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American Idol’s Top 13 certainly had their work cut out for them with this week’s Whitney Houston–Stevie Wonder theme. Millions saw them sweat on TV — and heard judge Steven Tyler say “Beautiful” no less than 10 times — but what didn’t you catch on the broadcast? Read on…
1) It’s a twist! Ryan Seacrest preps the audience in advance, not just for the show, but for a surprise game-change that will prompt some to gasp — or at least the producers would like to encourage such a reaction, he conveys in so many words.
2) With the opening theme comes a new method for getting the judges to their seats, a quick hop down the stairs as the music plays. Only problem is Jennifer Lopez requires assistance, which means a (lucky) stagehand gets to lead her down the wobbly stairs very carefully.
3) While Seacrest is explaining the X Factor-like decision to have the judges choose which of the bottom two (a guy or a girl) will be sent home, several sax guys wait in the wings of Stage 36 for what’s sure to be a brassy affair, Joshua Ledet’s version of “I Wish.”
4) Sure enough, even J. Lo is air drumming to Joshua’s Stevie Wonder-inspired runs.
5) First break time and 12 people have gathered on the judges’ riser including executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler take a moment to properly acknowledge the crowd while over stage left, Ryan is rehearsing his next few lines.
6) Elise Testone looks stressed as her video clip plays and the stage backdrop opens wide. Perhaps in an effort to calm the contestants’ nerves, J. lo claps along to Elise’s version of “I’m Your Baby Tonight.”
7) We may soon be calling him the Jolly Gentle Giant as Jermaine Jones is the picture of Idol giddiness, laughing, waving, smiling and otherwise greeting everyone within stones’ throw of the stage.
8) Erika Van Pelt makes a feverish last-minute hair fix before launching into “I Believe in You and Me” and turns the audience from skeptical to on-their-feet supportive.
9) After Colton Dixon’s rocking version of “Lately,” the Murfreesboro, Tennessee native pulls his in-ear monitor out so he can hear the judges critique better.
10) Poor Shannon Magrane – her one minute and forty seconds of “I Have Nothing” felt like one big collective teeth clench. Now it seems only a matter of time before Vote for the Worst dubs her brand of song Shannon Migraine.
11) DeAndre Brackensick is known for his hair, but I found myself more impressed with his bow at the end of a performance. Classy move, especially for a 17-year-old.
12) Commercial breaks allow for quick conferences with executives such as Fox Alternative Programming chief Mike Darnell and the occasional group photo. Wednesday’s portrait was a feisty shot of the three judges that found J. Lo playfully teasing Randy Jackson’s sparkling, er, broche.
13) Ever the charmer, Skylair Laine finishes her rendition of “Where Do Broken Heart Go” and proceeds to hug everyone in sight, from the guy who grabs the microphone to the stagehand there to lead her to the exit where another camera awaits.
14) More in-ear issues, this time for Heejun Han, who struggles with an unruly cord. Good thing he gets it worked out by the time Seacrest starts cracking. It turned out to be one of the most entertaining moments of the night.
15) We have another hugger in the group — Jeremy Rosado, who is practically yanked from the mosh pit area so that he can make his cue onstage.
17) Speaking of deafening cheers, Phillip Phillips gets more than his share even before strumming his first chord. And not just from the female audience members either, Phillip bros down with the guitarist and bassist accompanying him.
18) With the replay screening behind them, contestants turn around and cheer each other on — Skylar Laine fist-bumps Heejun Han, Phillip Phillips bows down to Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanagh simply shakes her head in disbelief.
19) After the credits roll, the audience is asked to stay in their seats for a few more minutes so that Ryan Seacrest can pre-tape a Bat Mitzvah message for the 13-year-old daughter of Fox Alternative Programming chief Mike Darnell. More on that here, but think of the episode of Entourage when Vincent Chase shows up to the Beverly Hilton (creepily, where Whitney Houston died) for Ari Gold’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.
20) And finally, out in the parking lot, season 9’s Katie Stevens and last year’s runner-up Lauren Alaina (performing on the show Thursday night) are getting their reunion on, chit-chatting with crew from the show then embarking on their own joy-ride around L.A. Ah, the life of an Idol…
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