American Idol: Caleb Johnson seeks redemption, Jena Irene seeks perfection

American Idol recap: The final four contestants got off to a rough start on Wednesday night with their first of three American Idol performances but the third song proved to be a charm. And Jena Irene was living a semi-charmed kind of night.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
Contestant Caleb Johnson poses at the party for the finalists of American Idol XIII in West Hollywood, Calif., Feb. 20, 2014.

On Wednesday night, the remaining four American Idol contestants took on another week of performances; each knowing that one of them will fall just inches short of securing the always dramatic and often transformative experience of "hometown visits."

But before we launch into a review of the performances, we'd be remiss if we didn't address the Caleb Johnson scandal that erupted last week after Caleb agreed to a post-show interview with a reporter. Now, if you haven't heard about the interview, essentially many people were shocked and offended over the way Caleb seemed to insult his own fans, labeling them as "retards," who bother him with song suggestions via social media. 

To ridicule fans for feeling invested in your performances and success on American Idol is certainly a questionable tactic, to use the word "retard," only heightens Caleb's obvious insensitivity. Many fans took to social media to let Caleb know that because of his remarks, he would have one less fan to worry about, prompting Caleb to issue this lame apology:

“For the record, that juvenile comment I made in the interview was not directed towards my fans but to the wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day to me! You guys are amazing and I cannot thank you enough for your support. Sorry if it offended anybody, it was the wrong choice of words. Also I greatly appreciate it when you guys give me song suggestions, but it gets really overwhelming at the volume it comes in, so please understand! Rock on!”

This behavior has shocked many American Idol viewers – but what is even more shocking than Caleb's grandiose, in-your-face behavior (if you've been following this blog, you'll know that I've long opined about Caleb's arrogant behavior and exhibitionist tendencies) is the fact that so few people have expressed concern over his "joke" that if he makes it to his hometown visit he'll be enjoying, "girls, hookers and cocaine."

Are remarks such as these as bad as his sentiment towards his fans or the insensitive use of the word "retard?" Maybe, maybe not, but let us not forget that this is same gentleman who sang an '80s song and remarked that the "old ladies," would like it. Clearly tact is not Caleb Johnson's strong suit. In fact, it is beginning to seem as though screaming loud songs is his one redeeming quality.

Now (at the risk of sounding as though I am saying "I told you so") we'll continue with our regularly scheduled program.

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, looking particular scruffy this week, educated viewers on the theme of the Wednesday evening performances: "Break-ups and Make-ups & Dedications." 

Round One

Caleb Johnson: Caleb, remembering the time a girl opted to start ignoring his calls (hmm, can't imagine why) channeled his best Bon Jovi with, "You Give Love a Bad Name." Say what you will about Caleb, when he's good he's really good. This was not one of those performances. Caleb struggled with staying in tune and experienced more than one sharp note. The judges disagreed with me. Keith Urban said it was "killer," and suggested that Caleb made it his own. Jennifer Lopez agreed with Keith and said Caleb is ready for "primetime," presumably a primetime that doesn't involve interviews with the media. Harry Connick Jr. liked it but suggested Caleb consider a new signature screech because in a concert, it would get old. It's already old, Harry. B-

Jessica Meuse: Jessica chose to sing, "Since You've Been Gone," by Kelly Clarkson. She explained that many guys she's been with just haven't embraced her steadfast commitment to her music. Not sure if you may have missed it in the past but Jessica has hinted once or twice (or 397 times) that she is a hardcore musician and a slave to her craft. If we had to find one good thing about Jessica's rendition of Clarkson it was the fact that she made Caleb's performance seem glorious by comparison. Failing not only to connect but to stay in key, Jessica struggled throughout the entire song, not just the slower intro verses. JLo danced around the fact that Jessica struggled vocally by saying it didn't compliment her vocal style. Harry said he's glad she has two other performances. Keith explained that he was dancing during Jessica's performance, out of sympathy. D

Alex Preston: Alex, after being heartbroken in his senior year, decided to sing, "Too Close," by Alex Clare. Despite being a fan of Alex and a huge fan of this song, Alex's performance left me feeling a little flat. While he was in tune and fresher looking this week, the song sounded a little dull and one note. Harry liked it but Keith and JLo wished that Alex would take charge of the performances to create more memorable moments. B

Jena Irene: Jena's first heartbreak occurred early on, at the ripe old age of 14 when her boyfriend had a change of heart after summer camp and she selected "Heartbreaker," by Pat Benatar. Jena, who coincidentally just finished her last high school class, schooled the other three contestants with this performance. Keith surprisingly didn't feel as though Jena was as committed to the song as she usually is but JLo disagreed. Harry wished that Jena's feelings had driven her performance and that she seemed restricted. Jena blamed the high heels but with Harry's encouragement, Jennifer demonstrated how to work it, even with heels. A-

