updated 03/06/2014 AT 2:00 AM ET
•originally published 03/06/2014 AT 6:30 AM ET
There was no place like home for the contestants on Wednesday’s American Idol, as the Top 12 performed songs that captured the spirit of their hometowns.
But the judges weren’t feeling warm and fuzzy. Instead they were harsh on the majority of the performers, with one of last week’s standouts, Jessica Meuse, taking some of the harshest criticism after her performance of Dido’s “White Flag.”
“You were sharp the whole time,” Harry Connick Jr. said, calling the pink-haired singer’s performance “blasé”. “When anybody hits a high note, people applaud that didn’t happen tonight. You were so off.”
A few singers, however, brought down the house, including 22-year-old farmer, dog trainer and country singer Dexter Roberts, whose stripped-down version of “Lucky Man” captured his Alabama roots.
“You showed your vulnerable side,” said Keith Urban, while Connick called it “unquestionably the best performance of the night.”
Tuba-playing teen Malaya Watson, who landed in last week’s bottom three, redeemed herself with one of the night’s top performances.
Watson sang “Take Me to the King,” starting off sitting quietly at the piano before hitting insanely high notes at the end that earned prolonged applause from the audience and the first goosies of the night for Jennifer Lopez, who had “tears in my eyes” by the time Watson had finished.
Perhaps the gutsiest performance of the night belonged to 18-year-old Emily Piriz, who sang Lopez’s “Let’s Get Loud” in front of the judge to honor her Cuban roots and Florida home.
“Representing for all the Latinos out there watching! I loved it!” yelled Lopez, who then suggested Piriz add some additional spice to the song by tossing in a hair flip.
Connick asked Lopez to show Piriz how, yelling, “Give us a hair whip!” Lopez hesitated before Bam! went her head, sending her electrified ponytail flying through the air.
Rocker Caleb Johnson, 22, who sang “Working Man” by Rush, also earned praise from the judges for being “one of the best singers,” although Connick warned, “There’s a big difference between being consistent and being predictable.”
And preschool teacher Majesty Rose, 21, nearly pulled off one of the night’s more memorable performances, but her quiet take on Coldplay’s “Fix You” went loud at the end, muting some of the judges’ praise with Lopez noting, “Where you had us was great.”
American Idol’s results show airs Thursday (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.