Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup

I’m going to have to start off this American Idol on the scene recap with a small apology. It wasn’t until the final ad break of the night that I realized that the most powerful man at the Fox television network — nay, one of the most powerful men in the world — was seated just a few rows in front of my quasi-opera box seat inside the Idoldome. As some eagle-eyed home viewers can attest, Rupert Murdoch himself — chairman and CEO of News Corporation, Fox’s pappy/corporate owner — was seated with what appeared to be a small gaggle of the extended Murdoch family, a rare sighting indeed for even the most season Idoldome veteran. So rare, in fact, I didn’t even consider that the bald, bespectacled, well-dressed older gentleman was the man who could quite literally shut off the lights with just a flick of his Blackberry, so I won’t really be able to give you a fun blow-by-blow of how Rupert Murdoch takes in an episode of his most popular and lucrative cash cow. In my defense, I really only saw the back of his head until that aforementioned final ad break, when Fox TV head Peter Rice stepped out into the Idoldome and up to Murdoch’s row to pay his respects. (I’ve been meaning to bone up on my back-of-media-moguls’-heads flashcards for months now, but they just keep gathering dust on my credenza next to my tech mogul yacht 2007 calendar.)

But the moment I did realize Murdoch was in the house, the preceding events of the evening took on an entirely different flavor for me. Everything just made so much more sense: Why Randy Jackson was suddenly antsy to take on the mantle of Simon Cowell’s meanness; why Jennifer Lopez kept struggling for ways to be the mama bear judge with her tough love and denim dress; why Nigel Lythgoe appeared especially peppy as he stalked the far corners of the audience; and why Steven Tyler, well, actually, Steven was the only one who seemed pretty much unchanged from any other week, and bless him for it, I just love how pure he is, he’s just beautiful, I love him.

Fortunately, there was plenty of other great behind-the-scenery from last night’s thwarted stoning of Haley Reinhart Top 4 performance show, starting with…

Paulie McD goes Hollywood As the crew set the stage for James Durbin’s opening number, Paul McDonald sauntered into the Idoldome, one hand clutching two tickets, the other the hand of actress Nikki Reed. The Twilight star was beaming with a practiced starlet grin; the former Idol troubadour looked like he was going to throw up at any given moment. The duo were led up to their seats a few rows back, and then swiftly led back down them and out of the studio once the audience peeps realized that it would likely be a good idea to place the season’s second most talked about couple up closer where the cameras would likely better capture their blinding smiles, photogenic affection, and possible vomit. After the first ad break, they returned to the Idoldome and were placed in the perfect spot, just off Randy’s shoulders. Not literally just off Randy’s shoulders, although now that’s the one image that is going to stay with me for the rest of the night: Little tiny Paulie McD trying in vain to see his famous girlfriend on the other side of Randy Jackson’s massive cranium.

Annnnyhoodle, for the rest of the night — save when Debbie the Stage Manager pulled Paul and fellow season 10 alum Casey Abrams up to the balcony to plug the Idol tour — Paul’s left arm never really left its perch atop Nikki’s left shoulder. When Paul wanted to applaud, he simply slapped his thigh with his right hand. He simply was never going to let go, and I can’t exactly say I blame him. It really is a good thing he got down off of Randy’s shoulders, huh?

Nigel sure is spry, part oneFor pretty much James’ entire performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Nigel stood just off the far stage left aisle, jumping in place and applauding. He was so enraptured, he hopped his way into the aisle itself, and had to leap out of the way when the song was over and a camera crew came barreling up the same aisle to catch Casey’s response to the performance.

Nigel sure is expressive, part one During this ad break, Nigel stepped up to the judges and proceeded to make a series of strong, systematic, segmented gestures with his hands. Unfortunately, I cannot read lips, but nonetheless I interpreted the statements Nigel was making to accompany these gestures in three possible variations: 1) Making it clear that the contestants have made a progression over the weeks, or perhaps giving them an explicit arc even within the hour itself; 2) Being more specific and emphatic with comments and criticisms in general; or 3) Instructions on how to prepare and slice extra-long sub sandwiches for catered parties of 30 or more. I leave the final judgment, as it were, up to you.