Round Two

Caleb Johnson: Caleb dedicated his second song, Creedence Clearwater Revival's, "Travelin' Band," to his band back home. It was good to see Caleb recoup after his first performance. He gave a great rendition of the song with, clear, strong vocals. His decision to end the song with a heavy metal shriek was questionable but overall it was a good performance. The judges loved it. A-

Jessica Meuse: Jessica dedicated Pink's, "So What," to all the people who gave her a job because they didn't believe in her. Before anyone could make heads or tails of that odd dedication, Jessica launched into her performance. Someone give the girl an "A" for effort, she really tried to emote. It wasn't natural in its execution and she was off-key again but she was trying so hard, it's hard not to feel proud of her and well, a little embarrassed for her. The judges didn't feel like the song suited her and they're all placing their eggs in the last-song basket. C

Jena Irene: Jena delighted when she announced she'd be singing Lady Gaga's, "Bad Romance," for her fans. Unfortunately, Jena didn't live up to our hopes. The song didn't come close to the amazing potential of a Gaga song and she just sounded like she was screeching throughout. Keith liked that she changed the beat of the chorus and thought it was really, really good. JLo didn't love the shift in the chorus but Harry thought she did a good job. C

Alex Preston: Alex chose Jason Mraz's, "I'm Yours," as his dedication to his girlfriend. His performance was definitely feel-good and mellow with some really nice vocal moments but like Jason says in the lyrics, "our time is short," and opting for a mellow performance this late in the game may not be the best strategy. JLo is worried for Alex because the performance was so linear. Harry was sorry that Alex stayed so true to Jason's melody and Keith loved the final eight bars of the song. B-

Round Three

Caleb Johnson: Caleb selected Paul McCartney's, "Maybe I'm Amazed," for his make-up song and it was so good, it almost made me feel like making up with him. In all seriousness, this was one of the best performances in this season of American Idol. Caleb exercised control over self-indulgence and delivered a powerful yet poignant vocal that left Jennifer and Keith breathless and on their feet. Harry loved that he sang softly and called the performance "absolutely phenomenal." A

Jessica Meuse: Jessica channeled her Lady Gaga with, "You and I." This Gaga performance was far better suited to Jessica than "Bad Romance" was to Jena and Jessica managed to pull a rabbit out of her hat for the final song. Keith called it the perfect song for her and the others agreed that it was the right song choice. It was probably Jessica's best performance of the season. A-

Jena Irene: Jena selected, "Can't Help Falling In Love," by Elvis, an intriguing choice that could really make for a memorable performance. Turns out that the decision to perform that song was sheer brilliance. This heart-wrenching performance by Jena actually resulted in a necessary adjustment of Caleb's grade for his Round Three song; originally Caleb was given an, "A+" for his performance but Jena bested him by imbuing the song with as much, if not more poignancy AND managed to do so while simultaneously making the song her own. Yes, you read that right. Jena Irene took liberties with an Elvis Presley song and made it even better. Jennifer, moved to tears, was on her feet even before Jena finished and rushed to the stage to kiss her upon completion. She explained that no American Idol contestant has ever inspired her to do that in all the performances she's judged. Harry called it incredible and Keith described Jena as a "musical platypus." A+

Alex Preston: "Yellow," by Coldplay was Alex's selection for his make-up song. To follow a performance like Jena's is no enviable position but to be honest, even if he hadn't performed on the heels of one of American Idol's best moments, Alex's rendition of "Yellow," was actually more of a beige, but the contrast made that even more discernible. Harry tried to put a good spin on things, calling it a great performance and Keith and JLo jumped on the bandwagon of positive messages but their judging was like a Jessica performance – they were saying all the right things but the believability was sorely lacking. B-


So who won the night? Well, it all boils down to the third and final round partly because that's all any of us will remember anyway and partly because the show didn't really seem to begin until Round Three. With Jena and Caleb really duking it out for best performance of the night, Alex and Jessica are left to fight for the scraps. And while Jessica may have bested Alex in Round Three – her likability factor has always been her Achilles' heel in this competition. Because of that and in spite of her excellent final round, we're predicting that there will be no road trip to Slapout, Alabama, next week.

But what about Caleb, you might ask. Well, in a perfect world performers and celebrities would be held accountable for their behaviors but this is far from a perfect world. Consider NFL quarterback Michael Vick's continuing success, now as a Du-Rag designer as proof of that. With that being said, what do you think? Do you think Caleb deserves retribution for his insensitive and off-color remarks or do you think that America should cut him some slack, considering he's young and has virtually no experience giving interviews beyond Randy Jackson's boot camp?

Inquiring minds want to know where the readers fall on this issue - leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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