'American Idol' Live Tour 2014: No Band, No Problem

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Caleb Johnson
There was plenty to enjoy for the fans of American Idol's Season 13 cast, who entertained despite not having a backing band.

The American Idol tour arrived in West Long Branch, NJ minus a touring member and a band — but still had plenty to entertain the audience at the MAC Theater.

When the American Idol Live! 2014 tour touched down at The MAC at Momouth University in West Long Branch New Jersey Tuesday night, it was minus a back-up band and seventh-place finisher Dexter Roberts, who has been out with an unknown illness since July 1 and will not be continuing on the tour.

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There is still plenty to enjoy on Season 13’s 2014 trek — specifically the duet he was supposed to handle with CJ Harris on Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.”

Proving to be a true professional, Jess Meuse has saved the day, stepping  into the duet seamlessly, playing guitar alongside Harris and adding beautiful harmonies that complemented the song. Later on, the Slapout, Alabama singer strapped the guitar back on for a bluesy version of Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” changing the lyrics to “New Jersey you and I” to wild applause.

“I wouldn’t be here without all of you,” she said to massive cheers.

It is true that this year is the first time ever the Idols are performing without a band, but there are so many musicians on this tour that in some cases it doesn’t even matter.

To wit: Alex Preston, the most versatile musician of the group, took center stage with just his guitar and no added tracks for his jazzy original,“Fairytale.”  Preston was the only Idol afforded the opportunity to do an original, and judging by the crowd’s reaction, it was the correct move. Preston also shone assisting other Idols, adding lead guitar flourishes behind Harris for “American Woman” one minute, while pounding the drums for the group number of Bastille’s “Pompeii” the next. A drum battle with Jena Irene was a highlight during the energetic  performances of Young the Giant’s “My Body.”

The Woolf Pack was out in full force, especially at the shore. Every move Sam Woolf made on-stage was met with deafening screams,  whether it be his first appearance during the group number of One Republic’s “Counting Stars,” his duet with Preston on Passengers’ “Let Her Go,” or strapping on his guitar for a brief, two-song  set — which included his signature cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House.”  It was clear he’s the heartthrob, as was evidenced by the signs of girls professing to be “Mrs. Sam Woolf” in the crowd.  He should just embrace it — just smile or wave to the girls from the stage like judge Harry Connick Jr. suggested, Sam!

Other Idols found a way to shine as well. A welcome surprise was Majesty Rose, who practically stole the spotlight during the group number, American Authors' “Best Days of My Life.” Rose  has the look of a theatrical star, and was a focal point, leading a trio alongside MK Nobilette and Malaya Watson on a pretty acoustic version of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.”

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Watson herself is a crowd pleaser, and the most giddy on-stage, introducing herself with a playful “What’s up, Jersey?” and endearing herself with a perpetually cheerful spirit in group numbers. Seated at the piano, she was all seriousness covering Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man,” choosing to punctuate every word without going over the top.  

Nobilette is opening up more on-stage since her appearance on the show. While she still looks like she needs her guitar for confidence, her delivery of Pink’s “Perfect” elicited cheers from the crowd.

Truly shining in the spotlight was runner-up Irene, who looks like she belongs in an arena. The Michigan teen has that extra star power that manages to connect with the audience with a smile and a wave. Even when she hit the wrong piano chord on Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” she laughed it off,  prompting an audience member to yell, “Just keep going.” Irene acknowledged the encouragement with a grin, before bringing down the house with the classic ballad.  She also understands how to work an audience — asking the kids in the front to sing along, holding out the microphone for audience participation, and working every inch of the stage until she knew she had everyone’s attention. When she performed her single, “We Are One,” she was all swagger, channeling Florence + the Machine and Kelly Clarkson as she belted out the chorus. 

One truly spectacular moment occurred between Irene and winner Caleb Johnson, whose chemistry cannot be denied on The Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter." Johnson is best working off a partner, which is why this boy needs a band, stat. The MAC Theater cranked to 11 when the two of them practically combusted, and by the looks of the pair at the end of the duet when they shared a moment on the final glory notes — they knew it.

Johnson closed out the night with pure rock 'n' roll theatrics, opening with “Family Tree” by Kings of Leon and owning his moment with Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Johnson can handle the powerhouse ballads like “Dazed and Confused” with bravado, his full octave range and vocal versatility, but it’s his softer moments that truly captivate, and hopefully fans can hear more of that when his album, Testify (19/Interscope) comes out on Aug. 12. Then Johnson can hit the road for a solo tour — with a band.

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile @Idol_Worship