Tonight, our Top 11 take on the songs of the cinema, but remember, in this search to find this big star, you are directing the ending. Alright, Louis J, I’m ready for my closeup. This is American Idol.
The lights come up, the music starts pumping, and the audience erupts in applause as Ryan Seacrest walks to the stage.
Aside from college basketball or professional baseball games, I had never been in a live television audience. Standing on Beverly Boulevard outside CBS Television City on a sunny March afternoon with a ticket in hand, I wasn’t so sure today would be my chance, either.
When studios give out tickets to a show, they hand out far more tickets than there are seats in the crowd. Between VIP guests and no-shows, they never know how many people will actually show up. We learned this the hard way at a taping of Big Bang Theory. As bus after bus of VIP spectators flowed past us into the studios, I could see our chances diminishing.
Sometime between 3 and 4 PM, it all changed. They counted off the line and sent the people behind us home, but we had just made a cut. We still did not know if it was the cut, but we had hope. After a little more time waiting on the street, the studio staff led us into the complex and up to the building where American Idol would be filming in a few short hours.
Through the disorganized chaos of waiting in the crowd out back, we were among the first to be ushered into the studio to fill seats. Crews were busy putting the final pieces into place for the evening’s live show, an audience motivator was working the crowd and building up excitement for showtime, and we were led to our seats.
These seats, as we would later find out, were in the midst of the family section. Nestled between Jena Irene’s father and Dexter Roberts’ girlfriend Savannah Coker, we sat back to watch Season 13 continue unfolding in front of our eyes.
This is American Idol.
The studio experience was a little eery. To make the sound engineers’ jobs less complex, any pre-recorded segment and anything spoken live in the studio was barely audible through the speakers embedded under our seats. The live music, on the other hand, was rock concert level.
And as soon as a commercial break started, the crowd’s cheerleader was back on the floor to help keep the energy high in the studio during the lengthy commercials.
At one point, they counted down out of a commercial break, the audience was quiet, and then over our shoulders, Seacrest’s un-amplified voice could be heard introducing the next segment.
Being in the same room with Seacrest, Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban did add to the reality of the night. As often as possible, they would hop out of their chairs, chat with fans in the audience, take selfies, and even take phone calls during the breaks.
And just ahead of a short promo for his upcoming FOX show, Chef Gordon Ramsay and his body guard hustled down to their seats a few rows in front of us, where he was quickly greeted by Randy Jackson, an Idol advisor that season.
Seated in the family section meant we made our first appearance on screen within the first 60 seconds of the show. Texts from excited family and friends back home started coming in. It was an exciting 60 minutes, and then it was over.
Except it wasn’t.
The TV magic still had one more trick up their sleeves. In a pre-recorded segment, which was cleverly inserted into the middle of the Wednesday night show, Harry Connick, Jr., performed live in front of the Tuesday night audience.
We sat back and watched while the studio crew moved an entire orchestra into place, before Connick and his band played through his song a few times to get it just right. And then it really was over.
I’m sure sitting through the taping of a favorite sitcom would be fun, too, but there’s a certain excitement from sitting in a studio for a live taping. Aside from Connick’s performance, there are no “take 2’s,” because everything plays out in real time.
As the Idol empire wraps up its 15 year run next week, they celebrate a wide-ranging success from Carrie Underwood to Kelly Clarkson to Chris Daughtry and 11 other winners. They still have one more winner to crown. Though the show may be shutting its doors, the success of their run will continue to grow as each musician continues making music.
And for me, no memory of Idol will surpass that Tuesday night during Season 13.