American Idol Finale
Credit: Vince Bucci/Fox/PictureGroup

Where is probably the one and only place in the world where you can find Midwestern ladies in prom/bridesmaid dresses, people speaking a wide variety of languages, poster board signs covered in blinking lights, dozens of cowboy hats, and a mish-mash of the oddball celebrities? The American Idol season finale, of course! I was there last night as the show went down at downtown LA’s Nokia Theater, and the only way to really describe what was going on is to call it exactly what it was: a crazy spectacle. I’m not exaggerating: Moms were really prowling around in prom/bridesmaid dresses! (True: Things such as this make me really happy.) I love that, for some, the American Idol finale is something on par with a seminal life event like a wedding. To each his own, I suppose! But I digress. On to my other observations…

I couldn’t help but spend a little time outside of the theater before the show started, just so that I could soak up some of the American Idol realness that was oozing out everywhere. There were, of course, folks like Ace Young and Naima Adedapo and David Archuleta padding into the venue on a red carpet while waving to the throngs, but more interesting than all that, really, were the folks who were there to watch the festivities, the adoring fans. They’re a fascinating set, those who’ll brave the American Idol live show over just enjoying the madness from the comfort of their own living rooms. For instance, did you know that American Idol splits households? I watched one pair of ladies, who appeared to be sisters, duke it out over who should win the crown, Lauren or Scotty, while standing in line to get into the show. “We’re still friends,” said one, holding a Lauren sign up in front of the other, who was holding a Scotty sign. “We still love each other.” Really, this show could split your sisterly bond? Wow. A friend of theirs nearby, though, tried her best to dose the flames: “They’re both going to go far, no matter what.” That remains to be seen, of course.

After I amused myself with people watching for a while, I headed in to Nokia to what, honestly, ended up being one of the most entertainingly random concerts I’ve been to in quite a lot time: Lil’ John and…TLC! Tony Bennett! TOM JONES! Beyoncé — twice! In fact, the whole Scotty-or-Lauren thing seemed almost like a footnote to all the performances and other festivities that were going on. I’ll give you a run-down of what I observed from the belly of the beast — the truly few things you might not have seen on TV — but I will warn you first: The seat I was in wasn’t all that close to the stage, so the observations are pithy and short. Many times, I found myself watching the jumbo screens next to the stage that were broadcasting what was happening. As my colleague Adam B. Vary explained in his on-the-scene recap last night, EW was relegated rather far back. (The nerve!) Watching on TV might have been a better experience! But alas, here’s what it was like being at last night’s American Idol season finale:

Dancers with…Bicycles? Yes, that’s what I found on the stage when I walked into the theater about a half hour before the show started. What on earth? That’s all I could think. It wasn’t until a ways into the show that I discovered that, indeed, it was Casey Abrams performance with — and now it makes sense! — Jack Black that would use the dancing bicyclists. Of course, right?

Sign Rage! About 10 rows in front of me was a six-person group, holding huge blow-up balloon letters spelling S-C-O-T-T-Y. They significantly blocked the views of rows of people, and boy oh boy, you would have thought it was the end of times. “They’ve gotta go!” screamed one guy behind them, a few rows in front of me. “Are you kidding me?” one lady asked the crowd around her. It’s true: We couldn’t really see. But the culprits’ arms eventually got tired, and we got to enjoy the show, but not before many of the folks behind the huge balloons decided to watch the show from the aisle instead of their seats.

The Warm-Up Comic Cory: Much Too Much? Yes, Cory the Warm-Up Comic is always over the top. But last night he was nearly insane before the show went live and during commercial breaks, with his platitudinous remarks. “Don’t you think our judges this season have been absolutely amazing?” he screamed after the judges were introduced. “This will be the biggest show of your lives!” he shouted later. We get it: You love Idol! It almost seemed like he expected an audience member to rush the stage and sacrifice themselves to the Idol gods.

