This year's producers have tried to change up the themes this season to shake things up and maximize success for the singers.
No more narrower Motown, country or Billy Joel themes. Instead, they've gone as broad as possible. They've had songs since 2010, songs that involve a band and this week, the same songs they sang during their audition week.
The reason these eight singers are even here was because they nailed their song choice and performance before the judges at the audition cities. How could they blow songs they've practiced umpteenth times already?
As a result, this theme worked like a charm. The singers simply had to take these tunes and make them work with a band. For the second week in a row, nobody bombed.
So how will this play out? The three weakest to date of the remaining singers have been Sam Woolf, Dexter Roberts and CJ Harris. But it'd be shocking if the bottom three are all guys.
Of the three, Dexter had the best performance. So it's going to be Sam, CJ and a woman.
I feel CJ is in the weakest position right now. He sang second. That's historically a poor place to be. Fewer people watch the first hour. Then again, the impact of placement is lesser now since people can vote before the show is over.
But CJ has had quite a few weaker performances to date and has been critiqued a lot about his pitch issues. He was good tonight though I'm not sure that song will really encourage people to vote. I predict he will go home.
Which female is going to be in the bottom three? I have no idea. I'll just say Jessica because she has yet to be in the bottom three yet. I know. That makes no sense. She performed first and sang an original, which may or may not help her. It could just as easily be Malaya or Jena, too. Both have been in the bottom three before. Tough call.
My favorite of the night: Alex's original song was complex and bracing.
Here's my ranking of the top 8: 1. Alex 2. Malaya 3. Caleb 4. Dexter 5. Jessica 6. Sam 7. Jena 8. CJ
Of the four duets, the Caleb/Jessica was the best, the Caleb/Dexter combo by far the worst, as in an off-the-rails train wreck.
Jessica Meuse ("Blue Eyed Lie" original) - An impressive start, a good song for her voice. It's very bluesy, very intense. Keith loved it but felt she could have moved a wee bit more below the shoulders. Grade: A-minus
CJ Harris ("Soul Shine" Allman Brothers) - If CJ goes home, he will at least go home on a good note. He picked this song because it fits his limited range and works his bluesy style. And he was more on pitch this time than usual. Still, Allman Brothers aren't exactly my bag. I may not remember this in 30 minutes time. JLo said he touches people. HCJ said it's clear he's worked on pitch and intonation. Grade: B-plus
Jena and Alex ("Just Give Me a Reason" Pink/Nate Russ) - I appreciate that Jena went for different notes and phrasing than Pink. And Alex did his thing, too. It was intriguingly off-kilter compared to the original. Grade: B/B-plus
Sam Woolf ("Lego House" Ed Sheeran) - He opts for a slower version than the one he did in the audition. And it works well vocally. He chose this song in the first place so he seems to connect with it better than some he's done live before. But he's not Ed Sheeran connected. He needs to live more, have some tough life experiences to add real texture to his singing. Grade: B-plus
Caleb and Jessica ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" - Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty) - Jessica looks more comfortable than normal being able to work with a pro like Caleb. Both sound good, too. Grade: A-minus/A
Malaya Watson ("Ain't No Way" Aretha Franklin) - She is gaining poise, as J. Lo said. She feels her music (unlike Sam) and is sounding stronger and better each week. HCJ: "You're doing everything is right. You're entertaining. You're performing. I'm going to give you the same piece of advice...; get them to teach you when you sing runs, make sure you learn all the notes." Grade: A/A-minus
Dexter Roberts ("One Mississippi" Brett Eldredge) - He handles ballads better than upbeat anthemic songs. I don't know why he keeps opting for the latter. This showcases his ability to sing an emotional slow piece with decent feeling. His best live performance to date. J. Lo noted we got to hear some interesting nuances in his voice she hadn't heard in weeks. HCJ likes how he complemented the musicianship behind him. "It was great to hear you sing," he said. "Perfect song for you to sing." Grade: A-minus/B-plus
Malaya and Sam ("Lucky" Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz) - This sounds like really really cutesy. I can't say their voices melded particularly well but they did as well as they could, even without any chemistry. Grade: B
Jena Irene ("Rolling in the Deep" Adele) - She totally changed the arrangement to a slow lounge jam. I'm not sure she conveys the proper sultriness to make it really work. It's certainly risky and interesting. Not an epic failure but not a win either. Keith loved it and deemed it bold. J. Lo didn't actually provide a critique. Grade: B
CJ and Dexter ("Alright" Darius Rucker) - Often off key and the harmonies were not harmonious. Atl all. Grade: C
Caleb Johnson ("Chain of Fools" Aretha Franklin) - He gave this R&B classic a rock edge and did a fine job as always. "A rock and roll viking!" Keith said. HCJ: "I would love for you to do something so loud for once."
Alex Preston ("Fairytales" original) - This is a sophisticated, rueful song he wrote as a teen. Impressive! And he sings it with all his heart. HCJ: "I like the fact you did an original. You were shakin' that vibratto out." Grade: A