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‘American Idol’ recap: Now it’s down to three

There’s been a valedictory tinge to everything on “American Idol” this season. Of course there has. It is the final season. (What? You didn’t know?) But this week it was clear that the end was especially near. Next week, it’s all over and 15 seasons of “Idol” – some more memorable than others -- will start receding in the rear-view mirror.

At the outset of Thursday night’s show, on which Keith Urban performed, Ryan Seacrest, our trusty touchstone through it all, noted that the evening was especially “bittersweet.”

It was “the last time we do our show live from our Hollywood stage,” he explained. “The moving trucks are here. We officially haul everything across town to the famed Dolby Theater” – famed, so “Idol, so Seacrest -- “for our last week of ‘American Idol.’ I cannot believe it, but I’m glad you’re here.”

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Saying farewell to the competition show that changed television

Aw, Ryan. We’re glad you’re here too, and that you’ve been there all along. But there’s no need for maudlin goodbyes just yet. There’ll be time enough for them next week, during the show’s three-night finale, when a host of “Idol” alums – from the fiercely successful to the sadly forgotten – will appear to bid the show adieu and the final winner will be crowned.

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And speaking of the final winner, we got one step closer to that Thursday night, when one member of the Top 4 – MacKenzie Bourg – was sent home, leaving just Dalton Rapattoni, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae to duke it out for the final “Idol” crown, as the Top 3.

When it come down to Bourg and Renae in contention for the final Top 3 seat, Bourg seemed ready to throw it to her no matter what happened – alarming Seacrest and charming the rest of us with his insistence that Renae’s remarkable talent get its due. Ultimately, Renae did prevail, and Bourg offered upbeat final remarks about how far he’d come, how much his life had changed and how the support of his fans made him feel as if he hadn’t lost – and his connection to his fellow contestants made him feel as if he had “already won.”

“Such a good dude,” Seacrest said, echoing everyone’s thoughts.

But that didn’t happen before all four singers made their “hometown hero” visits back to see their families, friends and the wildly cheering members of their communities and were made aware of the extent of their sudden fame and potential impact.

Rapattoni tearily shared that he’d been struggling to get people in his hometown of Dallas “to listen to” him and his music, “and now they are.” Harmon said that giving a free concert for his townspeople, in Amory, Miss., was the realization of a long-held dream. Both singers seemed moved by the attention but not yet to have a clear sense of what to do with it – although Rapattoni often discusses his difficulty overcoming the challenges of bipolar disorder and may want to serve as an example to others.

Bourg, who’s from Lafayette, La., used the opportunity to visit children in the same hospital that treated him for a life-threatening illness when he was a kid, wishing to offer hope. Renae, of McComb, Miss., spoke at a shelter for women who had suffered domestic violence and said she wanted to help them heal and to provide a bridge for members of her community to come together and rise above deep-seated divisions brought by racism. “If they could come together over little ol’ me …,” she said.

All four singers performed in the first round of the evening, in which they dedicated a song to their hometowns. Then, after Bourg got the news that he would not proceed, the Top 3 singers each performed a song chosen for them by the show mentor Scott Borchetta and another selected by the judges – some more successfully than others.

Here’s how the evening’s performances played out:

MacKenzie Bourg

Round 1: His hometown dedication, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” was moving and sweet. Urban called it “superb.” Jennifer Lopez said he had played to his strengths and called the performance “classic MacKenzie.” Harry Connick Jr. said it showed how far he had come yet proved he had still stayed true to his roots.

Dalton Rapattoni

Round 1: While his hometown dedication, Blue October’s “Calling You,” was maybe a little esoteric for “Idol,” Rapattoni explained that he had a personal connection to the band, also from Texas, and considered one of its members, also bipolar, a “good buddy.” Lopez commended the “freedom” with which he had performed. Connick continued to express appreciation for the way Rapattoni conveyed lyrics. Urban said Rapattoni had shown “concentration” and “focus” and said he had done “the best Daltonization” of that song he could.

Round 2: Borchetta gave Rapattoni Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and Rapattoni took ownership of it like a boss, giving the song his own retro flair. (Does anyone else get Billy Idol from this guy?) Lopez was moving around in her chair so much she nearly jumped out of her dress – and said she’d been ready to jump onstage and be the Courteney Cox to Rapattoni’s Bruuuuce. She said Rapattoni’s performance had made the song sound “fresh and new all over again.” Connick was reminded of ‘80s English New Wave and gave Rapattoni a backhanded compliment when he told him that although he was a “good singer” competing with “great singers,” his ability to make a song his own “trumps any lack of vocal ability.” (Thanks?) Urban said he had been true to himself and therefore had stood out.

A behind-the-scenes peek as ‘American Idol’ tunes up for its final bow

Round 3: The judges’ pick, Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” seemed like it should have been right in Rapattoni’s wheelhouse, but the performance seemed to roll away from him. It wasn’t just that he ended by making some very strange faces, the judges, disappointed as they were, concluded that Rapattoni had erred by lowering the key of the song, robbing his performance of energy. Oh, well.

Trent Harmon

Round 1: For reasons that remain unclear, Harmon picked Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” for his hometown dedication. Connick deemed it to be “fantastic,” Urban a “bull’s-eye” and Lopez called it “easy-peasy breezy,” predicting that Harmon could make it all the way to the end of the competition. Seacrest then surprised Harmon by bringing out his family (including the family dog!), which Harmon had said he would do only if he made it the finale. Foreshadowing, it turned out.

Round 2: Harmon’s take on Borchetta’s pick, Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away,” came off as strange and frenetic. Mostly, it just didn’t seem a great song choice for him, for that moment, but the judges seemed to eat it up. Lopez told Harmon he was “singing to win.”

Round 3: Harmon had his best moment of the night with the judges’ pick for him, showing his range and style with Parson James’ “Waiting Game.” Urban, who had selected the song, said it had been “tailor-made” for Harmon. Lopez reported that she’d gotten “goosies.” And Connick declared that it had been “an honor” to critique a singer like Harmon, “who is an extraordinary talent.”

La’Porsha Renae

Round 1: Renae hit it out of the park with her rousing hometown dedication, Common and John Legend’s “Glory,” bringing Urban to his feet. “Your gift is so strong and so pure,” he told her, adding that he felt as if he had “just had a baptism.” Lopez said that the “inspirational” performance had proved that “music heals the spirit” and “takes people to a better place.” Connick called it “critique-proof” and admired the way Renae carried herself with “elegance and grace.”

Round 2: Although Renae hated the message of Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me,” the song Borchetta assigned to her – “I would never tell a woman to beg,” she said -- she sang it beautifully. The judges noted both her dislike of the lyric and her ability to rise above it and kill it vocally all the same.

Round 3: The judges assigned Renae Adele’s “Hello,” saying they hoped to challenge her with an “immensely popular” song she’d have to figure out a way to make her own. She rose to the challenge, showing off her lush vocals, as ever. Lopez was pleased at the way the song had “stretched” Renae’s range.

Next week, a winner. The final winner of “American Idol.” Who will it be? If there’s any justice it will be Renae. But we’ll just have to wait and see …

MORE:

Who is the best ‘American Idol’?

Kelly Clarkson is still making ‘American Idol’ history

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


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