I entered the American Idol Thunderdome last night in a breathless rush — more on why in a second — so I almost missed a funny (and kinda prophetic) moment during the pre-show preparations. With 40 minutes to show time, the crew was still putting final touches on the lights, and the band was milling about in their civvies, Rickey Minor sporting what I believe was an especially choice Asian-tinged bowling shirt. Just as I took my seat, a bunch of the band decided to warm up their instruments and/or jam out for a bit. The song they chose? “Hit the Road Jack.” A pretty hilarious song choice for the American Idol band to play on a results night, no? Especially since it turned out to be the night that Matt “Actually, It’s More Like Three Lives” Giraud was finally and definitively cut from the show. (Due respect to Matty G. fans, of course, but you gotta admit the dude managed to make lingering into an art form.)
I was all with the winded last night because of a promise I made to you — to America — when I last wrote up the behind-the-scenes results night action. That night I noticed that fans for both Mr. Minor and Cory the Warm Up Comic had brought signs proclaiming their fandom, but the woman without whom Idol would be a train-wreck of missing judges, wandering contestants and unruly audiences — I’m speaking, of course, of Debbie Williams, Stage Manager Extraordinaire — had exactly zero signs for her. So yesterday, en route to the Idol studios at CBS Television City, I swung by my local Rite Aid, picked up a sheet of premium-grade 99-cent posterboard, and huddled on the cement floor of the mall parking lot designated for Idol audiences coloring out the words “DEBBiE DOES IDOL GOOD!” The “i” in “DEBBiE” was dotted with a star. Obviously.
Of course, as I sat in the Idol Thunderdome — chuckling while jotting down the words “Hit the Road Jack…HA!” — I did enter into a minor tailspin of journalistic panic. Was I crossing a line by doing this for Debbie? I mean, I’ve always admired the creativity of the best Idol audience signs; last night’s crop included someone holding an oversize Idol microphone with Adam Lambert’s head poking out the top and a little girl with a sign that screamed “SIMON WHY SO GROUCHY?” (The “O” in “GROUCHY?” was shaped like an angry mouth. Obviously.) But as I watched Cory pull Kris Allen’s buff older brother on stage to shake his booty — and, boys and girls, I must report that shake he most vigorously did — I began to ask myself, would NBC News correspondent Chuck Todd ever bring a sign to a White House press briefing that screamed “RAHM RAHCKS THE WHITE HOUSE STAFF”? And, for that matter, where the heck was Debbie so she can see my sign?! Eight minutes to go before airtime, and she was nowhere to be seen! Cory announced Natalie Cole and Taylor Hicks were in the house to perform, and Natalie Cole got slightly more applause. No Debbie. Cory once again inexplicably encouraged the audience to sing along with the group number. No Debbie. Ohcrapohcrapohcrap, what if she saw my sign when I walked in and is totally avoiding me now because she thinks I’m a creepy stalker and is telling security to show me the video of my Idol journey and/or the door?
Oh, wait, there she is! And she sees my sign! And she’s waving! And smiling! Eat it, Chuck Todd!
What was I talking about? Oh, right, Idol. The band played in the judges with some groovin’ jazz; “This is A-MER-ican Idol“; Ryan walked up the Thunderstairs as they were rolling out and almost stumbled back down them when they came to a stop; after Ryan cued up the Ford music video, the Thunderstairs rolled out again with the Top 5 seated on them; and Danny, Adam, Allison, Kris and Matt proceeded to perform my favorite group number of the whole season (even if those harmonized “doo-wah-doo-wah-doo-wah-doo-wah-doo-wahs” were totally pre-recorded).
