American Idol returned on Wednesday with Caleb Johnson, Jena Irene and Alex Preston battling it out for a spot in the finals next week, while celebrating the singing competition’s 500th episode.

American Idol Recap

Before the Idol hopefuls took the stage, the program featured a montage of some of the show’s greatest moments over the season, which included flashbacks to Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Clay Aiken and even William Hung. Past winners Phillip Phillips, David Cook, Kris Allen, Candice Glover, Lee DeWyze, Fantasia Barrino, Scotty McCreery, and Jordin Sparks all offered their thanks via taped video messages.

Singing “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS, chosen by Randy Jackson, Caleb Johnson powered through despite a case of bronchitis and “small vocal cord” hemorrhage. All of the judges agreed that the mentor had selected a good song for Johnson and that despite the setbacks, the singer did a more than commendable job.

For his second song, selected by the judges, Johnson had to take on “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. Perhaps because of his illness, Johnson struggled to stay on pitch. Jennifer Lopez didn’t think that Johnson got into the emotion of the song and consequently gave a flat performance.

Johnson’s hometown wanted the Idol contestant to sing Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.” Starting out a capella, the rocker attacked the song. The classic number perfectly suited his voice and his performance style. At the end, he smashed his mic stand, creating what Lopez dubbed a “true Idol moment.”

Preston sang Bastille’s "Pompeii," as selected by Jackson. Unfortunately, the mellow singer seemed a bit out of his element with the upbeat song. Preston, who got on a drum part way through the song, looked uncomfortable and his vocals weren’t as solid as they usually are, though he did hit an impressive note towards the end.

The judges decided to challenge Preston by giving him Rihanna’s “Stay” to cover. Not surprisingly, Preston made the song his own and ended up giving an emotionally resonant and vocally strong performance. The judges were in agreement that the guitar-playing singer slayed the hit song.

Preston’s hometown picked One Direction’s “Story of My Life” for him to reprise. The second time around on the song, Preston did an even better job, providing some vocal inflections that provided a unique sound for the hit. Keith Urban liked the performance, but felt his best was “Stay.”

For her first song of the night, Irene sang the Jackson-selected “Titanium” by David Guetta and featuring Sia. Both Harry Connick Jr. and Urban thought Irene gave a successful performance, but Lopez thought the young singer was more stiff than usual onstage.

Irene was given Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” by the judges. The teen had fun with the Top 40 number and once again got around the high notes and engaged the audience. When Connick asked after her song what kind of performer she’d like to be, she said she wanted to “rage” with the audience while playing instruments.

Irene reprised her rendition of Radiohead's "Creep" per her hometown’s request. Sitting at the piano, Irene delivered another emotional performance in which she perfectly hit all of her notes. By the end, both Lopez and Urban were on their feet. Connick said he thought she did the song even better than the last time.

For More American Idol News:

> 'American Idol' Recap: Jess Meuse Eliminated As Top 3 Takes Shape

> 'American Idol' Recap: Jena Irene Is Front-Runner After 'Can't Help Falling In Love' Performance

> Clay Aiken Wins Democratic Primary For North Carolina Congressional Seat

> 'American Idol' Recap: Sam Woolf Sent Home Despite 'Twist'

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