After an "American Idol" finalist is eliminated, the singer is rushed into a rapid, bicoastal press tour, but not before one last encounter with the remaining contestants.
Some call it the kiss-off dinner, others refer to it as the last supper, but all agree that it's one of the most emotional, memorable moments of the "Idol" experience.
"It's kind of like a toast dinner," Kellie Pickler explained. "We just talk about memories and good times and all the great experiences that we've had together. And it's more of, like, not a 'See you later, you got the boot' dinner, it's more [about] all the experiences that we've shared together and looking forward to the time that we're going to spend on tour together."
The tone of the feast depends on which finalist has been eliminated, but it's often the place where the ousted singer lets out his or her emotions.
"It was a very humbling time, a very emotional time for me," recalled Mandisa, whose departure has been one of this season's big surprises.
For his part, Kevin Covais remembers more laughter than tears. "It was very nice," he said of his dinner. "We all got to say goodbye and exchange numbers to keep in touch. Everyone said sweet stuff, and it was just really amazing."
The remaining contestants, and sometimes their families, attend the dinners, along with staff members from the show who work closely with the singers. Simon Cowell and the other judges aren't invited — after the Paula Abdul/ Corey Clark allegations last season (see "FOX, 'Idol' Launch Formal Probe Of Paula Abdul Sex Scandal"), the producers set a rule forbidding contact outside of the tapings.
As a group, the singers choose the restaurant, which varies each week. (They hit Los Angeles' trendy Whisper Lounge for Ace Young's going-away fete.) Then, before the meal comes, each contestant stands up and talks about the one heading home.
| 'Idol' Season Five Performances|
| Photos Of The 12 Finalists|
"It's just a time for fellowship," Paris Bennett explained. "You actually hear all the emotions that people have felt since you've been around them. They just voice their opinions on you — how they first felt about you and their opinion of you now. It's a great time to hear what the contestants want to tell you and they can never tell you because we're always just moving. You never really have that time to tell them."
The silver lining to the dinner is that, at least for the final 10, they will soon reunite for the annual American Idols Live summer tour (see " 'American Idol' Top 10 To Hit 39 Cities On Summer Tour").
"As soon as the tour starts we're going to be together again for a while, so I was like, 'You guys are going to get sick of me when I get back,' " Lisa Tucker said of her sendoff. "But it was just really great being with everybody and talking about how much we're going to miss each other over these few weeks."