Jennifer’s Entrance Based on my past on-the-scene posts, you know I can’t write about the show and not comment on The Queen herself. Tonight, since I was so far back, all that Ms. Lopez looked like was a glittery blob. But still: striking! Even from a distance! Based on what I could see on the jumbo screens, she was wearing a sparkly pantsuit type of thing. Dressy enough? Not sure. Reminiscent of that sparkly, flesh-toned bodysuit Britney performed in at the 2000 VMAs? Definitely. The possibility that she was only wearing body glitter and nothing else (at least from my vantage point)? Pretty good.

Note to Audience: Do Not Sit Down! After the first performance, where all the Idols sang Gaga’s “Born This Way,” it was time for a commercial break — and some very important directions from Cory the Warm-Up Comic. “During performance numbers, we want you all up on your feet!” he told the crowd. “This is a party tonight! That is the first and last time where you will be seated.” Aye, aye, captain.

The Judges Like to Laugh at Themselves (And Smack Each Other Sometimes)! During the video segment that ribbed judge Randy Jackson for his repeated use of “in it to win it” this season, you could find one Mr. Randy Jackson sitting at the judges’ table, heartily laughing at himself. Ryan, of course, was next to him, laughing right along with him. Steven, of course, found his segment later in the show to be very hilarious, too. And during her segment, Jennifer Lopez gave Steven a friendly smack when he made one of his trademark wacky comments about her.

Gladys Knight Owns the Stage There’s not really much more to say that that. Not sure if it translated as well on TV, but lady ruled the Nokia with her duet of “I Smile” with Jacob Lusk. Like, there really are no words. (Yet, somehow I keep rambling anyway.)

Who’s In The House? There were undoubtedly many, many more than this, but Cory the Warm-Up Comic announced a few of the celebrities inhabiting Nokia during the commercial breaks: So You Think You Can Dance judge Mary Murphy, Idol alums David Cook and Adam Lambert, and Hell’s Kitchen judge Gordon Ramsay were all in the house. Holler!

Tony’s Standing O Tony Bennett got one from the judges. But then again, how can you not give this guy a standing O? Especially when he’s singing alongside the lovely Haley Reinhart.

The Unofficial Cheer-O-Meter Being inside the theater, you really get a chance to see which performances the audience really responds to. The biggest craziness went to Beyoncé, TLC, Steven Tyler, and probably the biggest of all, Bono/The Edge.

Keep That Stage Dark One of the interesting things is that, even at the live show, the audience has no idea what’s going to happen next. You might assume that during the commercial breaks, we’d see which artist is on deck, but most of the time, that wasn’t the case. The Idol production team did a very good job of keeping the stage extremely dark during commercial breaks and set changes so that the next performer would be a surprise for both the TV viewers and those of us lucky enough to be in the house. There were times, however, that you could guess what was coming up next. Feathery dancers on stage and J.Lo gone from her seat? Yup, she’d be performing with Marc Anthony. Steven out of his chair? Yup, he’s next. A huge monstrosity appearing in the shadows on stage? No question: Only Gaga would bring such a thing with her.

Sing Along With Tom Jones! Please! So you probably noticed the crowd singing along when Bono, The Edge, and Reeve Carney sang the Spider-Man song (we were instructed to do so by Cory the Warm-Up Comic much in advance!), but that wasn’t the only time we were encouraged to sing along: Lyrics to Tom Jones’ “Delilah” popped up on the jumbo screens when he appeared on stage. It felt a bit weird because, like, doesn’t everyone know those words? Maybe not the younger folks, I guess. Sing, monkey audience members, sing!

The Final Moments Everyone stage at the end was a nice touch, right? From where I was sitting, though, it was interesting to watch it all go down. After Scotty was crowned, it wasn’t long before he sang and the show cut out. And that’s when you could see how everyone on stage was really feeling: totally tired! The jumbo screens zoomed in on everyone, hugging and congratulating Scotty, but I wouldn’t help but notice how exhausted everyone looked. It’s been a long season, which started way back in January. Ugh! But alas, it’s over. The final words to come over the PA in the theater last night? “Be very, very careful when you walk,” Cory the Warm-Up Comic warned we audience members, as we left the theater. “This confetti gets very slippery.”

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

Want more Idol? See EW expert Annie Barrett answer questions on camera about American Idol and Dancing with the Stars here:

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