‘American Idol’ Recap: Top 8 Finally Change Things Up, But Was It Good Enough?

As the contest gets hotter, the singers try and remix their styles, hoping to make an impression.

American Idol” turned back the clock on Wednesday, bringing viewers all the way back to last fall, when the season’s top 8 contestants were but young dreamers auditioning for the judges for the very first time.

The contestants reprised their audition songs, taking on material from Ed Sheeran, Aretha Franklin and Adele, with two contestants doing original songs.

The idea was to show how much the contestants have improved, but have they? Here’s a recap of the throwback night’s action.

Malaya, Dexter Stand Out
Malaya Watson has been on fire the past few weeks, and she continued her hot streak Wednesday with her powerful yet perfectly controlled version of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” The judges gave her strong marks across the board, and Keith Urban gave her a standing ovation. “You’re running away with this competition,” Jennifer Lopez told her.

Dexter Roberts was another standout, finally dropping the generic country music guy shtick and injecting some feeling and personality into Brett Eldredge’s “One Mississippi.” “You sat on the stool and you sang the crap out of that song,” Harry Connick Jr. told him, summing up the simplicity and the effectiveness of his performance, while also correctly pointing out it was exactly what he needed at this point in the competition.

Caleb, Jena Stay Strong, C.J. Improves
Big-voiced rocker dude Caleb Johnson took on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” and it was another thoroughly Caleb performance: Loud, rockin’ and on point. Urban told the Meat Loaf lookalike, “you are a Blues Warrior, you are a Soul Conquerer, you are a Rock and Roll Viking,” which kind of made him sound like something out of the middle ages. Connick complimented him as well, but asked him to change things up and try a softly sung ballad at some point.

Jena Irene sang a switched-up version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” that in a season of pretty straightforward covers stood out as one of the few, if perhaps the first, outright swerve jobs on a song. It showed off the strength of her vocals and her personality as a singer, if not quite improving on the source material. (It’s rather tough to top what Adele did with the millennium’s biggest song.)

Meanwhile C.J. Harris pulled himself up from the basement after landing in the bottom three last week, singing a solid version of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Soul Shine.” There was a rawness about Harris’ initial audition that made him stand out and those edges were smoothed this time around, but he was praised for his improvements on the technical aspects of his singing, which have been all over the place the last few weeks.

Jessica, Alex Take On Themselves
Jessica Meuse and Alex Preston opened and closed Wednesday’s show by doing original songs from their own repertoires, Meuse with “Blue Eyed Lie” and Preston with “Fairytales.”

Both dealt with ex-loves and were indicators of the types of artists they will eventually become, trading audience familiarity for artistic insight.

Meuse, who despite avoiding the bottom three has been stuck in a rut, was better than she’s been the last few weeks, and connected with the song in a way she hasn’t been able to in past weeks. Preston, who is still waiting for a breakout performance, was competent if forgettable, which is becoming his lane.

Sam Struggles
Sam Woolf, stuck on a stage tricked out with auxiliary lighting for the second week in a row (last week it was strings of lights, this week he was surrounded by about a dozen floor lamps), seemed to actually lose momentum from his initial audition with his version of Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House.” His awkwardness hasn’t dissipated, and despite the screams of the young girls in the audience, he could find himself in jeopardy of going home on Thursday’s results show. (He’s already been in the bottom three twice so far.)

“I’m really, really happy with where you’re headed,” Urban told him, in what was meant to be a piece of encouragement. But Urban’s crystal ball may be a little cloudy.

Dull Duets
On a night that already seemed to be double its two-hour length, the show was stretched even further, with each contestant paired off in duets with other contestants.

The performances weren’t judged, which was probably for the better, as the contestants seemed to have difficulty sharing the stage with one another. Most effective was Watson, whose performance background helped save her and Woolf’s version of Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz’s “Lucky.” The duets were otherwise forgettable.

One contestant will sing for the judges’ save on Thursday’s results show, which will also feature a performance by “Idol” vet Chris Daughtry.

Who do you think is going home on “Idol” this week? Let us know in the comments!