Shirley Halperin
April 12, 2007 AT 08:10 PM EDT

The stars were out tonight, sprinkled throughout the studio audience on this fifth elimination show. I first got wind of it while walking through the parking lot, where I saw better-than-handicapped spots reserved for the night’s A-list talent: Jennifer Lopez, the live musical guest; Pink, who was taping a performance for Idol Gives Back following the telecast; Sharon Osbourne, apparently an old pal of Nigel Lythgoe’s; King of Queens’ Leah Remini; definitely an old and good friend of Lopez’s; and Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. It’s certainly keeping the paparazzi busy. Though they’re not allowed on the grounds of CBS Television City, between Dancing With the Stars and Idol, which are filmed in adjacent stages, I’ve seen the same group of persistent shutterbugs parked outside the gates on Beverly Blvd. for weeks now, though I imagine once Heather Mills gets the boot, they’ll probably retire the location.

Back to inside, of course there were the random ex-contestants in the crowd. Chris Sligh made his entrance a half hour before the show started. He had to ask a page where his seat was, officially taking his place on “the other side.” Though he did get a loud applause as he walked through and a line of kids asking for an autograph. Last season’s Mandisa was also there, as was Justin Guarini from way back in season 1.

With five minutes to air, the contestants are walked onto the stage and introduced one by one. The Fanjayas were in full force on this night, relishing in the seemingly unanimous opinion that their man’s last performance wasn’t terrible, as Simon humbly noted. Big cheers for the other boys, too — namely Chris and Blake, the latter of whom looks more like a front-runner with each passing week.

addCredit(“American Idol: Frank Micelotta”)

With less than two minutes to go, Debbie, Idol‘s lovablestage manager, remarks that she still has no judges and asks SharonOsbourne if she’d like to sit in, considering her experience on theBritish talent show, X-Factor. Sharon seems to know a lot of people in the crowd, including Debbie and Nigel Lythgoe, with whom she chatted for some time.

And just in time, the judges make their way in finally. While Debbiebegins the countdown from 10, Ryan walks down the line and motions forevery contestant to look at him as he makes his intro. He is aperfectionist, that Ryan Seacrest. And from the looks of it, all butSanjaya got it right.

Truth be told, after the opening number, during which it seemedpainfully obvious that Haley was the only one to pick up some dancingtips from J. Lo, the contestants were barely seen for the rest of theshow. Rather, they sat mostly in the dark watching video segments alongwith the audience. There was the occasional Blake to Chris jab, usuallyas a result of some fawning comment made about one of them, Haley hadto adjust her shirt and pants a lot, Jordin giggled upon hearing thephrase “muy caliente.” Undoubtedly, Phil looked nervous, but I likedthat he bowed when his name was called. The guy’s a class act. Blake,on the other hand, looked cool and calm, even having fun with hisfriends in the audience by making them stand up for a quick photo thathe took from the stage. And during Akon’s performance, which was tapeda couple weeks back, Blake was grooving like there was no tomorrow.

But it was when J. Lo hit the stage that the place really exploded.Paula immediately jumped out of her chair and the rest of the audiencewas right behind her. Meanwhile, onstage, Jordin looked overwhelmed atthe sheer spectacle of the J. Lo stage show  (pictured), likely thinking what a lotof us spectators had on our minds: now, that girl can sing. Even Simonwas moved to stand up for La Lopez (more on that later).

Idol Gives Back is obviously a big priority for the show’screators and principals. Lythgoe made that clear when asking theaudience to stay for Pink’s performance. He also mentioned a few othernames who would be participating in some way, among them Johnny Depp,Helen Mirren, Celine Dion, Helen Bonham Carter, and the Monkees’ MickyDolenz. I have to hand it to Lythgoe. As many of you probably know, healso executive produces Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance andis, himself, a former choreographer. And let me tell you, this guy’sgot moves. I have no idea how old he is, but during the post-show tape,he demonstrated skills that could have easily won him a spot in J. Lo’sdancer line. Seriously.

And back to La Lopez. I ran into her in the parking lot on the way out and to say that she was psyched about her Idolexperience would be a major understatement. First off, I complimentedher on the mentoring rounds and the consensus that she stands among thebest yet. She was, as always, genuinely grateful for some kind words,but what really wowed her was something Simon said after the show. “Hetold me it was the best performance ever on American Idol,” she divulged with a child-like glee. “Isn’t that amazing? Coming from him? I’ll take it!”

You May Like