At the end of the group number, we entered the ad break, and the Top 5 turned around to copious high fives and handshakes from all four judges, and big hugs from Paula (especially for Kris). The crew brought out the silver stools, the make-up peeps came in for touch-ups on the finalists (well, Allison and Adam, anyway), and after Adam said something saucy to Debbie, she playfully smacked him with what turned out to be the envelope holding the Idol producers’ birthday “gift” to Gokey of the clean up bill for his food fight with Allison. (Psst, Danny, I’m skipping ahead here, but if you’re reading this: I know it was a mean thing for the producers to “gift” you and you alone with a $6000 cleaning bill, but the next time that happens on live TV when you’re in a reality competition show in which the viewers are voting, I don’t know if entitled indignation is the best way to go.) After Debbie and Adam were done joshing around, Kris started ribbing Allison for her Dreamgirls-ian pose at the outset of the group number, throwing his own right arm up and (to my eyes) asking her if he was getting it right. The judges sauntered in — Simon carrying a green bottle of mineral water that I daresay was not a sanctioned Coca-Cola Company product — and we entered what I like to call the Ryan And The Idol Producers F— With The Frontrunner portion of the show.
If you’re like me (and chances are, if you’re reading this blog, when it comes to Idol you are), you figured out what RyRy was up to the moment he sent Matt to one side of the stage without proclaiming whether or not he was in the bottom three. When he finally asked Adam to choose a side, I was primed with my own sense of indignation — as well as still pretty well goosed that Debbie liked my sign!!! — and I may have been the first person in the studio to boo. I can’t be sure. Still, you can color me (and everyone else in the studio) surprised that Adam was in the bottom three. When we entered the ad break, Allison and Danny wandered over to Adam, Kris and Matt with a dazed sense of relieved disbelief. Allison got a huge, squeezing hug from Kris, and when Cory reiterated that Allison and Danny were safe, Mr. Allen and Mr. Lambert both raised their arms with applause. Then the bottom three were pulled backstage, and Danny and Allison were led stage left to the silver stools of safety. (At this point, I briefly anthropomorphized those silver stools and imagined one saying to the other, “Man, it sure feels good to finally be something contestants look forward to sitting on.” And then the other stool would say, “Yes, totally, especially Allison, but try not to dangle your participles or split your infinitives.” And then the first stool would say, “At least I don’t have Gokey on top of me.” And then the other stool would say, “I hate it when we fight like this.”)
Back from the break, Natalie Cole performed, Danny placidly grinned, Allison vaguely nodded along, and I tried my best to not stare at Cole’s shoulder blades and worry. At the next ad break, two more silver stools were brought in. (Stool #3: “Hey guys! Check it out! Us being all with the safe!” Stool #1: “I don’t know, is that the grammatically correct way to say that?” Stool #3: “Oh, jeebus, not this fight again.” Stool #2: “Le sigh.” Stool #1: “Oh! Look who’s all French now! Are you sure it’s not ‘la sigh’ instead? Hmmmmmmm?” [Long awkward silence.] Stool #4: “Hey, um, so, anyone else surprised Glambert’s in the bottom three? Yes? No? Glambert? Bottom three? Anyone?”) As the crew set up for Taylor Hicks, I caught Allison and Danny talking to the bodyguard standing on the stage floor between them and the Swaypit, at which point I realized, oh, wow, even the Idols have bodyguards. Danny stole a moment to say hi to one of the backup singers, Cory as always chatted up someone in the audience, the judges started wandering back into the studio, and then suddenly Debbie burst into the loudspeakers yelling “3! 2! 1!” Cory sprinted off stage, the judges raced to their chairs, and Ryan (as per usual, right where he was supposed to be) introduced a newly svelte Taylor Hicks.
Now for some observations about Taylor’s performance — sans commentary, lest I inflame whatever is left of the Soul Patrol: Allison kept rather emphatically shaking her head with a mild scowl affixed to her face throughout the entire number. Paula did not stand to dance, but she did bob her head in time to the music, as did Kara and Randy. Simon did not move an inch. After the performance was over, Simon was the very first person to stand and applaud. As Taylor talked with Ryan, his slide guitarist passed Allison and Danny on his way off stage, and Allison followed him with her gaze, still shaking her head, her scowl melting to a look of admiration.
Apparently, that guy could not get off stage fast enough, because he left without properly tending to his equipment: After Ryan gave Kris his reprieve and Kris turned to hug Matt first, Adam took the opportunity to dash over to the slide guitarist’s amp and turn it off. (It was unclear whether Adam noticed the oversight on his own or was alerted to it backstage.) Glambert dashed back in time to give Kris the requisite hug, and we were into the next ad break.
