Lauren Idol Boy
Credit: Michael Becker/Fox/PictureGroup

This season of American Idol has been desperately lacking in authentic “moments,” perhaps because Nigel Lythgoe and his cohorts have been so busy generating manufactured gags. (We’ll be talking later about Brett, the 19-year-old “audience member” who joined Lauren onstage.) But last night’s performance show, during which the Top 6 tackled the storied songbook of Carole King, delivered a few refreshingly genuine moments.

One highlight — James’ a-cappella opening to the 1960 tune “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” — was so significant that it could potentially affect the finale’s outcome. (Watch out, Scotty.) And other sights, such as the sprightly footwork of Jacob or the way Haley handled a sudden technical difficulty, provided more insight into who these singers are than any pre-recorded segment could.

Having been to the Idoldome more times now than Randy Jackson has uttered the word “gauntlet,” I occasionally forget the unique privilege it is to watch this competition unfold in person. But as I scanned the homemade posters in the balcony, I came across one that said just two words: “I’m Here.” And during a show like last night’s, I’m glad I was. Here are my on-the-scene observations:

Game-changer? James had to follow a very solid performance by Scotty, who, like James, opted to dial it down a bit this week. But as soon as James finished his opening verse — “Tonight, you’re mine completely” — the Idoldome had already forgotten about Scotty. On TV, you could hear some of the crowd’s screams during James’ a-cappella prologue, but your Dolby 5.1 sound system didn’t really capture the electricity that was pulsating through the audience. People were jazzed. Nigel Lythgoe, who usually strolls around conducting research for his human-psychology thesis The Willingness of People to Clap on Command, was instead dancing in place (!).

At the song’s conclusion, Randy raised his hands toward the ceiling, and the Idoldome started stomping their feet as if they were at a high-school basketball game and the opposing team was about to shoot a free throw. I doubt people at home had quite as enthusiastic of a reaction, but for the first time, I got the sense that Scotty wasn’t as invulnerable as I thought. James had just announced himself as a serious rival, and the Idoldome would have crowned him right there and then if they could have.

The curious case of Brett: Midway through Lauren’s rendition of “Where You Lead,” the 16-year-old singer belted the line “I never thought I could get satisfaction from just one man” and then pulled a teenage boy onstage. She instructed him to sit on the steps, and he did so with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what was going to happen. Most audience members, if suddenly plopped onto the Idol stage, would nervously smile and fidget as they started thinking about how The Idoldome’s Capacity X 30,000 = The Number of People Watching On TV. But not Lauren’s handpicked prop, whose name we later learned was Brett. The guy even placed his arm around Lauren (twice!) and whispered what appeared to be the words “You’re pretty.” It was all quite awkward, especially since Seacrest tried ever so hard to make us believe that Brett was just some random cute guy in a snazzy blue-striped shirt that happened to complement the Idoldome’s lighting scheme.

But we know better than that. At the next commercial break, Brett exited the studio via the backstage elephant doors that no normal audience member is ever allowed to walk through. (Although he briefly returned for a few seconds so that Cory the Warmup Host could give him a Lauren bag, which Brett likely used to carry home his Idol appearance fee.)

In-ear malfunction: About 15 seconds before Haley was due to start singing “Beautiful,” a pack of stagehands descended upon her. They started shining mini-flashlights on her back, and soon Debbie the Stage Manager joined the huddle. Apparently Haley’s in-ear monitor had fallen into her dress, and the stagehands were racing to locate the device before her video clip finished playing. They did find it, but not quick enough, as Seacrest was required to explain that they were experiencing some technical problems. But Haley was a good sport — she smiled throughout the whole ordeal.

But that’s me! Jacob was so captivated by his pre-song video that a stagehand had to walk over and remind the singer to hit his mark (or starting position).

Footloose: Speaking of Jacob, I’d like to point out that the cameras only caught a portion of his yellow-sneaker dance moves. There was a newfound spring in Jacob’s step, and his tap-dance shuffle was a joy to watch.

Steven Tyler’s booty: When most guys need to readjust their pants, they simply pull them up, but Tyler turned the maneuver into a little boogie. The women in the first few rows didn’t seem to mind the rearview performance.

Hats off to you: About a minute into his performance of “Hi-De-Ho,” Casey violently flipped his fedora into the audience. It bounced off some hands and rolled into the possession of a woman in a lovely white dress, who promptly placed the hat on her head. Security later took the fedora away from the woman, but Cory informed us that Casey would be signing the hat backstage and returning it to the lucky ma’am.

J.Lo’s three-hour song: The show finished at 6:30 p.m., but Cory informed us that we could return in 30 minutes to watch Jennifer Lopez tape her performance for a future episode (presumably next week’s results show). Only catch: Cory said the performance could last until 10:00 p.m. I wasn’t able to stay and watch, but if it takes three hours to set up and record a three-minute song, there better be some serious pyrotechnics. And monkeys.

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