Whitney Pastorek
May 03, 2007 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Boy, what a week, PopWatchers: With Adam B. Vary and Shirley Halperin both otherwise occupied, I was asked to drag my Coachella-ravaged bones over to American Idol last night to be your eyes and ears for the big double-elimination, and if you’re wondering, yes, I believe I have now traveled the full spectrum of this country’s musical experience in just under 72 hours.

But who had time to ponder the deeper implications of how I’m spending my time? I got to go to Idol! Sure, it was a results show, and sure, I was there by myself, and sure, I didn’t know what to expect and accidentally still had my digital camera in my bag from the weekend and got yelled at and had to take it back to the car, which now has me wondering how certain co-workers of mine are doing this, but regardless, PopWatchers, I was there! And my corneas are still twitching!

After the jump, won’t you travel with me to Section F, Row 6, Seat 13, where I was sandwiched between a skinny 12-year-old with a rudimentary Jordin poster and a bulbous woman simultaneously wearing zebra and leopard prints?

I successfully made it through the metal detectors on my second try and queued up with the rest of the audience in a holding pen outside the soundstage. Not knowing how any of this hoo-hah worked, my first surprise of the night came when I realized that the screaming baby next to me was none other than Phil Stacey’s newborn: His wife joined us in gen-pop, comforted the child, and then waited with what looked like extended family to be let inside. This seemed wrong to me. I mean, I know it’s a competition and everything, and Phil has not technically won anything yet — nor will he, sadly — but especially in the case of Mrs. Stacey and the magical audition-day baby, the Idol producers are trading on their characters just as much as anyone else’s to keep the storyline moving forward. You’d think they’d at least get a nice private staging area of their own, so they don’t have to get whacked in the face with reams of fluorescent posterboard being wielded by overzealous pre-teen girls.

Once we were let into the theater, I found my seat in the boondocks and settled in to wait for the famous people to come flooding in. It was Bon Jovi night, after all — who doesn’t want to see the Jersey Boys rock it? Alas, PopWatchers: Either I am way worse at identifying famous people in their natural habitat than I thought I was, or there was no one of much note there at all. Gina Glocksen and her spiky new latter-day Joan Jett hairdo got a nice smattering of applause upon entering. Terri Seymour, a.k.a. “Simon’s puppet,” showed up after the first commercial break, consequently missing all of the hilarity at her expense (although Seacrest spent a lot of time with her during that commercial, perhaps apologizing for his “it’s verrrry serious” line just moments before). The British journos behind me were trying to figure out if some dude I couldn’t see was some dude I didn’t know from the UK Big Brother. And Rob Reiner was sitting in my very same row, in full camera-avoidance mode, with a brood of seven, including two teenage boys who had the following conversation:

“When it’s on TV, it looks…”
“… so big?”
“So BIG!”

Yes, it does not look so big in person. It never does. What it does look like is a bit of a bus-and-truck company production of Starlight Express, and every single surface appears to light up in some way. The only thing I’ve experienced that’s comparable to the full Idol cornea-fry experience is a hockey arena, right after the home team has scored a goal. Before the show, the music was pumping — what’s that, Mister DJ? you’d like to mix Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” with Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control”? Really? — and the crowd was settling in. The father of the two kids next to me came over and asked, “You guys have to use the restroom? You sure?” All three of us shook our heads, and then nodded. (Truth be told, I was a little hungry, but he didn’t look like the kind of dad who carries granola bars.) And at long last, Corey the Warm-Up Comedian made his storied appearance upon the stage. Did we really want to party? Yeah! Did we want to put our hands in the air and wave them in a manner not reflecting our actual levels of excitement? Hell yeah! Could we punch it? Sort of! And yes, sir, we would be happy to let you hear us scream!

I think Adam and Shirley have already pointed out the downturn in poster quality since we all said San-bye-a, but it’s not getting any better. I saw “Phil the Heat,” “Melinda’s Voice is my 1st Choice,” “Simon, Kiss Us!” and discovered that Cincinnati loves both Melinda and Blake. The Spitty One’s fan club was out in force last night, including a set of three heavily made-up Lohan-esque girls with pom-poms, billing themselves as the “Blaker Girls,” who would later perform a cheer they made up special: “Blake, Blake, he’s our man! If he can’t do it, no one can!” (Corey the WUC followed that with his best line of the night: “Wow, they really went to the depths for that one.”) There were also a tremendous number of “We [heart] Bon Jovi!”-type signs, as well as a girl seated about two rows back from the Blakers who was giving herself and everyone around her a headache by constantly shrieking Jovi-oriented nonsense.

Needless to say, when the judges were finally introduced, I was more than ready to get this show on the road. The contestants took their spot and fidgeted around a bit, except for Melinda, who stared straight ahead. “Phil, baby, turn around,” chirped Debbie the Stage Manager, as Team Dad finished giving one last pep talk to a visibly petrified LaKisha. THIS… is American Idol.

