The "super eight" perform duets and the original audition songs that got them to Hollywood and began their Idol journey.

By Jake Perlman
Updated April 03, 2014 at 05:31 AM EDT
Credit: Michael Becker/FOX

The top eight went back to the start tonight by performing the original audition song in front of the judges that earned them their golden ticket to Hollywood and started their Idol journey, which I guess was also an opportunity to go even further back and show the singers as babies and in their youth. The even number of contestants (and two-hour run time) also allowed the contestants to perform duets with each other.

But here’s a tip to Idol producers: Just let those kids sing and stop asking them awkward Twitter questions about whether they like each other. Let’s get this over with: THEY ARE ALL BEST FRIENDS AND LOVE EACH OTHER AND WANT THE SAME THING AND THERE IS NO COMPETITION (EVEN THOUGH IT’S A COMPETITION). Hearing songs we’ve already heard them sing wasn’t necessarily the most exciting idea ever, but it did give a good opportunity to directly compare some of the progress, or lack thereof, of the “super eight.”

Jessica Meuse, “Blue Eye Lie” by Jessica Meuse: I think Jessica has gotten better each week as she is getting more comfortable with the crowd and the logistics of what it means to be performing on a singing competition. Jessica again performed her original tune that had Keith worshiping her shoulder skills from her first audition in Atlanta. Obviously, the song was a lot different with the band playing with her, and I think for the better. This is exactly the type of songs Jessica should be singing: Sh had just the right amount of angst and edge that will still show off her creativity and musical skills. I guess she needs to start writing more, then. The judges were pretty much in agreement and thought it was a great start to the show, with Jennifer even calling the performance “really perfect.” Keith seems to have moved on from Jessica’s shoulders and wants her to move around more while on stage, but Harry disagreed and thought it was a cool presentation.

C.J. Harris, “Soul Shine” by the Allman Brothers Band: “This will be better than my original audition, I promise you.” C.J. made it clear that he knew his first audition wasn’t perfect back in Salt Lake City. J.Lo said there were a lot of things wrong with it, but they could be fixed. Well, what a great opportunity to test out that theory! All three judges agreed that most of the problems were solved, the main one being C.J.’s recent tune and pitch problems while performing. Though it wasn’t perfect, his pitch was better than in the past couple of weeks. He has definitely been working each week to improve, but I just don’t think he has a strong enough personality to win over his inconsistent style of performing. Jen said she was rooting for him and that he touches her heart, but since C.J. has been in the bottom before, I don’t know if this performance was strong enough to convince anyone who wasn’t already rooting for him to be a fan now.

Jena Irene and Alex Preston, “Just Give Me a Reason” by Pink and Nate Ruess: I actually gasped out loud when Ryan announced before the commercial break that Alex and Jena would be singing this song. I was so excited and expectations were already high for the first duet. And just as quickly, my hopes were crushed. I respect Alex for always changing things up and making it his own, but to me, it’s beginning to look more like insecurity versus an artistic choice. I did not like the arrangement at all, and at points, it sounded like the two were singing in different keys. It got better at the end, but the original version would have served the two much better. The judges didn’t comment on any of the duet performances, so they didn’t get to give a reason either way.

NEXT PAGE: Ryan gets his clap on in Sam’s “Lego House”

Sam Woolf, “The Lego House” by Ed Sheeran: Don’t worry, Sam, I think your big head is cute! And so did most of America, since it was shown in a lot of extreme close-ups during the performance. Sam chose to do a slower version of the Ed Sheeran song, which was the exact opposite of the quicker version that Keith commented on from his first Boston audition. I didn’t really notice a big tempo difference and thought the performance was good, but not good enough for this point in the competition. Sam needs to take some bigger risks and, like Harry said, embrace the girl fandom that’s surrounding him instead of humbling himself by it, because it’s causing him to disappear more and more each week.

The judges didn’t get to comment until after the commercial break, which not only allowed them to form their thoughts more, but let Ryan have a little fun with the lamps on stage as part of Sam’s set. Yes, Ryan, “clap on” lamps definitely still exist and they work no matter how big your hands are, so don’t worry!

Jessica Meuse and Caleb Johnson, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty: Now this is what I’m talking about! Jessica and Caleb absolutely killed it with the duet, a perfect choice for both of their voices, and it also allowed them to show more of their personality as well. The point of performing a duet on the show is to show your ability to harmonize with others and share the stage with another singer, and that’s exactly what the duo was able to do. Caleb would score their performance an 11 out of 10, and I agree! Don’t ask me to pick whose hair looked better while rocking, because that would be too difficult.

Malaya Watson, “Ain’t No Way” by Aretha Franklin: Malaya probably had one of the most memorable original auditions back in Detroit, mostly because of her marching band skills and big personality. Though the song is a tad too mature for the 16-year-old, her performance deservingly got Keith on his feet by the end. You would never know this girl was still in high school if you just listened to her voice, and though she is getting much better at it, she needs to be able to control herself and focus in every performance and style that she does. J.Lo said she can see Malaya blossoming and “running away with the competition,” and while Harry said she was doing everything right, he again suggested that she needs to learn how to sing her runs a little better by going over each note individually. That’s a pretty small detail to pick on, and overall, the performance was solid and Malaya has comfortably worked her way into a real contender.

