Alynda Wheat
April 08, 2009 AT 02:54 PM EDT

Do you know I almost did not get in? Okay, slight exaggeration. But they made me wait! In a line! With people! That’s what happens when you’re the sub — you’re not on the list. I tried to drop names — Whitney Pastorek, Adam Vary — but to no avail. Heck, I could’ve dropped Adam Lambert’s name and it still wouldn’t have worked, because the people who were “with Simon Cowell” were also standing at the CBS studio gate, in line … behind me.

But you know what? The most interesting things happen when plans go awry. Like maybe while you’re cooling your heels, Sinbad comes hobbling toward you on crutches. Yep, comedian, A Different World star, bodyguard for Hillary Clinton under Bosnian sniper fire — that Sinbad. You know I just had to say something.

Me: Why are you on crutches?
Sinbad: I blew out my knee.
Me: I’m sorry.
Sinbad: It’s all good. It’s go’n’ be okay!
Me: Feel better.

Okay, I said we had a conversation. I didn’t say it was a good one. Anyway, the nice Fox lady came to rescue me, whisking me through secret entrances known only to a privileged few…thousand. But guess who I passed on the way? Smiling George Huff, from season 3 of TV’s American Idol! I swear, he grinned at me like he knew me. So, again, I spoke up: “Why are you so happy?” Him: “I don’t know!” God bless him, we should all go through life that way. Not four seconds later, nice Fox lady and I sailed past Ray Liotta, and let me assure you that he’s one scary bastadge in person. He should get a little Huff in him, smile more.

addCredit(“Michael Becker/Fox”)

Finally, I was able to take my seat. Liotta wasn’t that far awayfrom me. I heard Lauren Conrad and Lo Bosworth were in the house (andI’m just gonna keep pretending that I don’t know who they are, becausein a perfect world I wouldn’t). Because I was late, everything wasalready in place: the spinning Idol globes that they stole fromMetropolis were already in orbit. The swaybots had long been herdedinto twin pits on the floor, which seems like a fire hazard. And Corythe warm-up guy was just getting warmed up. He plucked people from theaudience to go onstage. He made nice, middle-aged white people shaketheir groove thangs. (Truth be told, they were better dancers thanCory.) Fortunately, stage manager Debbie informed us that we were liveto the East Coast in seven minutes.

Then, it all happened just this way: Kara came out to polite,restrained screams. The Idols made their way to the stage to masshysteria, starting with Adam and ending with Scott. Randy got love fromthe swaybots on his way in, followed by Paula’s brisk sashay to herseat. (I’m not sure you could fully appreciate this on television, butshe was wearing a tutu. No, a tutu. No, she did it on purpose.)Then, ladies and gentleman, the man of the hour: Simon Cowell! That’sSimon Cowell! Wait, he still didn’t walk in. Let’s make the lights dothat crazy sweep around the audience to amp up the anticipation. Okay,again: Simon Cowell! No? Still no? Can somebody find Simon please, hemissed his entrance. Okay, then cue Ryan. No, wait, here’s Simon.Finally. Apparently, somebody thinks they can show up 20 seconds tillair time, late for his own dang intro.

Ooh, snap! Simon just stopped to talk to Randy and Paula. Yeah, justRandy and Paula…while Kara sat the judges table … talking to no one.Awkward. But you know who Simon chatted up more than anyone in thewhole wide audience? Paula. They flirted, they finger-wagged back andforth. (I have no idea what that means, but don’t most couples havecute, nonsensical inside jokes like that?) They R in luv, y’all! In myhead, anyway. It would explain so much: the love taps, the sexualtension, the fact that they must have conspired not to use actual babypictures in the opening montage. Seriously, someone, somewhere hasphotographic evidence of Simon Cowell in nappies. We want!

Anyway, it was time for the performances. While Danny Gokeyremixed “Stand By Me,” Kara was getting a message (oh goody, someonedoes talk to her!), while Randy head bobbed his way through. I’d saymore about the Goke, but the giant orange sign reading “Minnesota LovesDanny” blocked my view. Hmph, the people holding the other orange sign,”Gokey’s No Jokey” were kind enough not to hoist it in front of me.They were raised right. Once the Minnesotans lowered their billboard, Icould see Simon and Paula chatting away again. I love fake love. Toobad it’s so fleeting, because as you know, the instant they go tocommercial the judges are up like they all have to pee. When you get tobe a big, fancy star, nobody dares to tell you to go before the show oryou’re going to have to hold it. Ooh, we’re back in 60 seconds.

