'American Idol' Recap: Back to the '80s with the Top 8
'American Idol' Recap: Back to the '80s with the Top 8
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
It's time for the American Idol Top 8 to take the stage. Again. Last week the Save was used on Sam Woolf, so now the pressure is really on and there are no second chances. Will Sam still wind up in the Bottom 3 or maybe even go home? Or will an early favorite have a bad week, leading to a shocking elimination like Colton Dixon's in season 11?

A bad week is definitely a possibility with the '80s theme. It's far more conventional than most themes this season, but it might as well be called the Oldies with this group of contestants. None of the Top 8 singers were even alive in the 1980s. Man, I feel old.

There will also be four more duets. Let's pray to God they're better than last week's disasters. Based on the spoilers, it seems that two of the four duets are actually the same songs performed as duets when Idol did this theme in season 11, with one of the solos being repeated as well.

THIS...is American Idol!


The opening is totally '80s and we see that season 7 champion David Cook is in the house to give the singers some much-needed help. As has been the case all season, Alex Preston's wardrobe is hideous. It's half red and half blue with a yellow pocket and collar. Who dresses him, a blind chimp?

Jennifer Lopez and "Billy Ray" Urban are sporting some truly awful '80s hair. Oh man, what a tragic decade for fashion. Continuing on the bad choices bandwagon,David Cook's beard is not working for me.

Jena Irene: "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

She starts slow on the piano and then gets into the rock 'n' roll. I really loved the beginning and the end, but in the middle I could barely hear her. I feel like Jena has trouble working with a mic because this is a recurring problem for me. The judges completely agree about the middle being bad. Harry Connick, Jr. thought the staging was too choreographed and he calls out the show's producers, telling Jena to ignore them and do what she wants. What a rebel!

Dexter Roberts: "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by The Georgia Satellites

He loves singing this song in bars, which makes me hate it before I hear a single note. David Cook calls out Dexter's inability to pronounce words, which is awesome. I guess he took Jena's lyrics literally and put another dime in the jukebox, because this is 100 percent country karaoke. It's perfectly fine if you're having a beer and eating some chicken wings, but that's not my scene. The judges are, for the most part, complimentary because it wasn't bad. It was just so damn safe.

Alex Preston and Sam Woolf: "The Girl Is Mine" by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

This is a nice little slow jam. These two work well together, much better than they did with Malaya and Jena last week. Unlike last week, the judges are actually commenting on the duets, praising both of them. It's cute, but no one really cares about the duets.

Malaya Watson: "Through the Fire" by Chaka Khan

For me, this was a bit of a hot mess. More than ever before, she seemed all over the place and never settled down into a rhythm or melody. It's more of a collection of parts than one continuous performance. The judges point out that she was too tense while anticipating the specific moments, and so the entire performance was just a build-up to the one big note. She could definitely be in trouble tomorrow night.

Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene: "It's Only Love" by Bryan Adams and Tina Turner

The pairings this week are a million times better than last week. These two rock out and Jena is the only person this season who can even come close to matching Caleb's intensity. For some reason Harry goes into the audience for the performance, puts a girl on his shoulders and then brings her back to the judges' table. WTF? He clearly doesn't give a crap about this show anymore, or else he has adult onset ADHD.

Jessica Meuse: "Call Me" by Blondie

David Cook needs her to act like she's actually having fun. This song fits her voice like her leather pants, and I like it a lot, vocally. I do find her lacking a bit of energy while wandering around the stage. Did the producers change everyone's staging at the last minute, because there seem to be a lot of problems with it. I wish the intensity of her body matched the intensity of her vocals, but it's not quite there. The judges all think that she's getting close, but she hasn't really gotten there yet. She needs to lose herself in the moment you own it...OK, I may have veered into Eminem lyrics, but I think the point is valid.

Sam Woolf: "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper

Sam asks David Cook how to connect and later David tries to teach Sam to enjoy himself and get some damn confidence. And it worked! He's in the crowd, surrounded by girls, and it really feels like something changed. First, I love his acoustic version and his vocals are spot-on. He still has some stiff, wooden, dead-eyed bits, but he also shows moments of genuine emotion. His eyebrows move, he closes his eyes, he kind of tears up a bit, he blushes. It's the best he's ever been and J. Lo praises him for actually having emotions. It's like she's talking to Haley Joel Osment in A.I. Harry wants him to watch videos of Ricky Nelson.

C.J. Harris and Malaya Watson: "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me" by Aretha Franklin and George Michael

Um, so C.J. is George Michael in this duet? Seeing as how they were both in the Bottom 3 last week, it's not a surprise that this is pretty bad. After two successful duets, this one is all over the place and doesn't mesh at all. The judges decide not to really comment on it, except Harry compares it to regional theater.

Alex Preston: "Every Breath You Take" by The Police

David Cook tries to make it more about emotion than the artistry of the arrangement. This is where the show becomes about personal preference. The contestants are always encouraged to make a song their own, and Alex definitely does that. He takes the song apart and rebuilds it in his own image. If you like what Alex does, you probably love this. It's creative and interesting. But I just don't feel it. I find him and his songs way too clinical, which is exactly what David Cook wanted to fix. If I were a music theory geek who was into the science of music, I'd probably love him. But I don't. Harry agrees with me, pointing out that Alex isn't stage-worthy and isn't much of an entertainer. And J. Lo didn't even like the arrangement which removed the soul of the song.

Dexter Roberts and Jessica Meuse: "Islands in the Stream" by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

I didn't think it was possible to find a couple with less chemistry than Sam and Malaya, but they found one. They sound OK, but I just don't believe a single lyric of this song.

C.J. Harris: "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty

If he was a better singer, I'd really like this arrangement. It's cool, laidback and different. It reimagines a classic song without totally dismantling it like Alex did. But vocally, he's just not in the same league as the other contestants this season. Based on the judges' comments, he's the anti-Sam Woolf. He can connect with a song, but he can't hit pitch and intonation. Sam, meanwhile, nails the vocals but has no connection. Both are slowly getting better at the things they need help with, but neither are completely there. Despite Harry saying that connection is the most important part, I think vocals matter more, which is why I prefer Sam to C.J.

Caleb Johnson: "Faithfully" by Journey

This is the second time he's had the Pimp Spot since the Top 13 began, and in both of the last two weeks he actually performed second-to-last. Meanwhile, the three Alabamans (Jessica, Dexter and C.J.) have never had the Pimp Spot. In fact, this week with C.J. is the first time any of those three have even performed second-to-last. I'm not saying it's a conspiracy, just pointing out the facts.

It's one of Caleb's favorite songs ever in the history of space, time and universe. It's a great choice for him because it does exactly what Harry wanted. It lets him get soft and start slow, showing a tender side, and then allows him to rock out at the end when the pyrotechnics begins. For the first time all season, there are multiple levels to his performance and it works wonders. The judges love it so hard, as well they should. He just crushed everyone else, so perhaps it's lucky that they put him last, because no one could follow him.


The '80s night of American Idol season 13 is over. Caleb definitely won and Malaya will definitely be in the Bottom 3. I think we may have a repeat of last week's Bottom 3, with Sam and C.J., though I really hope Sam doesn't have to go through that again. I could really see anyone other than Caleb, but I predict Malaya will be going home.


(Image courtesy of FOX)

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