‘American Idol’ ’80s Recap: The Bad, The Rad And The Totally Tubular

Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene remain frontrunners while some contestants sink a little lower.

American Idol‘s” top 8 part deux took on the 1980s on Wednesday (April 9), revisiting a time “where Instagram, Snapcahat, even the selfie did not exist,” as Ryan Seacrest described it at the top of the show. (By that definition, he could also have been talking about 2004, but who’s counting?)

Former “Idol” champ David Cook guided the competitors through the decade that none of them were alive to experience themselves. Who was tubular and who was totally bogus? Here’s a recap.

Jena, Caleb Rock
On a night with no breakout moments, Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson — who opened and closed the show, respectively — gave the night’s two best performances. As the weeks go on, Irene and Johnson are starting to look like the only contestants with a shot at going all the way. (And they’ll have to get there on their own, now that the judge’s save has been taken out of the mix.)

Irene’s version of “I Love Rock and Roll” started out with her on the piano, singing a very un-rock and roll take on the classic, but her powerful vocals took over in the song’s final two-thirds and she commanded the song. Although she didn’t need to rework it, the changes earned her stylistic points, and her instincts at this point are perhaps the sharpest of any of the contestants.

Johnson’s performance of Journey’s “Faithfully” was a no-brainer, straight down the middle, big take on the power ballad. No tricks, no gimmicks, and even a little safe, but Johnson did well and will likely stay in the good graces of voters.

Dexter, Malaya, C.J. Make Up The Middle
Dexter Roberts, Malaya Watson and C.J. Harris have all tasted what it’s like to be in the bottom three and are all hanging on, trying to stay afloat in the competition. At this point they’re all long shots to win and are jockeying for spots in the upper-middle of the pack.

Roberts had one of the night’s most fun songs, taking on Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” but he forgot to have any fun with it and was mostly trying to remember his stage cues as he worked from the back of the performance space to the front. Watson took on Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire,” nailing some big vocal moments but coming off too polite and too stiff. And Harris’ version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” was faithful to the original but lacked heat.

Sam, Alex Fall Back
After the judges took mercy on him last week, Sam Woolf returned with a newfound vigor on Wednesday. Just kidding, he was still the same old Sam Woolf — timid, awkward, and still not ready to really bite into a song. He performed Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” in the crowd, surrounded by swooning girls, and he still looked like he was studying for an algebra test.

Alex Preston, who is still waiting to have a moment on the show, did a top-to-bottom reworking of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” but only managed to make the stalker anthem into a tuneless stalker anthem. Harry Connick Jr. grilled him on the finer points of being a performer rather than an entertainer, while Jennifer Lopez knocked him for taking all the soul out of the song.

Hang Up On Jessica
Jessica Meuse has become this season’s most confounding contestant. There’s iciness to her personality and her performances are consistently average, yet she’s managed to avoid landing in the bottom three week after week.

This week her luck may finally change. Her version of Blondie’s “Call Me” was the most blah performance of the night, coming off flat and passionless rather than urgent and up front. Keith Urban told her he feels like she’s at the door of the party and she’s ready to go in but something’s holding her back. But this far into the competition, it still feels like she hasn’t earned her invite. How does she keep getting a pass?

One Goes Home
Like last week, Wednesday’s show was padded with duets, but they were time fillers more than anything else. (Dexter and Jessica doing “Islands in the Stream?” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton don’t have anything to worry about.)

Now that the judge’s save is off the table, someone has to go home — every week from here on out. Was Sam worth the save? We’ll find out Thursday if it bought him some time or just delayed the inevitable.