LOS ANGELES — A couple of key things one learns at an "American Idol" taping: The "big stage" is way smaller than it looks on TV, and the typically tortoise-paced results show goes by way faster. You also see a lot more than the wildly tracking cameras could ever catch, so MTV News hit up Wednesday's show to be your eyes and ears behind the scenes.
Before the broadcast began, the crowd (complete with a mosh pit of gussied-up local high-schoolers) went crazy for the mostly "Idol"-related celebs who made their way into the studio, including season-six finalist Chris Richardson and this year's top 12. The night's biggest preshow applause was reserved for the guy whose early elimination was this season's biggest shocker: Michael Johns. While his fellow finalists were welcomed with a smattering of screams from the pit, the Aussie heartthrob's entrance earned a standing ovation from the entire audience.
(We also got a unique view of Fantasia's whirlwind act on Wednesday. Head to the Newsroom blog to sound off on the "Idol" champ's divisive performance.)
Since all cell phones (a.k.a. watch replacements) were confiscated before entering the studio, it was difficult to tell when the festivities would actually begin. That's why it was a bit jarring to hear Ryan Seacrest kicking off the show with his trademark "This ... is 'American Idol' " when the judges were barely in their seats. This ... was a trend throughout the night, as Randy, Paula and Simon escaped their desk at every commercial break and scurried back after things were already under way. What could have been more important during those three-minute breaks than the show that pays their million-dollar paychecks?
One audience member who stuck to his seat for the whole night was Jeff Archuleta, David's much-discussed father. Jeff did little worth noticing during the show — until the final two (Davids Archuleta and Cook) were announced. While Syesha Mercado performed Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You," Jeff stayed seated as the rest of the crowd (including his wife and the Cook family) stood in support of the latest castoff.
Jeff's other big moment came during the coin toss to determine the singing order for the finale. (SORTA-SPOILER ALERT!) In a clip that will air during next week's performance show, Seacrest's David/David coin landed Archuleta-side up, giving the teen the option to sing first or second. Any "AI" watcher knows singing last is a big advantage, making Jeff's cupped-mouth wails from the crowd of "Second! Second!" all the more ridiculous. No matter how hard the "Idol" producers try, they won't get this guy out of his son's ear.
But it wasn't all drama for the Archuleta family: Little David garnered the fans' loudest screams and most creative signs Wednesday, including a poster commemorating Tuesday's awkward Chris Brown cover that read, "David A.: I'll Be Your Boo!" Archuleta was all smiles as a video recap replayed Simon's claim that the squeaky-clean teen performed "a bit like a Chihuahua trying to be a tiger" when he sang Brown's "With You."
The other David's family was center stage on Wednesday as well, with little bro (and fellow "Idol" auditioner) Andrew Cook popping up in the hometown-visit package, getting involved with the crowd and even joining his brother onstage. When Archuleta earned the first spot in the top two, Andrew looked like he was going to hyperventilate as he awaited his brother's fate, immediately perking up to comfort his equally shaken mother when David secured the last spot in the finale.
A David vs. David showdown was obviously what this crowd (and America) wanted, but we have to mention that Syesha's voice had a warm and powerful quality during her live performance that hasn't always translated to TV. What would "Idol" be like if Randy, Paula and Simon judged each episode from their living rooms, just like the rest of us?
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