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'American Idol': On the scene for Top 7 performance night, plus backstage tidbits

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Image Credit: Michael Becker/FoxWe interrupt this on-the-scene recap to report this breaking news: Drops of water are falling from the sky in Los Angeles. Motorists, please proceed to drive your vehicles at 1/10 their normal speed. Pedestrians — all 13 of you — please madly run for cover as if each droplet of rain contained the DNA of Carrot Top. Coffee shop patrons, please congratulate yourselves for being at a place that serves hot drinks while something cold is happening outside. And American Idol audience members, please pretend this is like one of those rainy days in elementary school when you got to have recess inside. Ooo, how exciting!

Yesterday’s afternoon rainstorm is the only explanation I can think of for why this Idol audience was so particularly energized. I mean, this crowd stood on its feet for Casey James’ entire performance. The rain’s transformative powers also rubbed off on the judges. When Corey the Warm-Up Comic introduced Kara DioGuardi, the judge proceeded to dance for the audience, and she continued to do so for what felt like the length of one of Siobhan Magnus’ onstage responses. As Corey introduced the other judges, Kara boogied over to Didi Benami, Paige Miles, and Lacey Brown, who were seated in the audience. Kara gave them all hugs, as did Randy. Ellen tossed out high-fives to the pit before becoming the victim of Kara’s fourth hug of the night. And Ryan Seacrest merrily emerged onstage and planted a kiss on Ellen’s cheek. Everyone was in such a joyous mood. Perhaps it’s because it’s Idol Gives Back week? Nah, I’m telling you, it’s the rain — it does things to people here.

Thank goodness for the rain, though, because precious little happened inside the Idoldome that’s worth repeating. Simply put, Smirkelstiltskin (of whom I’ve been told about, but have never actually seen) would have been very disappointed by last night’s one-hour performance show. Seacrest was on his best behavior, there were no guest performances to lambaste, and the whole shebang was over before you knew it. The only water-cooler moment of the evening was Crystal Bowersox’s emotional breakdown at the end of “People Get Ready,” and whether or not said breakdown was completely genuine, a manufactured attempt for sympathy, or a mixture of both. I’m in no position to say, but Crystal did talk to the press after the show about why she teared up, and I’ll get to her response (and other backstage tidbits) in a moment.

As the show was about to begin, Debbie the Stage Manager arranged the Top 7 contestants from shortest to tallest for Seacrest’s intro. The order went like this: Aaron, Crystal, Lee, Siobhan, Tim, Mike, Casey. As the evening progressed, I began to notice that this sequence roughly corresponded to the quality of each singer’s performance. Don’t believe me? Here’s an entirely scientific graph, with the x-axis representing height (from shortest to tallest) and the y-axis representing pure vocal awesomeness (on a 10-point scale):

Notice the trend? (And Crystal is actually shorter than Aaron, despite Debbie arranging the two the other way around, so my chart would then become even more accurate). Therefore, our contestants better be thanking their lucky stars that Danny DeVito opted not to audition for Idol this year. After Seacrest opened the show, the master of ceremonies bolted up the central staircase during the title sequence so that he could descend the same stairs 15 seconds later. I marvel at Mr. Seacrest’s unlimited supply of energy — keep in mind that this is a guy who also hosts a radio show starting at 5 a.m.

During the first commercial break after Casey’s performance, the judges exited stage left, as always. The Idol crew rolled in a piano, while a stagehand cleaned the front of the piano with a towel. (As for the back of the piano, it was left untouched since you’re never going to see that side anyway). Corey the Comic started giving away Casey t-shirts. “Are you a Casey fan?” he asked a teenage girl in the pit. “OMG, yeah,” she responded. She literally used the letters “OMG.” The only thing more disconcerting than hearing texting lingo used in actual speech was Corey’s expertise at using the same vernacular. Either Corey has three teenage daughters at home, or he was invented by Al Gore.

Lee sang “The Boxer” and received a standing ovation from the entire Idoldome. During the break, Simon turned around and hugged Didi, Paige, and Lacey, while Katie Stevens and Andrew Garcia arrived (late!) to their seats in the audience. The middle-aged woman in front of me noticed that Seacrest was leaving stage right. She yelled “Ryan!” and managed to gets Seacrest’s attention, who waved and yelled “Hi” back to her. His response made this woman’s day. “He’s so cute,” she said to her friend. “I want to take him home with me.”

