Howdy, Idol nation! Bill King here again filling in for regular recapper John Kubicek. Man, that guy takes more days off than Obama! In reality, he’s probably writing articles about 63 other shows for BuddyTV, so I’ll happily take the extra work and interactivity that come with covering this fading great franchise.

This week, our Top 9 are “Singing with the Band,” a theme more ambiguous than Ace and Gary. They’ll be performing with the musicians live on the stage, and I hope they at least have to choose a song by an actual band (i.e. The Beatles or The Monkees, both likely to get squashed by The Cars) and not a solo musician. Otherwise they can pick literally any song that has ever existed.

The theme obviously favors singers like Caleb Johnson, who has already been known to hang out with his wang out (you get what I’m saying) with a full band. It poses some trickiness for lonely guitarists like Jessica Meuse and particularly Sam Woolf, who may find himself completely drowned out as he tries to over-pronounce every lyric with his cardboard-like charisma. Seriously, this ladies man has the showmanship of a graham cracker.

Just check out his performance in this promo. Loosen up, bro!

Enough of this jibber jabber, let’s get to the performances! Who will shine? Who will falter? Who will fall into the final three? Remember, the blog is live, so keep your comments coming at the bottom and I’ll post as often I can. 

THIS … is American Idol!

Welcome Judges

At this point, the judges are all about superstar performances, and there have been very few to date. Some excel at originality, and this week, they are trying to give the rest an outlet to shed their lack of stage presence. Let’s see how they stack up.

Jennifer Lopez is rather conservatively dressed, outside of a little belly skin, and Keith Urban is, as usual, wearing a T-shirt. Bespectacled Harry Connick, Jr., is the best no matter what he wears. J-Lo again compares M.K. Nobilette to KD Lang, which I’m not yet sure is a compliment. 

Harry ponders who they would ever consider using a save on, and to contrast those struggles, the producers introduced the entire cast to Fallout Boy. It’s a strange jump, but they’re the mentors this week (adding to my hope that they will sing “band” songs).

Not sure if the Gwyneth-Coldplay split has anything to do with song choice, but the Top 9 kick things off with a medley of “Clocks,” the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” and FOB’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.”

Alex Takes on No Doubt

We’re taking a look back at the singers’ pasts, and Alex used to work at a farmer’s market selling people tomatoes while he wrote songs. Fruit smushed his lyrics, which is indicative of his inability to normally play with other musicians. He’s performing “Don’t Speak.”

It’s his own take, and I feel like the best words to express my thoughts are that I’m digging it. It’s certainly an original, though I’m not sure if it conveys the same level of despair. This is the song I listened to on repeat when my high school girlfriend and I broke up, and this rendition doesn’t make me feel the same way. Still, nothing overly negative to say about it. 

Keith says Alex is consistent, but he wants a bit more edge and not always the “chill” version. J-Lo associates the song with Gwen and thought the Alex version sucked the energy out of it. Harry thinks this is an exciting time in all our lives, and while he admires Alex’s groundedness, he wants to see him physically move around. Like a human. Maybe with full-length pants. And I didn’t need to see Ryan Seacrest‘s ankles. 

It’s worth noting that the song was originally a love song, and you can find it online, and then Gwen and the bassist broke up and she rewrote the lyrics to be tragic. I think his rendition of the original would’ve made more of an impact. 

Majesty and Florence 

Majesty Rose came to the show via the Disney World American Idol Experience, which I desperately tried to get my girlfriend to do the last time we were there, even though she is too old. Majesty is grateful of her hometown and wants to be an example for all the pre-schoolers out there.

She is singing “Shake it Out” by Florence and the Machine, which is a song most know and love. So she gets some points for that, but the performance is not a wow. It’s enjoyable in the way that Dexter sings songs we all like, but I don’t know if she separated herself from anything.

J-Lo loved it and calls it a 10 while simultaneously saying it was vocally all over the place. Harry thinks she’s close to breaking through without giving the audience anything to latch onto, and Keith applauds the song choice and Majesty’s charisma, but thinks she gets overwhelmed by the crowd response.  

Dexter is From the Boonies

Dexter Robert always has to have his hands on something, so it might as well be a band this time around. He likes to sing our favorites, as if we were hearing them at the best karaoke session EVER. This week, he’s tackling Little Big Town and the “Boondocks,” and it’s the least commercial song to date (which isn’t saying much).

Once again, he’s just singing the song as it is, and there’s no originality at all. Harry also dislikes fixing John Deere’s, and he hates these generic versions of songs people know. He wants a song that shows off Dexter, instead of the Billboard country charts.

Keith offers Harry a GIANT gummy bear to counter his bitterness, then agrees with him entirely except that saying if Little Big Town had never recorded it, Dexter’s version would be a hit. Jennifer liked it and thought he did a great job. Meh.

Malaya Tubas the Beatles

Malaya is that girl in your high school who always had energy when you were tired before homeroom, and that doesn’t change after a few weeks in Hollywood. She’s singing The Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road.”

