As any regular reader of these on-the-scene American Idol recaps knows, there is quite often a big ole difference between what a performance sounds like when it’s blasted through the juiced-up speakers in the Idoldome, and the subtle pitchy imperfections that can trickle through your TV speakers. The same is certainly true for the semi-finals’ Idolcupola, and the judges have said as much these past three weeks. Until last night, though, I hadn’t realized that there’s another disconnect between what y’all see on the HD plasma and what we see live and in person when it comes to the semi-finals — namely, the living person. Exhibit A: Michael Lynche.
I know he looks big on your TV, and I know his nickname is “Big” Mike. But, really and truly, as I discovered sitting in on my second night of EW’s exclusive look inside the Idol semi-finals, the dude is BIG. As in, he has presence on that stage, and as Ryan pointed out, he knows how to use his size to deliver a song. But the camera can do a funny thing; it can make the very big (Big Mike) and the very small (Teeny Aaron) seem somehow more average, more normal, especially when they’re performing alone without a point of comparison standing right next to them.
This is all a wordy preamble to this pretty simple point: In that room, Big Mike’s “This Woman’s Work” killed with a capital K, and that has as much to do with the sheer size and force of the man himself as the impeccable vocals of his performance. When I watched it back on TV, though, the quick editing and swooping cameras somehow neutered all that, which is, I suspect, at least partly why Idol guru extrordinaire Michael Slezak and my mother both told me they thought Big Mike was kinda cheesy. I’m not saying the new father delivered anything close to Mindy Doo’s “My Funny Valentine” or D’Archie’s “Imagine”; I’m just saying that, from where I sat, Randy’s shock, Ellen’s enthusiasm, Kara’s tears, and Simon’s “best of the semi-finals” praise all made sense to me.
Okay, end of mini-essay. Honestly, that’s kinda the best behind-the-scenes insight I have to give you, since I’m worried that the massive info-dump from yesterday’s Top 8 women recap left me without much new to say. I still couldn’t see the Coke Anteroom, nor the Top 8 women, so my attention was by default focused on Ryan and the judges. They all trickled in before the show in more-or-less the order you would expect: Kara and Ryan first, then Randy, then Ellen (again firmly latched to wife Portia de Rossi), then, with a minute to go before airtime, Simon.
Ryan’s oddly drawn-out opening caused Simon to say “Ryan” with a heavy sigh about the time the host slowly sauntered by Carol Brady Alex Lambert. After Lee Dewyze ably performed “Fireflies,” Kara giggled with Simon while Ryan gave out the belt-impaired rocker’s digits. The show went to its first ad break, and Debbie the Stage Manager ordered everyone to stay where they were and stay silent so Ryan could record a couple radio promos for the follow week’s two hour Top 12 performance show. The conceit: Ryan was at that very moment watching the Idol crew construct the Idoldome in the studio in preparation for the Top 12. Smoke and mirrors, kids, that’s all showbiz is, smoke and mirrors.
It was also during this promo that Ryan dropped the news that the Top 12 will be singing the music of the Rolling Stones, instantly causing me to wonder whether Bowersox will tackle “Wild Horses,” or go for broke with a left-field-for-her choice like “Satisfaction.” (That noise you heard, by the way, was Tyler “Kristen Baldwin once called me Mick Jagger ugly hot” Grady bellowing over his premature ouster to the Idol gods.)
During Alex Lambert’s performance, all the Idol vocal coaches and music arrangers sitting in front of me nodded in approval. Behind me, Portia murmured, “He’ll go through.” Alex walked past us as Tim Urban miraculously sang “Hallelujah” with minimal bloodshed, and arranger Michael Orland gave the mulletted one a high five. After Urban finished, Simon promptly walked off stage and up to fiancé Mezhgan Hussainy, greeting her with three rhythmic hand claps. Randy, Ellen, and Kara all stepped offstage for makeup touch ups, which is kinda impressive considering the makeup artists did their job with almost no direct light.
I reported yesterday that I had no impression of any feud or ill feeling between Ellen and Simon, and I stand by that assertion again today. I did detect, however, that Ellen isn’t totally comfy yet with her new Idol family in general. Once again, whenever she was off stage, Ellen often stood around chatting just with Portia, looking very much like the nervous new kid in school. (This certainly comes through on camera too, when Randy, Kara, Simon, and Ryan all start kidding around and Ellen just stares into the middle distance.) At this point, Ellen and Portia both clearly feel most comfortable around Ryan, shocking me not a whit.
Randy and Simon interrupted Alex’s post-performance video interview to give him more praise. After Andrew Garcia tackled maybe the least vocally challenging Christina Aguilera song ever, Randy, Ellen, and Kara milled about while Ryan quickly went over his prompter text with a dude at the soundboard near my seat. Ellen said she thought Casey James sounded great on “You’ll Think of Me,” and vocal coach Dorian Holley said, rather full-voiced, “He diiiiid.” Dorian even followed Casey up the stairs to the Coke Vestibule while Aaron Kelly tried mightily to seem credible singing “I’m Already There.” At this point, I also noticed that Cory the Warm Up Comic was rather emphatically leading all the audience applause from backstage.
The rest of the show unfolded with minimal fuss or fanfare through Todrick Hall’s Gleeky “Somebody To Love.” The judges more-or-less remained in their seats for the rest of the show, in fact, until Big Mike took to the stage. He was barely past the falsetto opening of “This Woman’s Work” when Kara started her increasingly full-bodied reaction to the song. First, she started whispering to Simon. Then, she leaned in and pointed directly at Mike. And finally, she stood up with such force that I half expected her to exclaim, “Can I get an A-MEN?!” By the time Mike was over, the entire studio was following suit.
Ryan gave out Big Mike’s numbers, the recap package started playing, and Kara, still kinda weepy, gave Simon a big bear hug. Even well after the 19 Entertainment logo chirped the night’s episode to a close, Kara was backstage raving to anyone who would listen about Mike’s performance. My snark demon Smirkelstiltskin started to smell blood in the water after Kara borrowed some kleenex from what seemed like a random woman — that is until Kara mentioned that, at 39, she’s been trying hard to have a baby of her own. Then it all made every kind of sense, and the bracing truth of genuine feeling caused Smirkel to shrink to the size of a janky pecan.
Tell me, Idoloonies, what did you make of Big Mike’s big night? Do you think Ellen will become a full member of the Idol clubhouse, or is she destined to remain the quirky cousin staying over for the summer?
Also: Tonight, of course, we learn who will make up Idol‘s Top 12, and afterwards the lucky dozen will be immediately whisked across town to the annual Top 12 party, where they will face a small army of press, including EW, for their first and last interviews as contestants before they’re eliminated (or make the final two). What would you like us to ask them, both individually and as a group?