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'American Idol' recap: The Top 6 first go rock, then country

April 24, 2014|By Amy Reiter
  • Caleb Johnson performs Carrie Underwood's "Undo It" on "American Idol."
Caleb Johnson performs Carrie Underwood's "Undo It"… (Michael Becker / FOX )

The "American Idol" Top 6 made like Donny and Marie Osmond, circa 1976, and went a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll (the perfect fresh reference for pulling in that young demographic the show's been aiming hard for this season) on Wednesday night, though not in that order.

It was a drawn-out, slackish evening that felt every bit of its two hours and more. Sections between performances were filled with noisy coach banter and appearances by the band R5 and a very sedate Grumpy Cat. The extremely non-frisky, permanently bemused feline was held by host Ryan Seacrest, kissed by contestant Caleb Johnson, imitated by Jennifer Lopez and awkwardly carried on for a final appearance by Randy Jackson, who exclaimed, "The dawg holding the cat! I love cats!"

And then there was the singing.

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Jena Irene led off the rock songs with a performance of Heart's "Barracuda" that showed her power and range. Keith Urban called it a "great way to start the show," "the perfect song" for her voice and range, and a "killer performance," but said, in a theme he would return to all night, he wished she'd "released" more physically. "You can cut loose, baby," he said. Harry Connick said Irene's "strong voice" was a "perfect match for that song." Lopez encouraged her to keep pushing herself further, saying that's what would help her win. "Last week, I feel like Jena did some things that showed people that she could take the whole thing," Lopez later said.

For her country song, Irene tackled Carrie Underwood's "So Small," messing up a bit at the end. It wasn't her best performance, but Urban and Lopez didn't seem bothered. Urban told her she was "such a good singer" and represented "everything that 'Idol' has ever been about." Watching her "get better and better and better every week," he said, was "like the best journey." Lopez said she'd gotten "the goosies" and that Irene's powerful vocals had sucked her so deeply into the song and story that it was as if the band had gone away. Connick thought Irene's interpretation was overly ornamented and that those ornaments "didn't really match what was going on underneath" her. It "didn't work" for him, but it probably wasn't going to matter much, he told Irene, because "a lot of people love you."

Reluctant designated heartthrob Sam Woolf, who just celebrated his 18th birthday, sang Imagine Dragons' "It's Time" in the rock round, showing increasing comfort onstage and eliciting lots of screams from the crowd. Lopez got "goosies," said she "believed" Woolf when he sang, and contended that he'd finally come into his own and had given a "full-blown performance." Connick called the song choice "perfect" and said Woolf was "starting to add layers" to his "sweet, humble, kind guy" persona, and "blossoming." Urban urged him to tap into his "real emotion" -- pain, anger, frustration – and channel it into the song. "When you tap into that and sing like you do, it'll explode," he said. "You've just got to release it."

For his country go, Woolf sweetly sang Shania Twain's "You're Still the One," connecting with the audience directly by touching a few outstretched hands. Urban thought it was a good song for him "lyrically" because it drove his young fans "crazy," but said he'd still like to see him relax and ease into the music more. Lopez gushed about Woolf's cuteness and said she wanted him to tap into his feelings and make himself blush more. Connick wished for less perfection, more dynamics, telling Woolf he'd gotten the hang of connecting with the audience and should now focus on connecting with the lyrics.

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C.J. Harris' rock entry was "American Woman" by the Guess Who, which he performed with his usual blend of intensity and "intonation" issues, as Connick later noted. The judge said he'd felt Harris' "energy," liked the song choice and had come to find comfort in the "cry" in his voice, but he urged him, again, to work on "singing in tune." Urban noted that there was a "disconnect" between Harris' natural sweetness and the song's swaggy attitude, urging him to find the emotion somewhere, even if he "couldn't be that [not nice] guy to that girl" in real life. Lopez liked Harris' look and thought he'd pulled the performance off after a shaky start, even though rock wasn't really his thing.

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