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'American Idol' recap: Top 8 are revealed

Kelly Clarkson returns to the “Idol” stage, and the fans get some real-time power.

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American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

Tonight is an Idol event 14 years in the making. The original is back. Yes, Kelly Clarkson has returned to the Idol stage, both to entertain us and to guide our eager contestants. (She also proves to be the funniest person on the show. Sorry, Harry.)

And so, the entire evening has been dubbed Kelly Clarkson night. Kelly Clarkson performances, Kelly Clarkson advice, Kelly Clarkson song catalog. Sounds good to me. A 20-year-old Kelly appears on our screen, in pigtails, in a clip from her first audition for Paula, Randy, and Simon. (Remember them?) Even then, her star power was undeniable. And when you consider that her chart-topping, Grammy-winning career was launched on this very show, it’s not hard to remember why people are still lining up to audition, and why we are still watching this competition. (But the winner of tonight’s show, it’s worth noting, is Keith Urban, who’s wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Steve Carell getting his chest waxed in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, screaming “AHHHH KELLY CLARKSON.”) Aside from all the Kelly, there’s one more addition to tonight’s show: a Fan Save. What’s a Fan Save? After Ryan announces the bottom two, we’ll have five minutes to decide who stays and who goes, via Twitter. Okay. Gimmicks, sure. But okay. Are you drunk with power? I am.

After a fawning video tribute to Kelly Clarkson, season 2 winner Ruben Studdard appears to deliver the results envelope to Ryan. This feels cruel, no?

But let’s get down to it! First to make it through is Nick, and I think Kelly (and her rockin’ fishtail braid) is totally with me about Nick’s general hotness. Her advice for Nick: Open your eyes and make eye contact. He takes the stage and sings Kelly’s “Catch My Breath,” and after a really pretty and soft first verse, he breaks into the meat of the song. It’s a little strained and the pitch is questionable in parts, but he feels, like last week, a bit more emotionally connected than we’ve seen him. He’s working so hard! But J.Lo’s right when she tells him to spend more time with the movement coach. (She also references Marc Anthony’s weird leg-shake thing, which is a funny reminder that J.Lo is a real person and leads a real life.)

Jax is next to get good news, and she’s dressed for the occasion as a scary vampire seductress. I fall for Jax a little bit when we watch her rehearsing with Kelly. She’s so star struck and humbled by the opportunity to sing for this woman who won the show when Jax was probably in kindergarten. (Kelly says she has literally no notes for her, because Jax is legit that good.) When she takes the stage with “Beautiful Disaster,” three things happen for me. First, I remember how amazing this song is and immediately download it. Second, I realize that Jax is barefoot, hopefully in tribute to Kelly’s preferred performance mode. Third, I fully accept that Jax has the ability to win this entire competition. She looks gorgeous and this was such a controlled and understated performance. A++, young Jax.

NEXT: Tyanna sends a message to the haters.