By Adam B. Vary
Updated May 23, 2007 at 08:13 PM EDT

Oh, but for the want of a pair of magic binoculars, PopWatchers — and, of course, Mindy Doo. For last night’s Idol final performance show of the season, I was placed in the third row of the second balcony of the Kodak Theater, and while I wouldn’t dream of complaining about getting a hold of such a hot ticket, my ability to be your eyes and ears at the event was significantly curtailed by my near-nosebleed seat. For one, I had to stand to be able to see the judges table at all, and since the people sitting behind me made it quite clear that even leaning forward blocked their view, I have no clue how the judges behaved while the cameras were on. (During the ad-breaks, I was able to hop down to the ledge at the end of our aisle to get the bird’s-eye-view.) For another, though my skills at celeb spotting are better than most — given I get paid to pick out the guy who won Grease: You’re the One That I Want from the crowd waiting to get into the Kodak — I have yet to make a serious study of the back of famous people’s heads. Which means it was only after I was watching the show back on the telly that I realized Jennifer Hudson was sitting a mere aisle away from Mindy Doo and Kiki, so I had no clue that I needed to be keeping a sharp eye and ear out for a diva-off. Sigh.

No, seriously, sigh. Like I said, far be it from me to complain, but after three months of live shows and Corey the WUC, to arrive at the climax and not be treated to a full-on Melinda Doolittle feast leaves me feeling, well, less than enthused. Flame me below all you want for hateradin’ on Blake and Jordin’s big night, but I knew going into this week that I was going to need some extra help to muster the kind of on-the-scene recap you’ve come to expect.

Fortunately, due to a logistical fluke involving my colleague Shirley Halperin and Apolo Anton Ohno’s soul patch/strip/secret weapon, I found myself with an extra ticket for last night’s show. Since my good friend Garrett just happened to be celebrating a birthday this week and was a Jordin mega-fan, I figured he’d be the best company for the night. (I chose to overlook the time he compared my Mindy to the star of a certain blockbuster animated movie. You know the one. Think shaming thoughts in Garrett’s direction for me, won’t you?) So as I walk us through the evening, look for Garrett’s comments to pop up now and again.

addCredit(“Daughtry: Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty Images for Fox”)

First, I’m happy to report that the night was Corey-the-WUC-free! Instead, the old-school charm of Johnny Dcarried us through the evening, thank goodness. It didn’t take longinto his routine for him to expose a fascinating irony, too: hisrequest for cheers from Blake fans and then Jordin fans wereappreciably louder than his earlier request for cheers from American Idol fans. Seems these finalists are already bigger than the show. Garrett: Man, there are a lot of people who like Blake.Indeed, from our vantage point, there were considerably more signs forthe Seattle-area beatboxer than the Arizona professional 17-year-old.The entire right-side box seats were all signaged for Blake.

Johnny introduced the other ten Idol finalists, who entered roughly in the order of when they were kicked off the show, Brandon Rogers leading the way. Garrett, smiling: Did you see how long Gina’s hair is?(Garrett’s an even bigger Gina fan than he is a Jordin fan. He was alsorooting for Melissa McGhee last season. Melissa who? Exactly.) Thencame Randy, then Simon, then Ryan. But no Paula. Phil took photos ofthe crowd, Chris R. and Melinda danced with their arms around eachother — aha! canoodling!— but no Paula. Randy and Simon take their seats, Debbie instructs usto remain quiet until Ryan introduces us to America, and still noPaula. “Where’s Paula?!” bellow several audience members. Finally, aminute to go, and Paula quietly enters the stage, guided gingerly byexec producer Nigel Lythgoe, so wobbly-footed that she topples backinto Nigel’s arms for a brief second as she climbs the steps to herseat.

By this point, I had already seen Paula’s earlier, wobbly TV appearanceafter her dog-induced, nose-damaging tumble, and while I enjoy loopyPaula as much as the next guy, the eggshells manner with which everyonearound her — Nigel, Randy, Ryan, the crew, the hair and make-up peeps,even Simon — treated Paula gave me some serious pause. During thesubsequent ad breaks, Paula walked around under her own steam to greetBlake and Jordin’s families sitting on either side of the judges’table, but any much further than that and she very much needed the helpof a steady hand. No snark here; I just hope she fully recovers soon.

Ad break #1: Seacrest’s parents are in the house, but theIdols stay put as Blake’s drum set is placed on the stage. As we enter,finally, into the performances, the awesome cheering power of acapacity theater hall audience is unleashed upon poor Ryan, who has totalk through the deafening clamor that drowns out his entireexplanation that Blake and Jordin will each sing a song they’ve neverdone before. After Blake is finished and Ryan starts in with hisIDOLS-01 routine, the audience spots Jordin entering stage left andlets out a massive whoop of excitement. (Yes, that’s what that wasabout.)

Ad break #2: Idol semi-finalist Leslie Hunt comes over to powwow with Sanjaya, Gina, Haley, and Chris Sligh. Garrett, during Blake’s performance: The band is too loud; you can’t hear Blake. While the different acoustics between the live show and the one TV has been an issue all season, I gotta agree, the band really did muffle some of Blake’s softer notes.

