By Tanner Stransky
Updated August 03, 2020 at 02:23 PM EDT
Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup

There’s certainly a lot of time to fill in any American Idol results show, but wow oh wow was last night’s virtually stuffed with every trick in the book: Sugarland! Jennifer Hudson! Marc Anthony! Stevie Wonder! Hulk Hogan! Oh, and of course, there was the little matter of dealing with the whole elimination thing that’s the entire point of the show. And as you might guess — after what was one of the best performance episodes of American Idol in quite a long time — that area fired on all cylinders, too.

You’ve no doubt already heard the news, but in case you haven’t — SPOILER ALERT — Casey Abrams received the least votes from fans. But! In Idol‘s typically dramatic fashion, Casey began his “sing for his life” performance and was quickly interrupted by the judges, telling him that he wasn’t going anywhere and they were going to use their one save of the season on him. Shocker! But I’m not here to recap what aired on television — that’s what EW employs Annie Barrett for! No, I just want to share a handful of juicy bits from my time sitting in the audience during last night’s show, which played very well from inside the Idoldome. Here are my ramblings about what you might not have seen on the telly:

That group performance. Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid by being inside the Idoldome, but was that group performance actually decent? (Last week’s wasn’t awful either.) It played well live! After seasons of the group performances being such letdowns, I found myself very into the Top 11’s Up With People-esque rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Yah, sure, it felt extremely orchestrated, but so what? Am I still drunk on the quality of Wednesday night’s show? Unclear, but maybe. And as for Stevie Wonder? The folks at Idol did such a good job of keeping his visit secret — no one had any idea! Which is probably why the place exploded when they rolled him and his piano out on stage. You know who went even more wild than the contestants? The judges. J.Lo (clapping!), Steven (toe-tapping!), and Randy (head-bobbing!) were off their rockers for the legend.

All hail Queen J.Lo! One of the most delightful parts of being in the Idoldome is seeing Jennifer Lopez just be Jennifer Lopez. (Of course, Steven Tyler is pretty fascinating to watch, too.) From her perch up at the judges’ table, she reigns magnificently over the entire room. I doubt I’m the only one in the studio who’s tickled by every little thing she does — whether it’s waving to adoring fans in that Queen of England way she has or signing posters for fans during commercial breaks. It’s official: I’m obsessed. Last night, I found my eyes glued to J.Lo while the pre-produced segment with her hubby Marc Anthony aired: What would she do? How would she react? When they announced Marc’s name, the applause from the crowd, sadly, was rather paltry. Unfazed, Lopez looked back to Marc to reassure him, and then sort of threw her hands up during the parts where he dug into her in the tape. I mean, it was all so cute!

Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” performance — it was pre-taped, folks! Not sure if you could tell that from your couches (and I’m confused about why they try to play off that it isn’t pre-taped to the viewers at home?), but Sugarland actually took the stage in the Idoldome last night with last night’s audience, after the live episode aired. If you know a thing or two about the behind-the-scenes workings of American Idol, the practice of having musical guests pre-tape their performances — especially if the staging is complicated or if there are multiple guest performers in one night, like there was last night — is rather common for the show. That said, that song is rather addicting. And Jennifer Nettles — she rules! Downloading now…

James Durbin’s pro-wrestling interlude. It was so random, right? The crowd inside the Idoldome, though, just ate it up: “This is so funny! It’s hilarious!” said one 50-something-looking lady who was sitting behind me. Rather enthusiastically, I might add. What I wanna know is: How long did Hulk Hogan and Ryan Seacrest have to practice that fake punch? On stage, it looked totally ridiculous of course, but it fit with the whole vibe of the situation. The lady contestants didn’t seem too interested in the Hulk, but when the show went to commercial, all the boys went over to greet the big piece of meat. It’s worth noting that it took that entire commercial break after Hulk went off stage to calm James Durbin down, who was entirely blowing out over meeting one of what I guess must be his personal idols.

Haley can’t contain her excitement! Girl was elated that — finally — she wasn’t in the bottom three. Like, after she got the news, a weight just seemed to lift off of her. She bounced around the couches for the rest of the live show, just hugging everyone and generally being totally effervescent. Who knew what a little confidence boost like that could do for a girl?

Jennifer Hudson. Words, “Where You At”? There are none. She was flawless in person! Jacob Lusk was honestly spiraling out of control after the performance, stomping on the ground and just seeming like he was about to blow out. These two might be due for some sort of collaboration. Also: It was funny watching her on stage after she was done singing, she didn’t know where she was supposed to go! Stage manager Debbie guided her off to stage right — hello, reunion between the two!

Steven uses a huge lady fan! One of my favorite moments of the evening was glancing over at the judges’ table to see Steven Tyler using one of those huge, fold-out lady fans to cool himself. Did they show this on the television, too? His lady-rocker chic is one thing, but this was just too much…

Casey’s big save. It no doubt played on screen just as well, but the news about Casey receiving the lowest amount of votes, and his subsequent performance and save, was heartbreaking in the best way liiiiive in person. Everyone in the audience thought something had gone wrong and that’s why the judges put a stop to his performance — the crowd around me was literally choking! But it was all just part of Idol‘s very calculated, orchestrated drama that’s intended to tug on our heartstrings. The news, the way he dropped that mic, his stuttering…priceless! There was nothing better than, after the show, watching the other 10 contestants and the three judges congratulate Casey on his well-deserved save and, of course, hearing the news that not the Top 10, but the Top 11, would be going on tour this summer. Winning!

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