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'American Idol' 13 Top 9 recap: 'With the Band' theme makes you wish one wasn't

You have to hand it to the "American Idol" producers for Season 13: The themes seem to be more attuned to the needs of developing artists. Such is the Top 9 theme: "(I'm) With the Band," which allowed the "Idol" finalists to put themselves in the shoes of the frontmen that sell the show, the gig, the performance, the concert. They got to select songs they would sing if they were part of a band (and most have been). And for the most part, the Top 9 did just that, choosing songs that were well suited to their particular stylings. But perhaps not well suited to fronting a band. Because there's always an exception (or two or three), and this week was no exception to that truism.

Still, the theme idea was a good one. As Michael Slezak at TVLine (via Yahoo TV) noted in his recap March 26, it's an idea that "American Idol" should keep. That is, the idea of bringing the band out onto the stage and making them more central to the goings-on on stage.

But before all that: For a change, "Idol" got off to a decent start with the group number. Fall Out Boy hung out with the Top 9 as they rehearsed. (They thought it was cool that the guys were doing one of their songs.) The medley included the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and Fall Out Boy's "My Songs (Know What You Did In The Dark)." Not bad, but when the latter number came up, Caleb Johson, Jena Irene, and Malaya Watson took it on. But after Jena and Caleb killed it, Malaya, who had been working the crowd and head-banging/whipping her hair, had trouble singing her part (from being out of breath).

At the judges table, Harry tried to get Judge Jennifer Lopez to whip her hair by leading the chant, "Hair flip," to which Jenny from the Block led loose and f-bomb (caught be the sensors).

Also during the show, we learned that Judge Harry Connick Jr. is an ankles man. After reviewing lead-off performer Alex Preston, he led a cheer to see host Ryan Seacrest's ankle. Hilarity ensued as Ryan did a slow sock-strip. But shoe and man were soon reunited and the show (shoe? -- with apologies to Ed Sullivan), as it almost always does, did go on.

But back to why we're here and they were there:

The Band Is With Me

A few of the Top 9 finalists seemed to be less attuned to being in or fronting a band, so their performances had the feel that they would have had to reinforce the idea they were with the band -- as opposed to being with and/or leading them. These included:

Dexter Roberts: He didn't do poorly, but he seemed to just be there. For those who had never heard Little Big Town's "Boondocks," they simply saw a country guy singing a pretty good country song. For those who know the tune, it was lacking. The song is dynamic, with two-part harmonies. His performance was just there...

Sam Woolf: The young girls' favorite (judging by the screams), Sam took on a song that was definitely in his wheelhouse: Plain White T's' "Hey There Delilah." Not a poor performance. But he's not comfortable on stage and it shows. His youth and inexperience are working against him and he could very well find himself in the bottom again.

Malaya Watson: Another Beatles song ("Long and Winding Road"). But, unlike Sam Woolf's near-awful "Come Together," (Top 11 performance show), Malaya's was far from another sub-par performance. She owned her little part of it. But she was distant from the band and didn't appear to be part of it. But, then, she didn't need the back-up.

Jessica Meuse: Jessica's rendition of Stevie Nicks' "Rhiannon" was a great song choice. And although well-performed (her vocals, as always, were strong), it was Jessica AND the band. But she's made a point of telling America she's a loner. Besides, as she said prior to the performance, she's a survivalist (she might be a doomsday prepper, since she tossed out that line about hunting and being prepared for the "end of the world." Of course, she has a dark sense of humor, so she could have been joking... right?)

Alex Preston: Possibly one of the best performances of the night, if not the best. Still, Alex, just like Jessica, was really sans band. His jazzy -- and really catchy -- version of No Doubt's "Don't Speak" is a smooth jazz hit awaiting. And like Jessica and Malaya, it really didn't seem to hurt his performance in the overall scheme of things. It just wasn't band-worthy.

I'm With The Band

C. J. Harris: There's something to be said about the finalists who know who they are and where they're going. C. J. is one of those. Singing "If It Hadn't Been For Love" by The SteelDrivers, he moved into his country-blues sound with relish. And he looked comfortable with the band as he leaned into the microphone.

Majesty Rose: Performing Florence and The Machine's "Shake It Out," Majesty settled into a crowd-pleaser. It might be enough to keep her out of the bottom three this week. It should.

Jena Irene: Some might say that Jena stole the show with her version of Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life." She certainly rocked the number, totally at home with the band. Her powerful voice took the hard rock tune to the heights it was meant to go. Her performance was definitely an excellent show-cappper and very complimentary to the performance that came before.

Caleb Johnson: The North Carolina rocker took on Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" and totally owned it. He worked with the band and seemed completely at home interacting and stepping out front. If not the best performance of the night, he and Jena were neck-and-neck. (After Jena's performance, there was a call for a duet between Caleb and Jena... which was the perfect commentary for the duo's performances.)

Predictions: Who Might Be Kicked Out Of The Band... Uh, Off The Show

The bottom three this week should be: Dexter Roberts, and Sam Woolf. Why? Because their performances were adequate and quite forgettable. The third person to get a Silver Stool? It's difficult to say, but Majesty Rose has been on a roll lately. Unfortunately it has been one that seems headed downhill. She's been in the bottom three two weeks running.

To be honest, if there was one that really didn't look the part and should be on his way home, simply due to the fact that his performances are painful to watch, it would be Sam Woolf. He's connecting with the girls in the audience and perhaps the girls at home (given the massive drop in the TV ratings youngster demographics, it won't be enough to save him in the end), but he's not connecting with the camera (and sometimes not even with the song). So... of the three, Sam was the one that looked as if the band was a bunch of pirates and had forced him to step out onto the plank...

Prediction: Who Might Get Saved

Dexter Roberts' failed attempt to pull in the chemistry of Little Big Town's "Boondocks" was nearly a complete disaster. But it wasn't. Yet, it still just laid there. The song is a great multiple-harmony song and it works for bands like Little Big Town because they wrote it and they have four actual band members singing the song. Besides, Dexter's country twang is just too twangy for this tune. It might've worked better had he had someone singing counter with a Jennifer Nettle Georgia-girl twang, but, well, he didn't and it didn't. After hitting the bottom three last week and showing no week-to-week improvement, he's most likely headed home.

However, there is a Save the judges can use through to the Top 6 results show. During the Top 9 show, Ryan asked Harry if there were any finalists that the judges had pre-decided they would definitely save if they were up for elimination. Harry said there was not, that the decision should be made in the moment, because the finalists were evenly matched and the decision should be made upon their "Save Me" performance.

(Note: If Majesty Rose finds herself in the bottom three again, she will most likely be headed home, Save or no Save.)

So...

"American Idol" returns at 9 p.m. (EST) on Thursday on Fox Television for the Top 9 results show and unless the judges use their one and only seasonal Save, only the top eight finalists will go on. Singing sensation Janelle Monae will guest.