Back through the first few seasons of American Idol, the hometown visits offered a little rest and relaxation for the chosen three, allowing them to bask in the heartfelt welcome of all those who had supported them for so long. No such luck seems available in Season 13, as this group of final contenders had to contend with three rounds of songs, the first chosen by mentor, the “Dawg” supreme, Randy Jackson, the second chosen by the judges, and some final favorites selected by the hometown voters. So much for taking any time easy! The pressure had become pain for Caleb Johnson, whose case of bronchitis and sinusitis had actually led to a hemorrhage on a vocal cord. He was ordered to spare his voice at all costs to allow him to perform his three selections. It was certainly a new persona for the powerhouse rocker, seeing him respond with a nod or on paper. Producers and the judges likened it to an athlete playing with a bad ankle. Jennifer Lopez looked luscious in an ice blue gown, and Harry deemed her “mermaid princess.” Keith Urban played longing husband, putting his wife’s portrait on display, showing solidarity all she was at Cannes and he was finishing up the competition. He also proved still adept at getting those special “challenge phrases” worked into his critiques!
The Chainsmokers dropped by to encourage a plague of self photography while singing their current hit, “Selfie,” and all the judges joined in! A clicking frenzy ensued, and Carrie Underwood was the first of past idols to congratulate the competition on 500 episodes. Caleb was the first up, and Randy’s selection, for him was “Never Tear Us Apart,” by INXS. The panel unanimously praised the song choice, and credited Caleb, who worked through his health situation well. Jennifer Lopez praised that Caleb was “better on your worst night than most are on their best night,” and Harry Connick, Jr. urged “don’t hurt yourself tonight.” Randy Jackson commended, “great job, “and remarked that Caleb’s discovery of his falsetto was a good thing for him this week. Randy’s picks for Alex Preston was Bastille’s “Pompeii,” and Alex created a true “moment” with the song, taking to the drums as he sang, showing off new versatility, and more of his unique abilities with arrangements. Jennifer loved the “different Alex” she saw, while Harry Connick, Jr. saw more “wheels turning” then he might’ve liked, but still loved the song. Keith Urban thought the vocals while on the drums were the best. Jena Irene wasn’t daunted in the least by Randy’s choice of David Geta’s “Titanium.” She soared to the heights with the lines, prompting Keith Urban to sing Jena’s praises as a “stealth singer” who still has fun on stage. Jennifer said that Jena started out shaky, so it wasn’t her best, but she had more songs to go. Harry loved the song choice and the way Jena made it her own.
The judges picked “Demons” by Imagine Dragons for Caleb, and truthfully, he only let one note slip slightly with his illness, and finished strong. Keith Urban noted it was an Achilles’ heel for any singer, lessening confidence to perform unwell, but that he enjoyed the Steve Perry vibe in Caleb’s voice. Jennifer Lopez felt more emotion in the vocal, and stressed that emotion can deliver when vocal ability cannot. Caleb replied that his collection would be “rock with a blues feel” and “all originals” in answer to Harry Connick, Jr.’s question about the kind of album he would make. So much for letting Caleb save his voice on that one! Alex’s selection from the judges was Rihanna’s “Stay,” and Alex took another star turn with it, stretching notes out long, and pouring in pure sensitivity. He got standing ovations from Jennifer and Keith, who tried to get Harry up. Jennifer remarked “you sang the heck out of that. I forgot about Rihanna, I forgot about everything. It was so Alex.” Keith said simply that he loved it, and Harry Connick, Jr. went with his deeper questions, asking what kind of stage show Alex would give. Alex said he would include “6 minute jams,” and that seemed to satisfy Harry! The panel chose Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” for Jena, and she sang it like she was born to perform it. With an astounding range, and her penetrating presence, the performance gave the feel of a Jena Irene show. No wonder she said she loved to “rage with the band,” and the judges were raving over her. Keith loved her interactions with the band, and Jennifer saw that she was “loose from the start” this time.
The hometown visits were more like revisits of old favorite performances for the three singers. Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” was the pick for Caleb. Vocal cords notwithstanding, Caleb outdid his Top 9 week performance, and put Jennifer Lopez in full-on groupie mode, standing out of her seat once again, clearly rocking out! Keith Urban said there had been “a miraculous healing” through that song, and Harry Connick, Jr. dubbed it “fantastic” remarking that Caleb had taken “full advantage” of his stage. Alex was voted to do One Direction’s “Story of My Life” again, and it was a little bit of a drop after two stunning numbers, but still was praised as strong. Radiohead’s “Creep” was chosen by the vote at North Farmington High for Jena, originally a pick from Caleb, and she delivered more powerfully than ever. Keith and Jennifer gave her ovations, Keith reminding her that she did indeed “belong here,” contrary to the lyrics. Harry said this performance was better than her original, and Jennifer praised that she made it seem “so easy that you are going to be hard to beat.” The vote to make the competition come down to go two finalists will come Thursday. It’s part of the painful American Idol truth-not about deserving an end to the journey.
It was nice seeing all of the Top 13 reunited and cheering from the audience, all quite happy with the star singers each one is paired with for next week’s finale. The finale will air Tuesday and Wednesday next week on FOX, and expect formats to change for next season, with airings only one night per week after auditions.