While Kris settled on the Stool of Anticipation, Cory found abirthday girl. Ms. Twenty-two Today planned to hit a Snoop Dogg concertat 9 o’clock. Cory: “He’ll go on around 11.” Cory, you sir, are a wit.Anyway, enough from you, warm-up dude. With 10 seconds to air thejudges were just filing back in. Even as Ryan came back fromcommercial, they were still getting settled. Where do they go?! Wouldit not be easier to just sit still for a freaking hour?! They’re likewiggly pre-schoolers hopped up on Pixie Stix. Meanwhile, poor Kris hadto fight his way through the swaybots to get to his spot and hisgeetar. It must be said that in the shiny blue IdolThunderdome, he sounded strangely muffled. That, or my hearing aidsdidn’t like the frequency. (No, I’m not joking. Sometimes they spazz atad in loud places.) As he finished, and just as I was thinking thatfrom the back Simon looks like a Marine ca. 1959, Randy spoke to Kara.Phew! For a second it looked like she might be the girl on theplayground with cooties. But he had her back — and of course, Simon andPaula once again had their heads together.

Speaking of the backs of people’s heads, it’s fascinating what youcan learn — particular from Randy. When his bobs, he’s digging aperformance. Occasionally, it’ll pop up when someone does a cleverriff, like a kid hearing the ice cream man coming up the street. WhenAnoop actually came with it, putting his own sauce on “True Colors,”you could tell Randy heard the jingly promise of a red-white-and-blueBomb Pop heading his way. With Karaoke Lil, it was the sad head-shakeof resignation. No jingle, no Fudgesicle. It was a dull string of hitsand misses so monotonous, I couldn’t blame the judges when they allstarted to flee after Allison’s capable take on “I Can’t Make You LoveMe.” But they were thwarted — at least for a moment. Reality TV evilgenius Mike Darnell stopped them mid-stride, imparting some sort ofpressing news. Then he ushered them out for Something Important. Oddsare, we’ll never know what. It’ll be that last case that sticks withus, long after we’ve handed in our guns and badges and retired to ourcabin in the woods in a lovely town the tourists haven’t discoveredyet. Try not to let it haunt you.

At least Cory was having fun. While the judges were out he foundsome women holding a “Teachers Hot 4 Cowell” sign and teased them forditching school. He pouted that a girl from Santa Monica wouldn’t talkto him, then punished her by telling everyone that since she wouldn’tmake nice, he wouldn’t give her an iPod Touch. Instead, Sammy from SanDiego walked away with it — as did a 9-year-old girl, a boy who couldn’tdecide if he was 7 or 8, and Ms. Twenty-two Today (so yeah, she went toIdol, saw Snoop Dogg, and got an iPod).

I looked down to take notes on all the iPod Touching, then looked upto see the judges magically back in their seats, just in time for AdamLambert’s brilliant take on Tears for Fears as the show went intoovertime. That’s when I witnessed something rare — the back of SimonCowell’s 1950’s Marine head rising up to give Adam a standing ovation.You might have heard me shriek. It’s entirely possible — I was lost inthe moment. And then it was over. Paula waded into Swaybot Swamp. Karaand Randy split. Simon was gone so fast that next time I walk into the Idoldome I’m going to check for trapdoors. Then the Idol Guarddirected us out of the back of the theater, onto the street, and backinto anonymity. Just as I was marveling at the juxtaposition, Celebrity Apprentice provocateur/America’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan walked by. Him I didn’t talk to.

What’d you think, PopWatchers, should George Huff get an Idolreunion walk-on? Who’s got a theory on why Ray Liotta was in the house?Is there anyone (like me) who’d actually prefer to watch the show fromthe comfort of their own couch? Share with the class, please.

More ‘American Idol’:
‘American Idol’: What did you think of Top 8 performance night?
Idolatry: Megan on rude judges
‘Idol’ power list: Ranking the top 8
‘Idol’ Cheat Sheet: The season so far…

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