'American Idol' Finale: Tales From Inside The Nokia Theatre

We put you in the audience for a live-and-in-person look at the Kris Allen vs. Adam Lambert showdown.

LOS ANGELES — Arriving at the Nokia Theatre on Tuesday night (May 19), downtown Los Angeles was buzzing with excitement and rivalry. On one side of the street, smartly dressed folks swarmed into the theater for "American Idol." Across the way, people in Kobe jerseys filed into the Staples Center for the Lakers game. In my hand, I harnessed a ticket for the most popular TV show in the world.

Inevitably, people will ask me what it's like inside the live "AI" performance show, and my answer is a simple one: church.

Everyone files into the enormous venue, speaking with great reverence for the people they'll soon see. They stand in unison, sit, then stand again moments later. As the between-commercial-breaks audience-warmer screams, "We are live in 30 seconds," everything gets so quiet that you could hear a button pop off Simon Cowell's shirt (assuming any were buttoned), and then the crowd erupts on cue as Reverend Seacrest opens the festivities by saying, "This is 'American Idol'!"

Although security makes a big deal about turning over all communications devices, I watched the woman in front of me tape the whole show on her cell phone. As soon as they go to commercial break, Ryan hands his mic to the stage manager and vanishes for three minutes and 52 seconds, as do most of the judges. When a piped-in female voice gets to 20 seconds on her countdown, they all run back into position.

My church metaphor fades a bit during commercial breaks, when the audience-warmer guy keeps us busy by running into the crowd with a microphone, screaming, "Where my Adam fans at?" while handing out T-shirts. Fans hang off the balconies, risking life and limb to show off signs reading "Kris Will Not Be Dissed!" or "Delaware Loves Adam!" You don't see that stuff on Sunday morning.

With no empty seats to be seen and the neon glow shining down upon their faces, everyone stands at the end of each song, then sits when the judges speak. Curiously, fewer people stand with each passing song.

"American Idol" Season 8: Live Performances HERE

There are moments of true performer connection — such as when both artists sang their first songs. But as much as you can feel the electricity, you can also taste the sourness of a bad performance. When Kris' final song closed out the show, a look swept over everyone's faces as if someone had set off a stink bomb in the theater. One guy near me plugged his ears.

But make no mistake: It's even more fun to be at "American Idol" than it is to watch it on TV. Women were synchronizing their "I love you Adam!" screams, everyone (even little kids) boos Simon, and my vision is still hazy from all the smoke Adam unleashed onstage.

My personal favorite moment you didn't see on TV? When Randy responded to Kris' first song by making reference to the L.A. Lakers, a man in the crowd stood up. Poking his fingers at the woman he was with, he screamed, "LAKERS! GO LAKERS!" so loud that everyone turned and looked at her bright-red face.

The guy had a ticket to the hottest event in the world, but was only there because his lady had talked him into crossing over to the other side of the street — now she was probably wishing she hadn't. Ah, the things we do for love.

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