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If you were watching American Idol at home Wednesday night, you saw the top nine finalists sing the songs of the Beatles. But you had to be in the studio audience to see all the action off-camera. As always, The Hollywood Reporter was there and taking notes. Read on for a front-row view of 10 things TV viewers didn’t see on the March 20 show.
1. Before the top nine delved into the songbook of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Ryan Seacrest had some results to announce — the winner of the sing-off between Aubrey Cleland and Charlie Askew for the 11th spot on the summer Idol tour. While the results were hidden on a card Seacrest was holding, sharp-eyed members of the audience could have figured out the result prior to the reveal. That’s because there was a camera crew trained on Aubrey’s mother Renee and Aubrey’s boyfriend Alex.
2. You know what the judges think of the Idols’ performances, but what do the executive producers think? You can watch for clues by keeping an eye on Nigel Lythgoe, seated in the front row, audience right. On Wednesday, he was standing up and swaying happily to Amber Holcomb’s version of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band track “She’s Leaving Home.”
3. Before Amber Holcomb launched into her performance number, she first had to wave the smoke out of her face. Sure, the dry-ice concoction makes for a great visual effect, but it can’t be good for your throat as you’re about to sing your heart out.
4. During the commercial break immediately preceding Lazaro Arbos’ performance of “In My Life,” warm-up comic Cory Almeida spotted a bright yellow sign in the audience with Lazaro’s name spelled out in big letters. Almeida spent the rest of the break talking with the sign’s creators, two young special-needs students named Frankie and John, who revealed they were cousins. Turns out that John is not just a big fan of Lazaro, he’s also wild about Mariah Carey and was especially thrilled when she turned around from her chair on the judges’ platform to acknowledge her excited fan.
5. When Cory Almeida talks to members of the audience, he usually discovers they are fans of one of the contestants or the judges. But tonight he found a fan of someone else. A young man in the audience named Colby wanted to meet and hug executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, who obliged. Colby thanked “Nige” for the opportunity.
6. This might be an Idol first: Since phones aren’t allowed inside the Idol-Dome (they’re collected by security at the door and can be reclaimed after the live broadcast), the sound of a ringing phone has never been heard inside the theater. But while Keith Urban was critiquing Candice Glover, there it was — the loud ring of someone’s cell phone. The second ring was muffled, as the perpetrator must have cushioned it. Then, mercifully for the phone’s owner, silence…
7. Nicki Minaj uses every commercial break as an opportunity to check her phone and her face (with her handy hand-held mirror). Even when FremantleMedia CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz, an Idol honcho now based in London, comes by the judges’ table, Minaj barely looks up.
8. While giving her judgment of Devin Velez, Nicki Minaj gave a shout-out to the backing vocalists on his “The Long and Winding Road,” and then gave another shout-out that was bleeped. She quickly corrected herself and said the word she meant to say, “pianist,” as in music director Ray Chew. So what word was bleeped? Let’s just say it’s a word that sounds very much like pianist.
9. Attempting to recover from Nicki Minaj’s misspeak, Ryan Seacrest asked Mariah Carey if she also wanted to make a shout-out, and she did, to her fans — who are called lambs. What you didn’t see on TV is that a young woman in the front row had a rather large stuffed lamb sitting on her lap, and it wasn’t even Bring Your Pet to Work Day.
10. The judges have their own way of gauging reaction to a contestant’s performance. Nicki Minaj, for example, made sure to turn around and scope out the audience following Janelle Arthur’s rendition of “I Will.” What did she see? Plenty of standing ovations for the country singer from an adoring crowd.
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