By Adam B. Vary
Updated May 25, 2011 at 08:00 AM EDT

In seasons past, the scene outside the Nokia Theater LA Live in the hour leading up to the performance finale resembled a kind of carnival of Idols past — Hey, it’s Anoop! And… that one kooky girl from Hollywood week! No, the other one! — with a general feeling of excitement and occasion stirring among the crowd waiting to get into the theater. Perhaps I’m just projecting my own indifferent indifference about the season 10 finale here (I simply don’t care about the fact that I don’t care), but yesterday’s scene was far more subdued in comparison. I did not catch sight of Idol alumni milling about the courtyard in the hope someone will recognize them; I felt no spark of anticipation bouncing around the multitudes as they calmly waited in orderly lines to get inside. Inside the theater, everything felt equally low key and orderly — save the brief glimpse I got of Mama Alaina looking like her body might at any moment turn itself inside out. At the time, I thought it was just your average maternal nerves, until a quick peek at Twitter once I’d gotten back to my seat revealed that the Idol nation was abuzz over the possibility that Lauren might drop out due to a ominous sounding illness. Of course, she didn’t (and you can click here for the full lowdown on what went down). But it remained the only ribbon of real excitement adorning an otherwise humdrum evening.

Wah wah. You know, it’s funny; season 10 for all its flaws was still nothing remotely close to the soul sucking experience that was season 9. (Remember Tim Urban? And Paige Miles? And Andrew Garcia? And Katie Stevens? And Aaron Kelly? And Casey James? And Lee DeWyze? No? You’ve forgotten them? YOU MUST TELL ME YOUR SECRET.) And yet, walking into McCreery vs. Alaina, I realized I had been far more invested in the outcome of Bowersox vs. DeWyze. Perhaps the Idol gods PR team could sense my dispassion, as my seats this year were in the far back row. In normal theaters, and especially in the Idoldome at CBS Television City, this would not really be that big of an issue. But in the IdolDeathStar that is the cavernous, 7,000 seat Nokia, sitting in the back row means that the light traveling from the stage takes a good 30 seconds to reach your eyes. When Jennifer Lopez first emerged with her fellow judges, all I could make out were a few frizzy emerald sparkles; my snark demon Smirkelstiltskin thought it was an especially fabulous Christmas cookie being eaten by a giant hamster.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I have precious little of what you didn’t see on your television to share with you, dear readers, and for that I apologize — I was simply too far away from the action to make much of anything out. My favorite insight of the night, in fact, came not from my own observations, but from EW’s L.A. Bureau Chief Jon Barrett, my plus one for the evening. Jon hasn’t seen practically any of this season, and his very first impression of the spectacle of spotlights and lucite and metal and neon festooning the Nokia stage was this: “It reminds me of the end of The Hunger Games.” As your mind attempts to wrap itself around the idea of Lauren Alaina being akin to Katniss Everdeen (which I suppose means Nigel Lythgoe is Seneca Crane?), you might as well chow down on these nuggets of behind the scenery too, if only to help cleanse your palate.

Scotty Scotty Bang Bang, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Sing Along A few minutes before the show began, Debbie the Stage Manager interrupted Cory the Warm Up Comic’s attempts to get people to yell out who they thought would win so she could ask the audience to help Scotty out with his first song. Our instructions: When Scotty sang the lyric “…like a Confederate soldier,” we were then to say along with him, “Bang! Bang!” Those words even appeared on the two giant screens on either side of the stage. When the time came during Scotty’s performance of “Gone,” the audience failed miserably at their task the first time, but I definitely heard people cheering out “Bang! Bang!” the second time — even though it never seemed to translate through the television.

Let’s call the whole thing off! Debbie also had pre-show directions for the audience with regard to Ryan’s cold open: After Ryan’s famous “THIS… is A-MER-ican Idol,” she told us, “I want everyone to stand and go batty.” Batty? “You say batty,” noted Cory, “and I say bananas.” Regardless of what you call it, the audience definitely obliged.

Speak no evil During the first few ad breaks, the audience was definitely in full on “peasandcarrotspeasandcarrots” mode over why the judges were not weighing in on the contestants’ performances. And yet, every break, there was Nigel, in a sharp and shiny silver suit, gabbing about with Randy, Jennifer, and Steven, and there were the hair and make-up people ministering to the judges — because they had mussed everything up sitting there and not talking?

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Actually Sing Along (except I didn’t, but don’t worry about that) If the audience needed prompting to join in on Scotty’s “Gone,” they required no such marching orders for his take on George Strait’s “Check Yes or No.” (Me? I’ve never heard the song before in my life, but then my country music blinders are really more like oversized, opaque sunglasses.) It was actually pretty uncanny; in the five years I’ve been covering this show, I cannot recall the last time so many in the audience spontaneously sang along with a contestant. Yes, Lauren showed some savvy fight by choosing to sing her final song “Like My Mother Does” directly to her own mother, but Scotty seems to have formed the kind of genuine connection with his fans that Lauren’s struggled with all season. Just sayin’!

Tears vs. Tumbles! The audience’s most vocally favorite moments during Scotty and Lauren’s respective Idol journey montages that played over their final songs: For Scotty, it was crying during Hollywood week (awww), and sporting an adorable red cowboy outfit as a wee baby (awwwwww). For Lauren, it was pretty much only one moment: Falling down the stairs at the short-lived Idol mansion (hahahahahaha!).

David Cook, did they forget about you? As you may have guessed, David Cook did not sing live last night; his performance of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was pre-taped. As it began to play, Scotty and Lauren shared a big, lingering hug, and for the first time all night, I had a moment of authentic feeling for these two. They both may share preternaturally legit country music voices and self-possessed confidence, but they’re both still just kids, after all. I hope they still can be after tomorrow night’s results.

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