‘American Idol’ Recap: Ariana Grande, Jason Mraz & Zooey Deschanel Visit

Lisa Timmons | May 1, 2014 5:09 am

With only five contestants remaining on American Idol, this week’s theme for performances is “America’s Choice.” How very democratic of the show. That means, in addition to voting for who shall remain, the viewing audience also controls Wednesday night’s playlist. For some contestants, the fans really came through and selected some dead-on choices. For others, it was a less than stellar pairing of singer with song. Additionally, there were plenty of guest appearances, including Zooey Deschanel, Ariana Grande and Jason Mraz.

Host Ryan Seacrest opens the show by explaining that the hashtag #IdolRequest allowed viewers to pick the songs for this week. The five finalists arrive on stage and confess the identity of their celebrity crushes. It’s super awkward when Zooey Deschanel appears moments after Alex Preston confesses she’s his crush. Thankfully, the moment is brief.

Then, the judges arrive, and I have to say, the guys look good, with Harry Connick Jr. in a button-up white shirt and Keith Urban in a simple black tee. But who could compete with sparkly mini-dress-wearing JLo? No one, of course.

This week’s guest mentor joining Randy Jackson is Jason Mraz. Considering that both Alex Preston’s celebrity crush and celebrity idol are here, it certainly bodes well for his performance. Or maybe it means the pressure is on, since he’s up first? His first song is “Sweater Weather” by The Neighborhood, and Jennifer and Keith can’t help but dance in their seats. At feedback time, Keith loved it but encourages Alex to show off his range. He ends it with a “good job!” Jennifer agrees with Keith that Alex did well, but he could have really killed it more with the vocals. Harry calls it “a strong opening to the show.”

Caleb Johnson is next with Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.” As soon as he starts to sing,  I worry that he may have blown his pipes because he doesn’t sound great tonight. Even kindly Jennifer notices he was somewhat struggling, but her review is overall positive. That said, I think she’s being too easy on him. Harry tells Caleb to sing to the audience rather than to the camera. Poor kids. I’m sure there are five different people telling them to look in five different places. Keith tells him he needs to figure out how to get to the next level with his performances. Caleb is clearly rattled and admits he probably wouldn’t have picked that song in his post-song interview with Ryan.

Next is the trio of Jena Irene, Alex and Sam Woolf doing American Authors‘ “Best Day Of My Life.” It’s kind of exactly what I would have expected. This is followed by Jessica Meuse taking on “Human” by Christina Perri. Harry starts off by praising Jessica’s improvements, but cautioning that it wasn’t his favorite performance. Keith chimes in with more positive feedback. Jennifer loved when Jessica lost herself in the song.

Poor Sam Woolf has been styled so strangely in a little fedora, weird boots and a tie-dye shirt. Stop trying to make this kid a hipster, I tell the TV. Let him wear his polo shirt and khakis! Just before he approaches the microphone, his celebrity crush, Ariana Grande, shows up looking stunning in a sweater dress and white go-go boots. Sam gets two hugs out of her and I’m sure it’s all he can do not to explode with excitement.

Shaking off his meeting with Ariana, Sam dives headfirst into the Ed Sheeran song “Sing.” Keith starts off by noting how red Sam’s face was when Arianna appeared. Keith acknowledges that it wasn’t a great pick for Sam, but gives him an E for effort. Jennifer thought he was relaxed and liked how “funky” he was. Harry liked that Sam tried something different, but felt he was “diffusing some of the funk” of the song.

Jena is next with “My Body” by Young The Giant. Of all the contestants, Jena looked like she was having most fun. This earns her a standing ovation from Keith. JLo praises her performance style for the evening. Harry really loves her movement on stage. Keith calls it “killer.”

This is followed by a duet of “Beast Of Burden” with Caleb and Jessica. I feel like they’re too sheepish with each other on stage, with no chemistry. However, Keith thought it was great.

Alex is up again, this time with “Say Something.” A dark silhouette in the background takes on the Christina Aguilera part. During the entire song, I hope it’s Xtina or, more likely, Zooey. Sadly, we never learn the identity of the mystery woman. Say something, she’s given up on you, Alex! Harry thought it was a beautiful performance, the best of the night, in fact, and Keith thanks America for the song choice.

Jena Irene’s second solo performance is “Valerie” and her version is based on the Amy Winehouse version with Mark Ronson. At this point, Jena’s clearly the only contestant remaining with any rhythm. Keith enjoyed her version of the song. JLo thought the tempo and arrangement wasn’t a good fit. Harry simply asks her what she wants to be called, Jena or Jena Irene. It’s weird, except that I’m getting used to Harry saying random, weird stuff.

Sam then sings “How To Save A Life” by The Fray. Jennifer thought it started off shaky but got better. Harry calls out his pitch issues, while Keith agrees with JLo’s estimation.

In a beautiful red dress, Jessica returns to the stage for “Summertime Sadness.” I’m surprised how well she nails it. Harry calls it a perfect song choice and Keith loved the darkness of her voice but JLo was left “a tiny bit cold.”

The show’s closer is Caleb, who grabs the mic for Whitesnake‘s “Still Of The Night.” This is definitely Caleb’s best performance of the evening. Both Keith and Jennifer get to their feet during the song and Caleb completely redeems himself. At the end, he gets rave reviews from all three judges.

Now that America has picked the songs, be sure to tune in Thursday night to see who America picks to stay in the game.

Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.