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‘American Idol’ recap: The Top 4 (and others) take the stage

“American Idol” is winding down to its series finale, which is only two weeks away. Ryan Seacrest seems to be working on his post-show beard. The judges are getting a bit summer-break giddy (especially Harry Connick Jr., who tried to get Jennifer Lopez to say the Spanish word for “swampy” all sexy in the mic; good for her that she called the idea “stupid” and refused). And the contestants are growing steadily scarcer.

During Thursday night’s show, on which “Idol” veterans David Cook and Katharine McPhee each performed, the Top 5 shrank to the Top 4, as Sonika Vaid was sent home by voters. Vaid is a lovely young woman with a beautiful voice, but after two weeks in the bottom two, it was clearly her time to go.

That left La’Porsha Renae, Trent Harmon, MacKenzie Bourg and Dalton Rapattoni to perform one “classic rock” song, on which they were mentored by Steven Van Zandt (yep, Little Steven himself, though Lopez — apparently neither a Bruce Springsteen nor a “Sopranos” fan — didn’t seem to know who he was), and one Sia song, on which they were mentored by the bow-wearing, visage-hiding singer. (The contestants got to see Sia’s face; we did not, although we did see her perform her song “Cheap Thrills.”)

Here’s how the rock-song performances went down:

La’Porsha Renae — sporting a labor-intensive new ’do — set out, she said, to “make the audience believe I’m a cowboy” with the Bon Jovi song “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Not sure about the cowboy part, but she did impress the judges. Keith Urban thought she’d brought out the song’s “blues undertones,” as well as its “soul” and “swagger.” Lopez said Renae could “sing the phone book, and it wouldn’t matter.” And Connick agreed that her “ability as a singer transcends any genre” and admired the way she’d slowed down her vibrato to suit the song.

MacKenzie Bourg changed up the arrangement of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” and the judges were displeased with the results. “I love this song. … You MacKenzied it. I don’t know that I loved how you MacKenzied it,” Lopez said, adding that she found Bourg’s rendition unexciting. Connick thought it lacked “energy” and “immediacy.” And Urban flat-out said he “hated the arrangement,” saying it fell into some kind of middling “nowhere” zone and had a “maudlin kind of energy.” Ouch.

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Trent Harmon earned a standing ovation from Lopez and Urban with his “swampy” (Little Steven’s word) take on ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” impressing with both his moves and his pipes. Connick called the performance “so, so smart.” Urban said it was “so freaking good” that it stood out and showed off all of Harmon’s best attributes, declaring, “10 out of 10.” Lopez called it a “perfect” performance, the one she had been “waiting for.”

Dalton Rapattoni — having just found out that he, and not Vaid, had made it through to the Top 4 — took the stage to perform the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” a song he had pulled out of his “back pocket” when the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” didn’t work out for him. The performance was a little meandering and overly theatrical for my taste, but the judges totally ate it up. Urban called it “as good as it gets.” Lopez said it was a “really good moment.” And Connick said that the “complex” arrangement had shown his vocal “vulnerability,” but that that had worked for the song.

And the Sia songs:

Renae brought Sia to an emotional place while rehearsing “Elastic Heart,” and then she brought memories back for Lopez during her performance. “When you were singing I had a flashback to when you first came in,” Lopez told Renae, saying that, during the course of the competition, the singer had come into her own as a “fully realized artist,” with complete “control and command” onstage. Connick said he felt as if he were in the “passenger seat” of a car driven by a NASCAR driver when Renae sang. (Shameless sponsor plug, anyone?) Urban said it was as if he were watching Renae perform her own “nominated song” at an awards show.

Bourg tackled “Titanium,” on which he was pushed by Sia to hit a high note. Weirdly, Connick chided Bourg for rising successfully to Sia’s challenge, comparing the note to a stunt-like “triple axel” in a skating competition and saying Bourg should be “smarter” than to make the performance about that. (Uh … Harry? Not his fault.) Urban differed, noting that being on a “TV show” had its demands and admiring the way he “just rode through” the performance and “made it a singer-songwriter moment.” Lopez commended Bourg on extending himself beyond his “comfort zone.”

Harmon shined bright and showed his range with “Chandelier.” Urban called it “extraordinary” and “exquisite” and said he “loved every minute of it.” Lopez, noting that it was vastly different from Harmon’s previous performance that evening, said it showed he could “just kind of sing anything.” Connick admired the way Harmon had sung “artfully” and inhabited “another world.” “From the first note to the last note, I give it 100 out of 100,” he gushed.

Rapattoni bonded big time with Sia (both are bipolar, we’ve learned) and brought raw passion and believable drama to her “Bird Set Free.” He ended up doubled over and weeping. “Everybody’s cheering for your bravery,” Lopez, who looked a little teary herself, told him, saying completely letting go, as he had done, was “what everyone wants to do.” Connick admired the pain and power of the song, and said it had been the perfect match for Rapattoni’s talents. Urban commended him for pushing past his limitations. “I would … take an inspired attempt over soulless perfection any day of the week,” he said.

We’ll find out which singers will advance — and to whom we’ll have to say “Sia later” — next week.

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