Tim offered his rendition of “Better Days,” and only a small sampling of the audience stood up at the end of the performance. Aaron, on the other hand, received a standing ovation. The Swaybot Pits also serenaded his “I Believe I Can Fly” with everything they could muster. I asked Aaron backstage whether all that swaying movement is distracting, and he said that he actually feeds off it. During the break, Corey pointed out the night’s celebrity attendees, which consisted of Olympian Shawn Johnson and 24 actress Annie Wersching. Seacrest walked into the row in front of mine to chat with Wersching and some guy I didn’t recognize, while the woman who previously yelled to Seacrest now reached over to shake his hand. “I touched him,” she girlishly bragged to her friend.

Siobhan’s performance of “When You Believe” was slammed by the judges (except for Ellen, who likes 98 percent of all living things on this planet). Simon critiqued Siobhan’s dress, which featured butterflies (or “leaves” as they’re known in Britain). Backstage, Siobhan had this to say to Simon: “For someone who wears the same V-neck every day, he sure has an awful lot to say about my style!” She also revealed that her dress was an ode to the 1992 movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Siobhan made this statement with utmost seriousness, and you got to love her for that. As for Kara’s remark that she’d rather hang out with Siobhan than buy her record, Siobhan responded: “If Kara and I hung out, I’d still sing, cause I sing when I hang out. So I’d say, ‘Sorry, but you’re still going to have to hear me sing.'”

(By the way, Jimmy Kimmel is going to have to bring out his chalkboard to dissect Siobhan’s onstage speech about why she chose to sing “When You Believe”: “I didn’t want who the song is by to scare me away from singing it because I love the song. To have the opportunity to be here and sing this song that I know has touched me very deeply before and the meaning of it is why I’m here right now and just to have the opportunity to perform it for people regardless of being compared to Mariah and Whitney because no one compares to them, obviously. I just love the song”).

During the break, Corey let Katie Stevens toss a Siobhan shirt into the audience because nothing makes an eliminated contestant feel better than giving away the merchandise of someone still on the show. As Big Mike prepared to sing, he required the assistance of a stagehand to take off his heavy white jacket, while another stagehand offered Mike a drink of water. It seemed to me that Mike was being waited on more than any other contestant — make of that what you will. During the final break, Crystal stepped onstage and hugged Mike. Corey resumed handing out shirts until Crystal yelled into her mic, “Give one to my dad!” Apparently, Crystal wanted Corey to give her father a t-shirt. You can interpret Crystal’s request as either sweet (since she was looking out for her pa) or selfish (since she was essentially ordering Corey to not give a shirt to another Idol fan). Or, again, maybe it’s a little bit of both.

As Crystal blew the roof off with “People Get Ready,” Randy, Kara, and Simon were all moving their heads to the song’s beat. That’s right, even Simon was grooving to Crystal’s rhythms. And then the singer finished the song with tears in her eyes. “I love you, Daddy,” said Crystal. “I need your shades.” What? Backstage, Crystal explained: “My dad came out here. He hasn’t been able to see any of the show yet. He was wearing sunglasses because he was trying to hide the fact that he was crying. So when I looked up and saw the mirror sunglasses, I was like, ‘I know he’s crying!'”

As the phone-number video clips aired, the other six contestants all came onstage to hug the still emotional Crystal. Then the week’s mentor, Alicia Keys, walked onstage and individually hugged each Idol singer. (To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Keys did not sit in the audience during the show). After the program concluded, Keys walked off stage with her arm planted around the waist of Debbie the Stage Manager. Debbie reciprocated. And the audience slowly vacated the Idoldome, their eyes recalibrating to a now surprisingly sunny sky. Hey there, Mister Blue.

PopWatchers, I’ll be back in the Idoldome tonight for the (at least) two-hour Idol Gives Back show, during which someone will also be eliminated. Who do think that unlucky someone might be? And what did you make of the Top 7’s stab at “inspirational” songs?