‘Idol Gives Back’: For one night only, our Idols relax


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It was 10 minutes till showtime, and an usher was stalking up and down the aisle, ‘gum cup’ in hand. Her uniform was crisp, her gait purposeful, and her eyes alert. The mission: to locate latent gum-chewers and instruct them, gently but firmly, to spit their gum into her big plastic cup. By the time the stage manager gave the 30-second warning, there was not a gum-chewer in the house. For the next two and a half hours, while we watched ‘Idol Gives Back,’ there would be no food, no drinks, no bathroom breaks and certainly no gum.

Attending tonight’s ‘Idol’ taping was different for two reasons. First off, the show was longer than usual. Second, since the majority of the ‘Idol Gives Back’ special had been filmed at the Kodak Theatre on Sunday, tonight’s in-studio audience would spend most of the evening watching pre-recorded segments. The ‘Idol’ contestants had only a few segments left to tape this evening; easy scenes, by ‘Idol’ standards, in which the contestants answered phones or sang as an ensemble.


Would the audience grow restless under the circumstances? Would they come to the theater expecting a live taping and feel let down by what turned out to be a group viewing party instead? The producers seemed unsure. ‘Please stay for the whole two and a half hours,’ implored one usher before the show began. ‘This audience gets to see the show before anybody else on the West Coast,’ another pointed out in an attempt at consolation.

But if the producers ever feared that their audience would feel let down, their fears were soon assuaged. The moment the show began to play on a large screen on the ‘Idol’ stage, the audience was riveted. When Brad Pitt presented, the girls wailed like he could hear them, and when Mariah Carey was announced, the woman beside me almost rushed the screen.

And even though they didn’t perform much tonight, the Idols were there in all their glory. As home viewers saw, the remaining contestants, along with the eliminated members of the top 12, were spread across the stage at desks, taking pledge calls. There was a unanimous ease about our contestants tonight. Last night, they performed; tomorrow night, one will go; but for tonight, they were all languishing in the sweet cushion between the two loaded evenings. Tonight, for once, they were all safe.

The mood was playful – jovial even. It didn’t hurt that Simon, Randy and Paula were nowhere in sight. The Idols cheerfully answered calls, staff members floated across the stage while the taped segments were shown and nobody missed a chance to tease David Archuleta.

‘He’s been on the same call all night,’ chuckled Nigel Lythgoe, motioning towards David, who was thoroughly engrossed in a pledge call. ‘He’s looking for a prom date,’ added Cory, the resident audience pumper-upper. David Archuleta smiled, David Archuleta blushed, and the ladies wailed, as if on cue, ‘We love you David Archuleta!’ Something that they proceeded to do every time there was a quiet moment. But their affection was not reserved for David alone. ‘We love you, Nigel!’ They chanted later, in homage to the Idol mastermind.

After the show got moving, producers giddily announced that 3,000 pledge calls had been placed during the first minute of the show. The audience was ecstatic. Our hard work had paid off. Okay, maybe we hadn’t done anything, per se, but the ‘Idol’ staffers seemed so proud and relieved that we couldn’t help but share in their glory. It was like an ‘Idol Gives Back’ wrap party, and we were all invited.

At one point, the mood in the studio got so lax that some stagehands almost made a tremendous gaffe. After a brief phone segment, they lumbered onto the set from stage left, boxes in hand, to begin clearing the desks. As it turned out, they were early. Nigel came whizzing towards them from stage right and swept them off stage just in time for cameras to start rolling again. We breathed a sigh of relief. That was a close one.

As the end neared, Cory revealed that he had a ‘treat’ for us once the show was through. Food? Inquired hopeful women on either side of me. Seacrest emerged to thank us for what he deemed remarkable patience under unusual circumstances. Then, he welcomed the Idols to the stage for a beautiful farewell song, just for us. The choir we saw earlier in the show joined them for the performance. Sure, America wasn’t watching, but the Idols gave it their all, adding runs any place they could squeeze them in. After all, Simon wasn’t in the theater tonight, so it was a judgment-free zone. In fact, it was a downright love-fest. Just for kicks, confetti showered the singers during their final note. The cannons of confetti kept blasting until the stage was blanketed with glittering strips of paper.

Caught up in the moment, Michael Johns dove onto the floor, where he proceeded to make gleeful snow-angels in the carpet of confetti. It was the night of no judgment, after all, and he was smart enough to lap it up.

-- Stephanie Lysaght