Recap: ‘American Idol’ Season 13 – Top 6 Performances – Country & Rock Night

We're down to six on “American Idol” and the singers are doing double-duty on Wednesday (April 23) night.

Alex, Jena, Caleb, CJ, Jessica and Sam will each sing one song dubbed “Country” and another song deemed “Rock.” 

Two quick thoughts:

1) Dexter Roberts picked the wrong week to go home. If ever a theme would have helped ease Dexter along in his “Idol” genre, this would have been it.

2) For all of the Judges' Save thing, this week's theme seems to doom Sam Woolf, doesn't it? I continue to suspect that Jena, Caleb and Alex are in their own voting class. And of the remaining three singers, who can pretty much go home in any order as far as I'm concerned, two of them can be comfortably classed in a country-rock niche and the other one is Sam Woolf. Either we're about to see some impressive theme cheating from Sam, or else he's doomed before he begins.

Or is he?

Click through for the whole recap and just chime in!

8:01 p.m. ET. The opening voiceover talks about how we've started to see the Finalists for the artists they are, or at least the artists they can be easily classified as.

8:03 p.m. The band is on-stage. That was a big deal a few weeks ago. Now it's just something normal, I guess.

8:04 p.m. Less than a month to go. WOO!

8:04 p.m. Tonight's Jennifer Lopez Fashin Show features a shimmering gold top and poofy black… shorts? Skorts? I dunno. 

8:05 p.m. Tonight's first singer is…

Song: “Barracuda”
My Take: I feel like Jena hadn't decided to sing Heart, Jessica probably would have, so this is a win for us. It's a very heavily instrumental arrangement and Jena has to fight a little to be heard over the guitars and the percussion, but even if the sound mix probably wasn't ideal, Jena's voice is quite fine. This is more into the range of imitation than most of what we've heard from Jena this season, but it's a GOOD imitation. It's an imitation of a singer who most people can't even begin to mimic. And Jena closes really strong, with a powerful and a sustain rock note. Performance-wise, Jena's decent. She tries to interact with the band and tries to instigate the audience. She remains a work-in-progress, but that she's got more control each week.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You really set the bar high, baby, for everybody else,” Harry says, calling it “killer” and calling her “baby” several times. Keith tells Jena that should be just a bit looser as a performer. J-Lo felt like last week was a pivotal week for Jena, but she says she thinks Jena can make the Finals. Well, duh. “You have such a strong voice, Jena, and it was such a perfect match for that song,” Harry says.

Song: “It's Time”
My Take: Not bad, Sam. Not bad. I can't disagree with calling this “rock.” And there's a strength to Sam's voice in the opening verse that replaces his usual studied timidity. And, heck, Sam has even added “clapping” to his performance repertoire. It's wooden and robotic clapping, but it's clapping none-the-less. Interestingly, Sam is at his least interesting on the choruses. That's the opposite from the way it normally goes with “Idol” singers, with the whole “It starts too low…” phenomenon in which performances are built to comfort at the chorus. Here, Sam is comfortable early and maybe the chorus pushes his voice a bit too hard. But that was assertive and decent for Sam. No shame to that performance at all. That performance was dangerously decent, at least for CJ and Jessica.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo got GOOSIES! She believed him on this song. “You're such a sweet, humble, kind guy. Even though we've actually never met,” Harry says, complimenting Sam for staying who he is, while also growing. “There was a gravitas, there was a weight about you,” Keith says, urging Sam to release his inner strength. I'm not sure why there's so much time to kill tonight. Why are we joking about Sam's 18th birthday and about Ryan's drumming?

Song: “American Woman”
My Take: This is a song that has a storied history of mediocre performances on “Idol.” But this is quite decent. I don't think it's exactly what CJ does best, but he's not shying from the rock theme. His emotion and sincerity don't exactly mesh with this track and I'm not sure what he's getting so worked up about. He seems almost tearful to be telling the American Woman to get away. The music is full of swagger, but CJ has no swagger. CJ gets sad and channels that well. This song doesn't fit with that.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thought it was a good song choice, but he reminds him once again about singing in tune. Keith felt a disconnect between the song and CJ's “nice guy” image. J-Lo thought it started shaky, but it came together in the middle when he connected to the audience.

