The final four, three rounds, and one elimination.

Credit: Fox

Just three episodes left! We’re in the homestretch, and tonight, our contestants are headed home to visit their childhood towns and families. This is the episode that makes me cry the most each season, without fail. We have three rounds of songs tonight: round 1, Scott Borchetta’s choice; round 2, the contestants’ hometown dedications; and round 3, the judges’ picks. Ready for a long night?

Rayvon’s up first, and Scott picks Jason Derulo’s “Want to Want Me,” which will for sure challenge Rayvon, but also bums me out because I’m really trying to make this my song of the summer and I don’t want to associate it with Rayvon. (I know, I know, he was fantastic last week.) He’s dancing; he’s having a personality; this is fun! But for real, Rayvon has this killer falsetto, but he loses control with this number. His typically perfect control is shaky. The judges are positive—Harry says it’s the best he’s heard Rayvon sound on an up-tempo song—and I’m chalking our differences of opinion up to that weird watching live versus watching on TV thing.

Clark is up next, and for him, Scott selects U2’s “Beautiful Day.” It should be noted that somebody has styled Clark’s hair. With product. Do I like it? I don’t think so. But Clark’s looking looser on this stage than he normally does, and his voice is on tonight, much better than last week’s fumble. They managed to give him a bit of a rock star moment! But the judges point out that Clark really only got lost in the song (in a good way) for about a quarter of it, and the rest felt measured and calculated. Totally fair, but overall, good choice, Scott.

For Nick, Springsteen’s “Because the Night.” Nick is obviously stoked. (“The Boss!?” he exclaims.) Nick continues his upward climb tonight. He sounds good and has a few moments of looking really nervous but otherwise has command of the stage. Harry’s into it. Keith’s into it. J.Lo wants more connection with the lyrics, but otherwise, was into it!

Jax is up next, and gets “My Generation” by The Who. Jax is so thrilled. Is she the cutest? She’s all decked out like a British rocker (or maybe a fab combo of Baby Spice and Scary Spice) and is wearing a necklace made of actual house keys. The look suits her. This all suits her. She’s all over the damn stage like a performer way more seasoned than she actually is. Her vocal isn’t quite as pretty as usual, but no one wants pretty from this song, anyway. She totally puts the boys to shame, She’s such a badass! The judges are obsessed—her best performance of the season, says Keith.

Who wins the round? Jax, hands down.

NEXT: The contestants head home and the tears start flowing.

Round two is the hometown round! Nick heads to Connecticut and holds a baby on his lap and does the local weather and drinks wine with his family and goes to his high school gym. His dad cries. It’s all very precious. The town has named an ice cream after him! Fradiani Frenzy. The suburbs are so damn cute, you guys. The crowd that showed up for this kid is insane. Thousands of people, no joke. His second song of the night is “Back Home” by Andy Grammer. He’s lost the guitar, is moving around the stage, interacting with the crowd, and having such a good time. He’s so in it, and he looks genuinely and fully comfortable. He has finally figured this thing out. Perfect, perfect timing, Nicky.

Clark heads home to Nashville, and he also does the local weather! What a fun trend. (I would love to do the local weather back home.) He visits his childhood home, hangs with his parents, and then goes to the Clark Beckham parade. Clark has literally imagined this moment. He’s imagined what his American Idol homecoming parade would be. Such a sweetie! His dad cries, and this time, I cry, too.

His second song is Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” and he’s back behind the piano where I like him the most. His voice is just something else, honestly. Have we all been listening to his recorded tracks on Spotify on loop the past few weeks? I certainly have been. This song is lovely—so lovely, in fact, that Keith’s only complaint is that he’d like to see Clark struggle more? That seems stupid, frankly. Sorry, Keith.

Rayvon’s hometown takes us to Richmond. It’s so sweet to see these kids treated like kings and queens. They’re all so proud and kind. We head to Rayvon’s childhood home, and he’s greeted by neighbors and family on his front lawn. These people are so proud of him. I love this episode. Elliott Yamin helps Richmond welcome Rayvon home. (Remember Elliott? One of the best vocalists to ever be on this show.)

His second song is Stevie Wonder’s “As.” He performs it in a hoodie that looks like something Bette Midler might have worn in The First Wives Club, and I mean that as a compliment. This song is kind of perfect for Rayvon. He shows good range, and it suits his whole vibe. Really, REALLY good performance. What is happening tonight?!

Jax heads home to New Jersey. “Mmm, New Jersey Air! Said nobody ever,” she says. I’m loving her tonight. She pulls up to her old middle school, which is swarmed with kids. And she says, totally serious, “Is that all for me?” OF COURSE IT IS, JAX. She bursts into tears.

She also gets back behind the piano and sings Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” a really thoughtful choice. It’s, soft, really pretty. When you expect the song to swell, she keeps it small. I’m loving it, and though I was worried that the judges might have wanted more of a show-stopper, J.Lo is also a fan of the quiet performance.

Who does round 2 go to? Keith says Rayvon. Hmmm. I can’t fault him for that, but Jax got me again, personally. She’s two for two tonight.

NEXT: Clark gets sexy. (Really.)

And now for the final round. But first, Harry makes a joke in which he says that J.Lo smells “so so,” and she shouts “F—!” on live TV, and it is amazing.

For his third and last song, the judges give Clark “Earned It” by The Weeknd. I think it’s clear at this point in the season that I have an unbelievably inappropriate crush on Clark, but this is the first time we’ve seen him be really, really sexy. Like, REAL sexy, you guys. Smart song choice from the judges. It pushed him out of his comfort zone but still showed off all his best abilities. Sorry, I need to cool down for a second.

Rayvon’s last tune is a spooky take on Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.” It was gorgeous and he did some smart work with the harmonies, which Harry praises, but it was a little flat emotionally. J.Lo even says “I wanted you to sing to your mom again, because something else happens.”It’s anyone’s guess how the viewers will vote.

Jax’s final number of the evening is “Misery Business” by Paramore. PERFECT for Jax. Tough song, but I think she can take it. It’s a simplified version, and kind of a weird arrangement—just Jax and her accompanist on the guitar. I think the judges may have wanted her to come out swinging a little bit more (they were also confused by the arrangement) but this rendition is showing off her vocals and her diction, which can make or break this song. That said, this really didn’t sit well for the judges. I always get nervous when someone has a fantastic night and stumbles on the final song. I hope all you viewers remember how kickass her first two numbers were.

For his final song, Nick gets Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be,” which feels unfortunate to me. He sounds great, but this song is so lame-o, isn’t it? But 30 seconds in I find myself singing along like a complete dork, so maybe it was a better choice than I realized. Good performance. Keith stands up! Fantastic.

Round three? Harry gives it to Nick, and so does J.Lo. I want desperately to give it to Clark, but I think I have to side with the judges on this one.

Elimination time is upon us, and J.Lo makes a really smart point: This year, we’re left with four artists battling for the crown. Not one big voice and one artist and one quirky lady performer and one rocker, but four fantastic, artistic performers. This is such a good season. First through to part one of next week’s two-part finale is Nick, followed by Clark. Which leaves Rayvon and Jax, and my heart basically stops. Literally holding my breath.

Anddddddd I can breathe. Jax is through, Rayvon is out, and we have a killer final three fighting for the title. Rayvon really started to win me over the past two weeks, but I’m ultimately thrilled with our top three. How do you guys feel? In addition to next week’s battle, we’ll also be treated (or something?) to performances from Fall Out Boy, Ricky Martin, Pitbull, Jamie Foxx, and Janelle Monae as the show moves to the Dolby Theatre. See you guys on Tuesday—I think I need that much time to recover from tonight.

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