The crew raced in Jamie Foxx’s gear. Allison was so nervous, she kept pacing in front of her stool, unable to sit down. (Stool #1: “Well, that is just great.” Stool #4: “Hey, at least you’ve got someone assigned to you. I’m just here to be a symbolic representation of safety. I mean, I’m a stool, for goodness sake — what do I know from existential crises?” Stool #1: “Oh, shaddup.”) Kris gave Debbie a big hug, and I decided that if the guy makes the Top 3 show (my next Idol blogging gig), I’m going to have to keep a firm count of the number of times the dude doles out the two-arm clinches. With 15 seconds to go, Kara, Simon and Randy were nowhere to be seen, and Debbie placed herself at the head of the steps to the judges’ platform and began frantically waving her arms, exasperatingly yelling the countdown. “Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! THREE!” It was at about the seven second mark that I spotted Simon through the studio door. He looked up, realized with a start that he was ridiculously late, and then, starting off with a little bunny hop, jogged with all deliberate speed into the studio. Kara and Randy were running right behind him, and they all had a chastened look of “Oh, fudge, I’m so getting detention for this.” One of my top ten best experiences of the month, easy.
One of my top three most ridiculous experiences of the month, meanwhile, quickly followed when Jamie Foxx took to the stage, “singing” and “dancing” like an 11-year-old girl twirling in her bedroom while mouthing the lyrics of her favoritest song ever into her comb. Kris, meanwhile, was totally into it, cajoling Allison and Danny to join him down in the Swaypit so they could get closer to Mr. Foxx’s special brand of Sparkle Motion. Paula was up and dancing, too, and I finally got to witness what my colleague Whitney Pastorek has been rhapsodizing about in the hallways for years now: Ryan Seacrest, physcially unable to get his body to move to the beat in even the most rudimentary back-and-forth motion. Truly glorious.
When it was all over, Kris, Danny and Allison high-fived the Swaypit, and Simon “Winning Does Matter, Dammit” Cowell sat back in his seat with a huff after Jamie Foxx dared to tell Ryan that winning Idol didn’t really matter at all. At the ad break, the top five rushed the stage to wish Mr. Foxx well, and then hugged Matt and Adam as the duo prepared themselves for their moment of truth. And, yep, Kris led the charge on all fronts, although he saved his biggest and bestest squeeze for Mr. Lambert. The judges, meanwhile, made it back to their seats with time to spare.
We came back, and Ryan delivered the news: Adam was safe, and the third time was definitely not the charm for Matt. Back at the stools of safety, it was Adam’s turn to dole out the serious huggage, which Kris and Allison happily returned in kind. Then Adam got to Danny, who went in for the standard straight dude hug of one arm around the neck and the other lightly tapping the shoulder. Adam was having none of it, and basically mauled Danny into full two-armed hug submission. The Top 4 then surrounded Matt as he watched his Idol journey, Kris keeping his hand firmly placed on Matt’s shoulder the entire time. Matt delivered a pretty decent re-do of his “My Funny Valentine,” and Adam and Kris raised their arms high for Matt’s final high note. Ryan solicited platitudes from the judges, Simon let loose a rare sliver of humility, the audience audibly gasped at the news that next week’s mentor was Slash, and Debbie brought the night to a close: “Thank you audience! Go home!” With back-to-back-to-back live musical performances to orchestrate and a quartet of considerably tardy judges to corral, I can’t blame Debbie for never getting the time to come up to say hi (presuming, of course, she even had the inclination to in the first place). But you can bet your sweet bippy that I’m bringing my sign back for Top 3 week. I gotta support Debbie all the way to the end.
So, PopWatchers, were you thrown by last night’s bottom three? Is Danny a lock now for the finale, or will the legacy of the evening be that the Glambert and Kris Allen fan bases have been sufficiently scared into speed dialing their boys into the finale? And would anyone care to admit that they missed seeing Taylor Hicks on their TVs?