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‘American Idol’ Recap: The Caleb Johnson/Jena Irene Express Won’t Be Derailed

A Caleb/Jena finish is practically foregone.

By Adam Graham

“American Idol” continued toward its inevitable Caleb Johnson/Jena Irene finale on Wednesday, with each coming off a successful hometown visit and performing three songs apiece. Oh, and not that it mattered, but Alex Preston performed three songs too.

Preston actually scrapped together what was likely his best performance of the season, with a strong-if-unexpected version of Rihanna’s ballad “Stay.” But the Caleb/Jena finish is practically foregone, and is how this “Idol” season has been headed for weeks. Sorry, Alex.

Here’s how Wednesday’s show — “Idol’s” 500th episode — unfolded:

Caleb Battles Voice Troubles
The biggest hurdle Caleb Johnson had to overcome in his road to the finale was his own voice, which he lost after going back to Asheville, North Carolina, over the weekend for his hometown visit. At the open of Wednesday’s show, viewers were told Johnson didn’t sing at all during the show’s rehearsal, and a doctor was trotted out onstage to explain Johnson was battling a bruised vocal chord. The doc compared his performing to a runner racing with a badly bruised ankle.

Johnson’s big wail seemed weakened but not entirely sidelined during his first two songs, INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” (Randy Jackson’s choice) and Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” (the judges’ choice). But he was able to pull out all the stops for his closer, a reprise of his version of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” which had Jennifer Lopez sensually writhing at the judges’ table. Lopez called it “a true ‘Idol’ moment,” though her reaction is more likely to be turned into GIFs than Johnson’s microphone stand-swinging at the end of the song.

Jena Becomes ‘Titanium’
Jena Irene stamped her ticket to the finale -– and a potential victory –- last week with her performance of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Only an embarrassing slip-and-fall accident onstage, or an embarrassing social-media gaffe, could stand in her way.

Neither happened on Wednesday, though the 17-year-old did seem to have a slight issue unhooking herself from a lift upon which she performed David Guetta’s “Titanium.” That performance was dubbed “not your best” by Lopez, though the rest of the night was smooth sailing for Jena.

Her second song was Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack,” after which Keith Urban praised her limitless range as a vocalist, and she finished with Radiohead’s “Creep,” a throwback to her top 7-week performance. “I just feel like you’re going to be so hard to beat,” Lopez said after her final song. Any questions?

Alex’s Last Stand
Alex Preston was the only contestant who acknowledged elimination was still a possibility, and he mentioned after his second song Wednesday that he may be performing on the show for the last time.

If so, he went out with a bang. He started with Bastille’s “Pompeii,” which found him switching between strumming his guitar and beating on a giant drum, and closed with One Direction’s “Story of My Life,” which he did back in top 10 week. But the surprise of the night was Rihanna’s “Stay,” the judges’ pick for him, which he was able to connect with in an unexpected way and pull out his most memorable performance of the season. Both Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. called his work “beautiful,” though it’s unlikely it was enough to derail the Caleb-Jena Express.

Chainsmokers Take Selfies, Finale Performers Revealed
“American Idol” has been obsessed with selfies all season long, at several points encouraging viewers to take pictures in front of their television screens, which if we’re honest may be the saddest of selfies. Regardless, it makes sense that “#SELFIE” duo the Chainsmokers appeared on Wednesday’s show to perform their hit song –- well, not “perform” it so much as hit play and then run around the studio taking selfies with fans and the show’s judges. (And yes, they looked embarrassed the entire time.)

A handful of performers for next week’s finale were also unveiled, including John Legend (who will perform with Malaya Watson), Jennifer Nettles (lined up with Jessica Meuse), Phillip Phillips (teamed with Sam Woolf), Darius Rucker and Demi Lovato.

What did you think of “Idol” on Wednesday? Let us know in the comments!