This is probably her best performance to date, and while she still has not wowed at any point, it’s a solid number that will keep her around. She was controlled, and it stood out without being exceptional. 

Keith praises her, J-Lo compares her to Michael Jackson and Harry gives her the award for most consistently improving. Non-performance wise, he wants her to work on her craft and become something great. 

Sam Makes Me Anticipate

It’s a misleading heading, but I love the Plain White T’s. Sam used to play at a restaurant, where he’d then hang out and not get drunk. Now he jams with Alex, so he’s ready for the big time. Let’s see how he does with “Hey There Delilah.”

He starts off slow, which is the most original thing he’s done all season. Without making a single expressive facial expression, he turns in his best performance so far. It might just be a perfect song choice that masks his enunciation, but he nails this one. I’m not saying it’s the best thing I’ve ever heard, but his fans will eat this up like a late-night Waffle House run.

Jennifer calls him a little cutie and says this is the music he should be doing, but it gets creepy when Ryan asks him if the song is dedicated to anyone and he says his grandma. Harry thought the stripped-down version was a smart choice, but he didn’t feel a connection. Keith loves Sam’s tone, but he wants him to be less obligated to the notes and just talk to him. 

Jessica Slapouts America

Jessica is the queen of Slapout where she does her shows as she feels fit. But we’re not in the AK anymore, so she needs to step up. You can’t hunt your pets, so you need to slay us, with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” and she doesn’t.

It’s a fine rendition, but is Stevie Nicks patting herself on the back for American Horror Story if this is all it gets her? It’s not bad and what you might expect from Jessica, but she still doesn’t have a performance to separate her from the rest of the pack.

Harry hates comparisons, but this was his favorite performance, even if she’s no Stevie. Backhanded, but a Harry compliment nonetheless. Keith thinks she looks great, which we all hate to hear, but he figures she never plays without an instrument like she just did. She needs to figure out what to do with her hands and legs and body and stuff. J-Lo thinks her confidence is growing but that the voice doesn’t yet match the performance. 

C.J. Harris Misses Home

C.J. didn’t know what he was doing back on the farm, but he was always looking for an out path to success. The red carpet event is what made him realize this was all real, so he is channeling those feelings into a performance of “If it Hadn’t Been for Love” by the Steeldrivers. 

Even the people in the audience cheering for him look like they’re thinking, “Is this who he is?” But it’s probably enough to keep him around, even though  no part of it really held my attention.

Keith thinks it was a soulful choice but wants more feeling of expression over sound. J-Lo liked the song choice and C.J.’s voice, but she lost it in the middle, and Harry tells him he has to learn how to connect with the audience. Like Harry does. When he performs. So watch and listen to everything Harry does. Next. 

Caleb Does What Caleb Does

It’s not a negative statement, especially considering that I can write this part before he actually sings. I know what I’m getting from Caleb, and that might just be a good thing. He’s spent the past several weeks living his dream, and now he really gets to do it. So how will Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” serve him?

OK, so Caleb is great and the judges are jumping out of their seats, but in all honestly, I’m bored by it. I’m sure it’s great vocally, but it never pops for me. Maybe the original is clouding my view, but there wasn’t a single thing about this performance that stood out. And apparently I’m crazy. It might be the best of the night, and I’m not taking away from that. But I didn’t get goosebumps, and that’s what I base my American Idol experience on. It’s what made me watch it in the first place. But it could be No. 1 of the night. I know my jumble of thoughts is confusing.

J-Lo calls it sexy, she and Harry applaud the band, and Harry says Caleb couldn’t have sung it any better and that it will be tough to follow. Keith says Caleb is such a good frontman that he overshadowed the band and made them appear better than they’ve ever been. I think that’s a bit disrespectful to the band. 

Jena Irene Gets the Pimp Spot

She has been my favorite thus far, despite the preferences of some other recappers/predictors EH HEM (John and Jeff). But I get a Kris Allen vibe from her, as she makes every song her own. And now she’s going to try it with Evanescence, a band that she can totally rule the night with. It’s “Bring Me To Life.”

I’m excited for it before she evens starts, and it’s just minor goosebumps. But still, goosebumps none the less. She interacts perfectly with the band and pulls off without question that she can deliver on any type of music. I know she’s not America’s choice (which is why she got the pimp spot), but she has the musicality and originality. 

Harry thought Caleb had the hardest spot to follow, and Jena did it. Keith says no one is doing what she’s doing, and J-Lo says her voice is soothing, but she wants more messy. I can absolutely deal with Jena being more messy. But I’m biased. And too old for that. 

Who Stays and Who Goes?

They really saved the best for last this time around, with Jena and Caleb easily delivering the best performances of the night. So where do we go from here? Who stays and who goes? We’ll find out Thursday night during an extra special first-time-since-2005-half-hour results show. And Janelle Monae. See you then!

You can watch American Idol every Wednesday and Thursday on FOX.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order