Song: “Animal”
My Take: Alex goes electric and he's doing a relatively straight-forward cover of the Neon Trees favorite. There are some phrasing choices that I don't understand, points at which Alex gets breathless when it wouldn't have seemed necessary. But he treats the song and its rock trappings with a lot of respect, which is definitely smart. He didn't make it mopey and coffee shop-y and, basically, Alex-y. Sometimes there are benefits to stripping down a rock song and imposing emo will upon it, but this wasn't that time. Good for Alex to show he can respect a song, even if he's better when he makes things his own. I'd put that performance above CJ's and in line with Jena's. Jena did a better rock vocal, but I'm perfectly willing to give Alex credit for his musicianship.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “I just wanted you to release a bit more, Alex,” Keith says, suggesting that the band was on top of him and dominating him. J-Lo felt that there was something missing, the “wild abandon” of rock-n-roll. Harry says that Alex will get a pass because of his consistency. And… Yay! Harry says that Alex couldn't get his breath. He says, though, that he was glad to see Alex can do up-temp.

Song: “Sting Me”
My Take: Interesting. Very interesting. This is Caleb's genre, his moment to shine. And he goes with a very fun Black Crowes song that most “Idol” viewers aren't going to know at all. He's great, just as you knew he would be. He nails the bluesy rock vocals and, as always, he enjoys his interactions with band. This could be a good part of Caleb's future concert, complete with the microphone-fu, the climactic shriek and a closing prayer at the feed of the backup singers. That was the rock performance of the night and it was ALWAYS going to be the rock performance of the night. When it comes to doing THIS: Caleb is in his own class. I just wonder if he might have been more strategically savvy in choosing something more family. Or does Caleb figure at this point that he can just be good and voters will follow.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “That was some real rock-n-roll stuff right here,” J-Lo says, telling him he created a moment. Harry says it was a perfect song choice and an incredible performance. Keith was happy. “That's rock-n-roll right there!” yells Randy, taking off his “mentor” hat.

Song: “Somebody To Love”
My Take: Well, I compared corners of Jessica's voice to Grace Slick a couple weeks ago, so who can blame her for going direct to the source? Well, it was only corners of Jessica's voice that deserved the Grace Slick comparison. As a sustained performance, she doesn't have the pipes and she's tailing off of notes left and right. Listen to the original. The notes get STRONGER as they get held. Jessica's cutting things off early, not WAY earlier, but a beat or two early. And, as usual, Jessica's attitude is flat, but spiked by those periodic moments when you can almost see her remembering, “Oh right. I have to turn the light on in my eyes.” It's hard to follow after what Caleb just did and I feel total pity for her. But even that wasn't awful. That was an above-average Round 1.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Harry thought it was “really strong” and he says something about her body feeling the rhythmic delivery or something. Keith makes a “Cable Guy” reference. He wants to see more “release” from Jessica. J-Lo kinda agrees, I think.

Song: “You're Still The One”
My Take: Going pop-country wasn't a bad idea for Sam, but was this the song he wanted to do? And with that hat? Sam without his guitar is pretty lost and it's baffling he couldn't find a country song he wanted to do on his guitar. This song is, in general, too low for his voice. He's having trouble with his breathing and with when he wants to include a little growl and when he wants to be pure-voiced same. That was a wildly inconsistent performance and I think he gave back the ground he gained with the better-than-expected rock performance. The girls in the crowd, however, loved it.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: Keith tells Sam to relax well. “That song sings itself,” Keith explains. Really? Why didn't it sing itself for Sam? “You're so cute it's crazy,” J-Lo says. “I think you have found the people and now it's just a matter of not singing it so perfectly,” Harry says. I'm not sure he's correct about that. Yeah. I didn't enjoy that nearly as much as the judges did.