Ad break #3: En masse, the ten seated Idol contestantsget up and walk in front of the stage and up the far right aisle,greeting and high-fiving people as they go. At first I think they’releaving, then just making the rounds of the audience that adores themso. But then the ten abruptly stop in the top right corner of theorchestra section and just kinda stand around, saying hi to the samepeople. Seat fillers dutifully occupy the Idols’ vacated seats, so Iwonder if they’re about to do some sort of plug for the Idoltour, but then, just as suddenly, the ten saunter back the way theycame to their seats, several of them (Melinda, Chris R., Phil) brieflystopping to hug it out with Blake’s parents. Meanwhile, we’re allserenaded by Sabrina from Miami, a young girl singing “Happy Birthday”after Johnny D hands her the mic. (This, PopWatchers, is what is calledforeshadowing.) Jordin sings, and stands next to/towers over Ryan,which looks even funnier when viewed from above. Garrett: It looks like she could just step on him. Her head is, like, two times bigger than his head!

Ad break #4: Debbie decides that the songwriting team for”This Is My Now” needs to leave their on-the-left-aisle seats and takeseats on the right aisle. Johnny D makes his way up to the secondbalcony — on the opposite end from us, alas — to gab with some girlsabout Idol Camp. (This, PopWatchers, is what is called building dramatic tension.) Blake sings “This Is My Now.” Garrett: Where is the gospel choir?

Ad break #5: I watch a full drum set get wheeled intoposition stage right and realize we’re in for a surprise. (Yes, TiVoviewers who didn’t also record On the Lot, Daughtry, pictured, did perform “Home” over the closing credits. Yes, he blew Jordin and Blake out of the water andmanaged to smile more than once. Hopefully there’ll be some clips onYouTube.) My one solid celeb sighting of the night: Ricky Schroderbringing his daughter up to meet the judges. (Constantine Maroulisdoesn’t so much count.) Sligh goes over to pay respects to the “This IsMy Now” songwriters, which I would find beyond lame if I hadn’tactually listened to all 20 of the songs in that competition and comeaway feeling like “This Is My Now” was the only song even remotelyworth hearing 853 times on summer radio. (Seriously, one of the songswas so tuneless and depressing, I think it actually may have been aboutsuicide.)

And then, oh then, came Megan from Pasadena. Megan, you see, was pimping IdolCamp to Johnny D last ad break, and Johnny D has now handed her his micfor her to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” — with just over a minuteand a half to go until air. Megan starts out fine, nothing worthputting on American Juniors, but fine, and, more importantly,she’s got the entire Kodak Theater’s attention. Then her voice crackson “rockets red glare,” and we all start to cheer for her. Melindasends Megan a Paula clap. The band begins to give her some softaccompaniment. I look down and see Nigel and Debbie starting to quietlyfreak out, and I realize young Megan has taken American Idol hostage, and Johnny D isn’t enough of a hardass to cut short her moment of glory. 12, 11 — “and the hoooome” — 8, 7 — “of thaaaaa” — 5, 4 — “braaaaave!” We cheer. Johnny D takes the mic. “Megan” — and we’re back! — “from Pasadena!” Cue Ryan on the first balcony.

Which is to say, yes, you weren’t imagining things, that was whatyou heard right before Ryan spoke. And I fear Johnny D may never workanother Idol show again.

Ad break #6: I have to confess I didn’t move to my perch atthe second balcony’s edge for this ad break, because I was too caughtup in my discussion with Garrett about how much Jordin nailed “This IsMy Now.” Having since watched it back on TV with him, it’s interestingfor me to realize that, for the first time,I actually preferred Jordin live rather than on TV. From afar, shelooked like she was feeling the song in a fundamental way that Blakesimply missed, vocal virtuosity aside. On screen, though, well, Garrett? Her facial expressions are kinda weird. Couldn’t agree more.

Epilogue: After Daughtry performed, we filed out of the Kodakand grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Hollywood & Highland mall toavoid the throng of traffic leaving the parking garage. Garrett and Idiscussed whether Idol has jumped the sharkthis year. We paid our bill and sauntered back towards the undergroundgarage. When we reached the escalators, what was playing over the mallMuzak? Kelly Clarkson, “A Moment Like This.” And it all comes fullcircle.

Tomorrow, look for team coverage from the finale like you’ve neverbefore seen on Shirley and I will be reporting from the redcarpet and the backstage press room, including one-on-one interviewswith the winner and the runner-up. Our lovely and amazing colleagueAlynda Wheat will be your mole in the Kodak; she’s a newbie to thiswhole blogging thing, so promise me you’ll go easy on her. And MandiBierly will be live-blogging the show the way you see it, from theliving room couch.

I’ll leave you with a brainstorm I literally just had a moment agothat has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I’m operating onprecious little sleep. For the omigod-it’s-Prince moment of thisyear’s finale: how about Tina Turner singing “The Best” with MelindaDoolittle, the sound of which is discovered to cure cancer. Whaddayathink?