Yesterday’s result show sent former jazz student Haley Reinhart packing while setting up Idol‘s youngest finale ever. To give you an idea of how young we’re talking, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery’s combined age of 33 is still three years younger than the eternally youthful Ryan Seacrest. In my opinion, Haley deserved a crack at the title more than Lauren, but at least Haley’s elimination paved the way for an exuberant farewell rendition of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” Overall, the hour-long program flew by in a hurry, but there are quite a few behind-the-scene observations I’d like to highlight. In chronological order, here’s what went down in the Idoldome:
Elle Fanning alert: I have two comments regarding the young actress. First, she’s quite tall. Ryan Seacrest, whose height is the preferred unit of measurement for 13-year-old girls, had to look up to Fanning. Second, Fanning actually stayed for the entire show, which is rarely something you see from the on-camera celebrities who visit Idol. At Wednesday’s performance show, for instance, Jimmy Iovine sat in the audience for only the songs that he selected. But Fanning’s a trouper. Or, like many 13-year-old girls, she’s fallen under the blue-eyed spell of Scotty McCreery.
Where to find your Top 13: This season’s eliminated finalists were in the audience, and Jay the Warm-Up Host announced that they’d all be visiting Hollywood Boulevard on May 23 when American Idol creator Simon Fuller receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Paul McDonald had a confused look on his face, as if this was the first time he heard about this particular engagement.
Right on, Debbie: The Idoldome is normally an assault on your ears, but during one commercial break it became uncommonly silent. “It’s eerily quiet in here,” said stage manager Debbie Williams, a statement that the audience interpreted as a command to start cheering. “No, I meant I liked it [quiet],” Williams shouted.
How to tip a bodyguard: At the end of Haley’s hometown video clip, her bodyguard, Aaron, appeared onstage pretending to cry. Once we went to commercial, Aaron came back onstage, and Nigel Lythgoe rushed over to hand him what I’m 99 percent sure was a wad of cash. Aaron took the money and discretely slipped it in his back pocket. Somebody’s going to Legoland this weekend.
The Flight: The teenage Italian group Il Volo, whom I cannot find on Wikipedia and therefore could be a figment of my imagination, won the hearts of the Idoldome. Haley was bobbing her head, and Lauren leaned forward with her mouth open in awe. But my favorite moment of Il Volomania was seeing Casey Abrams sing along as the group performed “O Sole Mio.” Casey actually knew the Neapolitan lyrics, which, when coupled with his love for Back to the Future, essentially made him the coolest guy in the Idoldome. At the commercial break, the Top 3 walked over to say hello to Il Volo. Lauren was particularly interested in meeting all three guys and learning their names.
“Best day of my life”: Scotty sat on the golden stool while his hometown-visit clip played. When he broke down and started crying in the clip, the Idoldome loudly applauded for the singer. Debbie the Stage Manager then whisked Scotty and Seacrest to the seats next to the contestant’s parents. The decision to move him to the audience could have been planned from the beginning, but it seemed like a spur-of-the-moment decision by Debbie to milk the emotional atmosphere to its fullest. (For instance, the cameramen had to rush to set up the new shot. Had they known they’d be filming Scotty’s parents next, wouldn’t they have been setting up during the video clip?) After the interview with Scotty’s parents, the 17-year-old singer walked to the judges’ table and started a lengthy conversation with Randy, Steven, and Jennifer. He then finally returned to the blue couch and received compassionate hugs from Haley and Lauren.
Promo pro bono: At various commercial breaks, Randy, Steven, and J.Lo individually shot promo spots for MDA, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. J.Lo was the smoothest at reading from the teleprompter. Although she had trouble with the word “progressive,” she nailed the entire speech on her second try. Randy, however, required four takes. “It’s not easy, is it?” joked the teleprompter-savvy Seacrest. I particularly appreciated that whoever wrote the script for the promo decided that Randy should start off by saying, “Yo, this is Randy Jackson.” The word “yo” was included on the teleprompter.
Haley’s farewell: After the Growler finished her smashing performance of “Bennie and the Jets” and returned to center stage, the judges strolled up to offer their condolences. J.Lo hugged Haley, while Casey, who was on his way out of the Idoldome, stopped to hug every Idol parent in the audience he could find. Lauren was in a hopping mood — literally. She and J.Lo started jumping up and down together, and then Lauren walked over to Tyler, and they started hopping together. (Lauren, you have every right to be thrilled about making the finale, but maybe you shouldn’t be jumping for joy in front of the person who was just eliminated).
J.Lo the Barber: While everyone was still onstage, Debbie announced that Scotty was thinking about shaving his head for the finale. Scotty quickly said something to Debbie, who relayed his message to the audience: “But only if Jennifer shaves it.”
The coin toss: After Haley left the stage, it was time for the coin toss to determine who would get to choose the finale’s performance order. Seacrest flipped a coin that had a photo of Scotty on one side and a photo of Lauren on the other. Scotty won the toss, but in a sweet gesture, he allowed Lauren to pick the order. She chose to perform second, which means Scotty will have the theoretical handicap of singing first next Tuesday. (Not that it truly matters, as Scotty’s victory has been sewed up for some time now, right?)
Goodbye, Idoldome: After the audience left the studio, the crew didn’t waste any time breaking down the set and getting parts of it ready to be shipped to the Nokia Theatre for the finale. I sat on a bench outside while waiting for my exit interview with Haley, which will be published on our Inside TV blog Friday morning. Haley’s parents sat nearby, anxiously waiting to embrace their daughter. But there was one other guy here too, and he was the first person Haley hugged when she stepped outside. His name: Casey Abrams.
PopWatchers, how do you feel about a double dose of country crooners for the finale? And does anyone see a scenario in which Lauren actually wins over Scotty?