Dexter Roberts, “One Mississippi” by Brett Eldredge: Clearly, Dexter is currently the most popular person in Alabama right now. I’m sure if I had a billboard with my face on it, my mother would blow kisses at it too, so stop bragging! But then he sang a song about Mississippi; stop playing with America’s hearts! The song’s vocals were good, but the performance was a little boring for me with Dexter’s denim attire being washed out by the blue lights. Harry and J.Lo both commented on how well Dexter worked and sounded with the band, especially the backup singer who apparently was a finalist in 2008? 2009? Ask Ryan — he’ll Google it later. Harry was touched by the performance and commented that Dexter “needed it this week,” though I’m not sure what “it” is. I think Dexter is still in danger of being in the bottom three again, based on more showy and memorable performances and the fact that he’s been there before. There’s only so many people in Alabama and some of them must be still voting for C.J., right?

NEXT PAGE: “I went to the store ‘Dubai’ some bread”

This is the point where I rant over the new super voting and the “real-time” voting results being shown through Facebook. Apparently, after the first four performances, voters 21 and older liked Jessica the most and Malaya the least. That definitely didn’t have to do with the fact that Jessica performed first and Malaya performed last, right? OF COURSE IT DOES! Who are you fooling, producers? And what about West Coast viewers? Those fanbases aren’t being taken into account at all. Though the voting system is already a little wonky, this seems like a weird way to skew votes.

Malaya Watson and Sam Woolf, “Lucky” by Colbie Callaitt and Jason Mraz: This seemed like the final scene of a high school movie where the two shy geeks get their revenge by performing in front of the entire school and prove that they are special too! Sam further proved that he is lost on stage without a guitar, and the potential for something big was instead just fun and cute. It was almost as if they were told the further away they stand from each other, the better they would sound. It just made the whole thing sweet but awkward.

J.Lo and Keith also apparently both traveled over the weekend to Dubai and Australia respectively. #idoljudgeproblems

Jena Irene, “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele: Jena is not afraid to take risks, and having to sing Adele more than once in any season is going to be a risk to begin with. But the slowed-down, sultry version further showed her dynamic ability as a performer to connect with the audience and make something completely unique and her own. Jena’s last note got Keith so excited that he was out of his seat before it even began. Jena has been one of my favorites since her very first audition, and she has grown more and more every week, but unlike some of her other competitors, she still has the ability to surprise us each time too. I think she was also lucky that she got to perform her duet before this too. The judges all loved the bold performance, and Harry has even come to like the “cool speech impediment” that he thinks Jena has. J.Lo thinks Jena can win this whole thing, and if she can continue this momentum, she will surely be rolling in the votes.

C.J. Harris and Dexter Roberts, “Alright” by Darius Rucker: Sweet home Alabama! The southern neighbors made the mistake of not actually singing a duet together and instead just changed the arrangement of the song from the Hootie and the Blowfish frontman. Their voices were just competing against each other the entire time, and it didn’t really sound that great. Not sure how these pairs were picked, but they would have both been much better served with a female counterpart versus another low male tone. I think this performance could be perceived as just alright and land both in the bottom.

NEXT PAGE: Welcome the Rock n’ Roll viking

Caleb Johnson, “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin: Double Aretha alert! Who would have thought? Caleb originally auditioned back in season 10, and J.Lo thought he always had a great voice, but only now has he put it all together in a great package. Caleb is a gender-bending monster, absolutely nailing this performance of Franklin’s hit after belting out Adele and Lady Gaga hits in the past. Caleb seems to be the only one who really understands that this is a competition and someone has to win by the end. He comes to play every week and delivers. Harry wants Caleb to try something new eventually and do something not as loud, though he agreed with Keith and J.Lo in praising the performance. Jennifer needs to just admit she has a crush on Caleb already, calling the performance “so perfect” and saying that it has always appeared he’s been waiting for a moment like this to perform for all of his life. Caleb is definitely going to stay around for a lot more moments like this one, guaranteed.

Alex Preston, “Fairy Tales” by Alex Preston: The night started and finished with original tunes, which makes me think that it could be its own theme one night, because they were both actually well-written songs. The judges loved the song when they first heard it in Salt Lake City, so the pressure was already on Alex before he started. I wish Alex could loosen up a little more besides just shaking his head constantly to get vibrato, but there was no shortage of passion in his performance tonight. Alex is an incredible vocalist and musician and has proven that each week, but I’m still waiting for him to really show a different side to him while performing. It never seems like he’s having that much fun. Maybe it’s just nerves or maybe I’m too hard on him, but he always leaves me wanting more, and not in a good way. Alex won’t be in any danger this week, but I think if he got into the competition a little more instead of trying to do his own thing every time, he would be more successful.

Was the final eight really super or super lame? I think Dexter is in trouble and may be making a return home to Alabama soon. What did you think? Discuss!

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