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'American Idol' Recap: 'I'm With the Band'

Caleb Johnson got the "Led" out and Jena Irene brought the audience to life as the top nine tackled the big stage on Wednesday night's performance show.

American Idol season 13 top 9 L
Michael Becker / Fox

American Idol channeled the spirit of Pamela Des Barres sans the groupie element with its “I’m With the Band” theme night.

The remaining nine vocalists, who enjoyed a “rock star meet-and-greet” with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz, learned some touring advice on how to get along when you hate each other (Stump’s advice: high fives) and how to prepare a set list “carefully” to protect your voice.

They also did the first group number of the season with a medley of rock hits, consciously uncoupling the audience with selections by Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, and Fall Out Boy. Malaya Watson's head-banging moves were definitely a highlight, and host Ryan Seacrest couldn't help mimicking the teen's moves.

The evening also featured the robbery of Seacrest’s shoe by Harry Connick Jr., giant gummy bears, Keith Urban and Connick sniping at each other (“What is 40 feet long and has eight teeth? The front row at one of Keith Urban’s concerts,” said Connick) and plenty of pre-shot footage of the Idols in their natural environment filling out the two-hour episode.

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Alex Preston kicked things off by showing his sensitive side with “Don’t Speak,” by No Doubt. Randy Jackson predicted Preston would make it his own, and he did. Preston started things off a cappella tapping his guitar, and then transforming the ballad into a jazzy, cool, scatting ditty. Urban expressed a wish for more “edge” to his performance, while Jennifer Lopez felt it “sucked the energy” out of the original, and Connick advised him to “move things around” and “physically move around the stage.”

Majesty Rose tackled a big song with “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine. Her instrument of choice fronting the band? A tambourine. While she started off a bit rough, Rose’s energy was infectious. Although Lopez said that vocally it was all over the place, performance wise, she gave it a “10.” Connick loved the arrangement, but felt Rose needed to work on being a performer and “owning the stage.” Urban advised her to learn how to center herself, rein in the “adrenaline” and draw the audience in.

Dexter Roberts stayed firmly planted in his country wheelhouse, taking on Little Big Town’s “Boondocks.” Predictably, Roberts gave a sturdy, rock-solid performance worthy of a beer commercial. It was also a bit karaoke, and Connick is still not sold on Roberts' “generic” versions of country anthems. Urban, however, thought Roberts would have had a hit with the song had he recorded it before Little Big Town. Lopez liked it, but agreed with Urban and Connick that Roberts needs to try something different if he sticks around next week.

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Tuba-playing cutie Malaya Watson picked “The Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles and showed maturity in an understated and jazzy interpretation of the classic ballad. “That was beautiful, baby,” said Urban, who was pleased Watson showed off her vibrato, personality and spirit. Lopez admired her control. Connick said she was “consistently improving,” but advised her to forget “stardom” and work on her craft and harmonies instead.

Idol’s resident teen heartthrob, Sam Woolf, took the romantic route with Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah.” Surrounded by glowing light bulbs, he crooned the song with his acoustic guitar and stripped-down arrangement on an already sparse song. Lopez wondered if the teen had someone in mind he was singing to, and advised him to tap into that so he could effectively communicate the message. Connick agreed with Lopez, while Urban once again praised Woolf’s tone, but told him to be “looser” with his voice.

Jess Meuse finally embraced her inner Stevie Nicks and channeled the gypsy goddess with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” Meuse looked way more comfortable this week, and her voice -- which always drew comparisons to Nicks -- was suited for the song, which Connick said was his favorite performance of hers so far. Lopez said Meuse’s confidence is “growing,” and said that although she loves the Slapout Alabama singer’s voice and could listen to it “all day,” now she has to connect more. Urban advised her to learn how to perform without the guitar.

CJ Harris infused blues and soul into The Steel Drivers' “If It Hadn’t Been for Love.” Harris’ decision to bring the band alongside the singer -- complete with a stand-up bass and a washboard -- provided a nice visual, but Urban wasn’t sold, and cautioned Harris to be more expressive in his vocals. Lopez felt Harris was inconsistent, and lost it in the middle. “I couldn’t be there with you,” she said. Connick told him to pound out notes on a piano and “work on your pitch.”

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Just when things were getting a little too laid-back, the one guy who lives to front a rock band, Caleb Johnson, brought excitement to the Idol stage and got the “Led” out with Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.” Johnson was the one contestant that got the band dynamic, gelling with Rickey Minor and howling at the moon like Robert Plant in a performance that Lopez called “sexy.” Connick praised his act as one that would be “tough to follow.” Urban said that when Johnson was on stage, it was more like the “band was with the singer” and compared him to an “airbag in slow motion.”

Jena Irene, however, had no problem following Johnson with a dark, dramatic, and oh so awesome version of “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence. Lopez said Irene sounded “phenomenal” but wished she would be more messy with her hair. Urban said she was in “her own lane” and Connick said he was proud of the singer. Seacrest suggested Johnson and Irene do a “duet.” Now THAT would rock on the summer tour!

So who do you think is going home? Who is worthy of the save if there is one tomorrow? Hit us up in the comments!

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile, @Idol_Worship