Nigel sure is spry, part two As the ad break continued, Nigel drifted behind the judges’ chairs to chat up Ryan. With 15 seconds left to go, Nigel began to walk past Ryan to his usual spot near the sound stage’s massive elephant doors, but Ryan blocked his path. Nigel feinted left, but Ryan stopped him again. Debbie announced 10 seconds to go, and quickly things devolved into a panicked scuffle as Ryan began to keep Nigel bodily from leaving the judges’ platform. With a few seconds to spare, Nigel did a 180 and raced away from Ryan. The Idol host tried to follow Nigel down into the audience and drag him back on the platform, but Debbie had had quite enough of their shenanigans, and split the boys up in time for the live television show she was keeping afloat to continue.

You do not contradict Ms. Lopez All there really is for me to say about Randy and J.Lo’s mauling of Haley Reinhart after she sang Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is that I was so annoyed, I booed. Quite loudly, actually. So did Casey, I think, who was on his feet quite early into Haley’s performance. (You can check out Haley’s feelings on the shenanigans here.) It was already clear on television that when Steven Tyler came to her defense, the audience was emphatically on his side, but that did not seem to really matter to J.Lo, who spun around on her chair the moment we went to commercial and said to Steven, audibly, “We weren’t wrong.” Randy wheeled over to Steven to hash things out too, but Steven must have said something especially Steven-esque, because almost immediately, Randy leaned back slapped his hands loudly as if shocked into laughter, and Jennifer spun back forward in a flourish so the activity cloud of make-up artists could best attend to the most beautiful face in the world.

We really are just at a Scotty concert, and they’ve just built a TV show around it At least, that was the feeling inside the Idoldome after Scotty’s performance of Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” — the audience simply lapped it up, and when Scotty tossed his pick into the audience as he was leaving the stage, several people scrambled (yes, scrambled) to grab it. Like him or not, this kid is a bone fide star.

Then again, he is still just a kid As the package of delicious awkwardness between Lady Gaga and Scotty unfolded on the Thunderscreen, the image split and the Thunderstairs emerged with Scotty sitting on them just as he cracked the joke that his mic had better be good looking if he was going to make out with it. At that very moment, Scotty stood and nervously readjusted his jeans to keep them from riding up. It was unavoidably cute. And Gaga was completely right, by the way, about how Scotty needs to hold his mic; the audio mix on television pushes the vocals so forward, you can usually always hear Scotty sing, but in person, his voice does at times come in and out of the live mix to the point of distraction.

Nigel sure is expressive, part two During the ensuing ad break, the judges and Ryan took to the stage to record a quickie P.S.A. about donating to the Red Cross to help the tornado relief effort across the South. (You can do that, by the way, by clicking here.) Nigel, meanwhile, explained to the audience what was happing like so: “We’re doing a shout out to the Alabama relief fund, so don’t shout out during it.”

So is Rupert Murdoch a fan of the Durbs? Welllllll, let’s put it this way: Once I finally realized Murdoch was there, I paid close attention to his viewing habits as James performed “Love Potion No. 9,” and I observed the following details: When everyone else was clapping along, Rupert kept his arms folded, and when everyone else was standing and cheering, Rupert stayed in his seat. (The rest of his row soon joined him, conspicuously so.) He then spent the rest of the segment leaning forward with his head in his hands. We call that in the Making Wild Assumptions Based Upon Observing Three Minutes of Body Language profession “totally not feeling it.”

Nigel sure is expressive, part three: As I wrapped up writing this on the scene recap, Nigel tweeted the following nugget of thoughtful insight: “Thanks for all the personal abuse from the usual morons out there in Twitterland. I personally feel Haley is the most improved contestant.” We call that in the Making Wild Assumptions Based Upon 140 Written Characters or Less profession “the executive producer doth protest too much.”

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