I guess the stage production, with a 20-foot tall Jena was pretty cool (and very Katy Perry-esque), but everything else was lacking. Jena is a strong performer and a strong singer, but let's face it, she's no Sia. And that's OK! Nobody really is except, well, Sia. So, here's to hoping nobody ever tried to cover "Chandelier," because that'll crash, too.

7. Caleb Johnson, "Never Tear Us Apart": Despite his issues with his vocal chords and bronchitis, Caleb Johnson managed to pull out a solid rendition of INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart." To be frank, I'm not particularly familiar with the original version of this song, but the slow burning track worked well for Caleb's classic rock sound... like we knew it would. He pulled off a pretty sweet falsetto, which decorated the track with that lil somethin' somethin' extra a falsetto offers. The performance left a little bit to be desired. The beginning part with that dramatic chair looked like a bad Ozzy Osbourne music video, and then Caleb just sort of wandered around with a microphone. Eh... I've seen him do better.

6. Alex Preston, "Pompeii": GUYS! GUYS! We saw Alex Preston perform without an acoustic guitar in front of him... for like half of a performance. Yes, during Bastille's bombastic "Pompeii," Alex threw that six string behind him and threw down on a drum. He also stepped completely away from the instruments and interacted with the audience. Because of the energy required for drumming, Alex's vocals dropped out a little bit mid-song, and to be honest, he started off weakly too. But! We finally got a little bit of energy from him and Alex was the first contestant to really step out of his comfort zone, like, all season. So, kudos on that. I'm just not sure how it'll pay off for him.

5. Alex Preston, "Story Of My Life": Alex Preston's performance of "Story Of My Life" during American Idol's top 10 was one of the early highlights of the show. That combined with the pure voting power of Directioners made this an obvious choice for Alex's revisited song, picked by his hometown. I feel like I enjoyed his performance of this song more the first time around, but Alex still managed to pull out the emotion of this ballad well, along with that signature twist he put on it two months ago. While this wasn't as strong as his take on "Stay," it made for a good final performance for him.

4. Jena Irene, "Heart Attack": I was a little worried with this Demi Lovato song choice for Jena Irene, but I must admit, she killed it. Jena has just the range to take on Demi, even though she couldn't quite reach Sia's levels earlier in the evening. Jena was also able to work the stage well, as usual, and showed that she would be a good fit as a bandleader. She's a nice middle ground between the subdued Alex and the crazy Caleb.

3. Caleb Johnson, "Dazed and Confused": After two so-so performances, it was nice to see Caleb Johnson end this episode on a high note. Literally, he was able to reach those big ol' notes that make up Led Zeppelin's epic "Dazed and Confused." Jennifer Lopez, who has long campaigned for Caleb, deemed this a "true Idol moment," and for this night, it pretty much was. Like the first time he tackled this song, Caleb slayed the energy and vocals of this song. It was probably more than enough to secure his spot in the finale.\

2. Alex Preston, "Stay": When it was first teased that Alex Preston would be singing a Rihanna song, I was kind of hoping he'd do an acoustic, haunted take on "Umbrella," but a cover of "Stay" was a great choice too. Alex did that thing he's really good at doing... getting lost in the emotion and meaning of a song. He made the Rihanna song an indie rock jam and something that was so pure and so his own. Idol has yet to have a really big or bombastic moment for season 13, and I don't know if it will. But Alex has had some really powerful quiet performances, including this one. Out of the first five performances, this was far and away the best one.

1. Jena Irene, "Creep": Jena Irene's first performance of Radiohead's "Creep" is this season's second most-watched performance on YouTube, and unlike mine, Jena's high school must like her because they picked her to sing this song one more time. Unlike Calen and Alex, Jena's second take on this song was even stronger than her first. Simply put, she blew this out of the water. I'm honestly not sure whether or not Caleb or Alex will be in the top 2, but Jena is a sure thing for the finale next week.

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