Song: “Undo It”
My Take: Grump Cat on “Idol.” “I have not seen a face this grumpy since Simon was on the show with me,” Ryan quips. J-Lo is very excited to take selfies with Grumpy Cat. And who can blame her. After the minor mic goof with the mic on his first performance, Caleb is glued to the stand this time. He's taken this Carrie Underwood song and he's kept its basic integrity, while also making it into a viable arena rock anthem. Without straight up cheating the theme, this was as good as Caleb possibly could have done with the second half of night's theme. If Grumpy Cat were capable of smiling, that might have done the trick.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: It's Caleb's birthday. J-Lo didn't feel like magic happened, but it was still a great performance. Harry thought it felt “a little bit more forced.” “I can't wait to hear what country song you do later,” Keith says, confusingly.

Song: “Always On My Mind”
My Take: Alex is going old school with a little Willie Nelson. After not bending the Rock performance to his will, Alex turns “Always On My Mind” into an Alex Preston Special and it's fun how well it fits with what Alex does. The song has yearning at its center and Alex's vocal brings that to the surface. It's a sweet and twee and, at times, soaring performance, not especially “country,” but the song fit the bill without cheating. That Neon Trees performance earlier tonight served a purpose, but I don't think it would be in an Alex concert. This cover could certainly be an Alex staple.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “I feel very lucky to have heard you do that in the competition tonight,” Harry says. Keith wanted more heartbreak, saying he heard it, but didn't feel it. I can believe that. “For me, it was really beautiful,” J-Lo says.

Song: “So Small”
My Take: Ryan asks Keith to predict how Jena will do on this performance. “I haven't seen it yet, Ryan!” Keith replies. I'm glad we're not going all Pre-Cog on “Idol.” Interesting. We've seen Jena do some big songs, certainly, but have we really heard her wail before in this mode? It's not what she's comfortable with, this kind of straight-forward ballad. But it's nice — but not surprising — to see that she does it well. She starts out big, but in the end she's welcomely gentle. After getting overwhelmed a bit by the band in her first performance, this one is Jena and only Jena.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You're everything 'Idol' had always been about,” Keith says. J-Lo got the goosies again! Harry thought that the “ornaments” Jena chose to sing didn't match what was happening beneath her. It didn't work for Harry, but he doesn't think it'll matter.

Song: “Whatever It Is”
My Take: It's weird the way people perform better in their chosen genres. No? Not weird. OK. Then let's talk about CJ's blazer. It's like the best couch upholstery imaginable. Actually, while I started off feeling like this was a good song choice by CJ, while I was concentrating on his blazer, the notes started coming in sharper and sharper. Despite being his genre, that actually wasn't a good performance and I think it might be the end of CJ's “Idol” run. Great blazer, though.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: J-Lo expected a little bit more. Harry agrees and tells CJ to find songs that will kill next week. Keith thought it wasn't a good song choice and calls CJ on singing sharp the entire time. Farewell, CJ Harris. And then CJ makes sure that we know the song was for a little girl from back home who passed away. And now I feel guilty. Will viewers also feel guilty?

Song: “Jolene”
My Take: I love “Jolene.” It's an all-time classic. But just once I wish that Ryan teasing that a singer was gonna do “Dolly” didn't inevitably mean it was yet another “Idol” cover of “Jolene.” Because how can you hope to compete with Alexis Grace and Brooke White? That was a bit of a joke. But yeah. I've heard enough “Idol” covers of Jolene. Dead-eyed and not getting anywhere near “begging” anybody not to take her man, Jessica is in good voice here, at least. I don't see how we ended up with this in the pimp slot. Did the producers think it would be too predictable to do Country then Rock and close with Caleb? That was better than her first performance.
Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr Say: “You did it again,” Harry says. Keith hated the arrangement. J-Lo thought the vocal was strong and she claims to have seen something in Jessica's eyes. Whatever.

9:58 p.m. I think CJ is done, with Sam also in the Bottom Two.

9:59 p.m. We all know, however, that tonight's real winner was… Grumpy Cat.

9:59 p.m. “The Dawg holding a cat,” says Randy. Oy. Y'all know there are few entertainment idioms I hate more than “jumps the shark,” but ending an episode a a selfie with Grumpy Cat may, indeed, be the moment “Idol” did… that.

Who's going home? Who shined tonight?