Here’s what I can tell you about in-house audience reaction to the clips from Tuesday: Phil got lots of cheers. Melinda, not so many. Jordin had some late screamers. Blake had his anticipated super-sonic effect, and everyone clapped along. LaKisha received massive support but only from her own family. And Chris scored some light woos. I wouldn’t say those responses were indicative of what was to come. Meanwhile, if the cheers during the completely and grossly unnecessary Idol Gives Back montage are to be believed, Jack Black is the biggest star in the world, and no one knows who Elvis is. I also really enjoyed the clips from former Idols, equating the importance of their rise to stardom with the importance of feeding hungry children in Africa, but once again, it is mean to make fun of charity projects. By the time we made it through the pre-taped Robin “Whispers” Thicke performance, everyone was getting a little restless.

And then Phil left. And it got really sad. During his goodbye montage, I could see Jordin crying, her silhouette against a bank of TV screens wiping away tears. As soon as he kicked into “Blaze of Glory,” Melinda and LaKisha lost it, while Blake and Chris stopped their snickering and finger-wiggling for the first time all night and just stood at attention. The audience leapt to its feet, and I’ll admit to heartily applauding  my appreciation. Once the song was over and we went to break, the judges headed up on stage to dispense hugs, and Mrs. Stacey had to wait to hug her guy as Simon gave him what appeared to be a long, affectionate pep talk. Say what you will about his performance in this competition, but Phil honestly does seem to be a very likable guy, and I am genuinely worried about LaKisha’s psychological condition without him around to cling to. She and Melinda got their makeup touched up as Team Dad walked off stage for the last time, all the way being embraced and high-fived by band members, crew guys, and production assistants. Aw. We’ll stand by you, Phil.

But snap back to reality, it’s time for more show, so let’s move our Idol challenge winners to the front row for the sake of TV! Hooray, Idol challenge winners! And let’s tell Jordin she’s safe because we screwed with her head a lot last week! Hooray, Jordin! And then let’s take this momentum and… go to commercial! Boo. Oh, but it’s time for Bon Jovi to set up! Cue screaming!!! “Keep it down until I introduce them,” cautions Ryan, anticipating an audience explosion. We do! We keep it down! Raise your hands it’s Bon Jovi…

… singing that lame-ass country song. PopWatchers, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a spaceship when someone accidentally trips an airlock, sending all the oxygen in the room out into space and leaving everything inside dead. I haven’t. But I assume it would feel a bit like what I experienced last night as we all realized that we were idiots for thinking Bon Jovi (pictured) was going to play “Living on a Prayer” or “It’s My Life” or even “Bed of Roses,” and settled in to watch the lame-ass country song instead. How bad was it? Put it this way: After we went clear for the last commercial break and the band started to wander offstage, the studio was so quiet that Blake Lewis actually had to yell out, “BON JOVI, EVERYONE!” to get the crowd to applaud Jon as he left. And that, my friends, was the most I have ever liked Blake Lewis.

Coming down to the wire now, with the Taylor Hicks Begs You For Cash spot playing in two halves on the big screen behind the stage that’s split so they can pull the drum kit back. Corey the WUC is still working the hizzouse, and he stops to interview a girl two chairs away from me. I do not like mascots who approach me at baseball games, cats who crawl into the audience during musicals, or warm-up comedians at TV shows, and I did a little relaxing breathing/focused invisibility lest he see my notebook and decide to make a funny out of it, but I think he knew he was in press land and so he just tormented the small girl with the “I [heart] Chris” sign and then left. Debbie started counting down seconds again, Richie Sambora and Dave Bryan had to be physically dragged away from their conversation with Simon, and we were back, to say goodbye to Mr. Richardson.

As the two boys took center stage, Jordin walked down to hold Melinda’s hand. (By the way, I was asked to look for evidence of Chris and Melinda “canoodling,” but saw nothing; this gesture on the part of Jordin was the closest anything came to a sign Mel and C-Dawg had been special friends, and I don’t think it was much of a sign, and in fact if I hadn’t spent my entire life misreading romantic situations from an overly melodramatic perspective I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have thought anything of it at all.) The dudes shared their dude love with the world (aw…), offered to swap places with each other (AW….), and then it was buh-bye, Chris. His performance of “Wanted Dead or Alive” received a slow standing O as he crammed in every last vocal run that cowboy could take, and the group shared a farewell hug. Oh, hey — when I watched the show back at home, it sounded like someone in that hug’s mic was still on. Anyone catch what was said? I think I heard an “I love you guys,” but there was something else murmured, and it’s driving me crazy.

And that’s it. I was herded out with everyone else, alongside an older woman who turned to her friend and said, “It’s tiring, isn’t it, sitting in there?” My corneas attempted to blink a response, but they are now frozen in time, the AI logo stamped, upside down, in my field of vision. My car was waiting in the Grove parking lot, and as I made a right onto 3rd, a flock of peace protesters appeared on the corner, waving pieces of fluorescent posterboard that said things like “Stop the War” and “Honk for Peace” and “Bring the Troops Home.” I stopped at the light and pulled out my notebook. Those messages seemed important to write down, too.

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