Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup
Tanner Stransky
March 24, 2011 AT 06:42 AM EDT

American Idol fans, behold the great power of “Motown Night”! I don’t know exactly how the show played on television because I was inside the Idoldome, watching live from my not-so-comfy perch in row 6, but the Supremes-, Stevie-, and Smokey-infused night was surely one to remember from inside the belly of the beast out here in Hollywood. After last week’s somewhat of a letdown performance episode that found many of our beloved contestants (I’m really not being facetious, trusies!) hitting sour notes, this week couldn’t have been more brilliantly upbeat, fun, and — yes! — totally engaging.

For we Idoldome viewers, the festivities launched when comedic warm-up guy Jay began his usual song and dance to pump up the crowd: “It’s season 10! The most exciting season of American Idol! Are you excited to be here?” And of course, the crowd — last night, it was filled with quite the cross-section of folks, but the staple group of screaming girls were well represented, of course — was totally excited to be there. “I’m looking for the rowdiest people in the audience,” Jay announced. In fact, over the course of the night, he kept using that word: “rowdy.” “Get rowdy everyone!” “Where are all my rowdy people at?” “Who’s rowdy?” This crowd needed to be UP!

Before the taping began, we got a full view of the contestants: Stage manager Debbie brought the Top 11 out on stage to rehearse the show’s opening, which saw Ryan Seacrest walking through a double line of Idol hopefuls and announcing the night’s theme: “Motown Night”! During the rehearsal, Debbie reminded us all of our role in the opening, in her usual no nonsense way. After Ryan waltzed through the contestants and finished his dialogue, “You’re all gonna stand up and scream like…,” Debbie hesitated for just a moment, “…idiots!” Even when being likened to “idiots,” the crowd went absolutely bonkers. It was like: Challenge accepted! We can be idiots! When the opening actually went off, after the show was live, the crowd totally delivered.

There were more instructions for we Idoldome audience members, too: “It looks so much cooler on TV,” Jay told us, “when you clap with your hands above your head.” James Durbin liked the suggestion so much he tried to pump the crowd up by doing so himself between opening-segment rehearsals. Thia and Lauren, meanwhile, chummed-out together in the girls’ line. Are these two besties? Possibly. Really, who knows, but they certainly seemed pretty friendly. But actually, to be fair, friendly was certainly the vibe between all the contestants. You knew it was going to be a good night from that pre-performance rehearsal, as evidenced by everyone’s totally jovial mood. I mean, even just the first glance at Naima’s bell-bottomed pantsuit was reason enough for the crowd to celebrate.

Finally, after all that, the show began, and more so than other nights when I’ve been to American Idol, it really felt like a truly great concert — granted, a concert that changed moods from time to time. Let’s take a quick on-the-scene look at each of the performances and what happened that you might not have been telegraphed via your television.

Casey Abrams, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye): First off: The crowd loves this guy, even before he does anything. We all knew this was gonna be interesting as soon as the violins showed up on stage. He got a standing ovation, and launched the evening right. The vibe? Like, the fiery opening to your favorite concert performer. Casey, for his part, seemed to just soak it up, shaking his fists powerfully as the judges gave him glowing feedback.

During the commercial break after Casey’s performance, Jay pointed out that Steven Tyler’s daughter, Liv Tyler, was in the crowd, wedged between what appeared to be a gal pal and a hugely over-sized security guard. In fact, in one of Jay’s many annoying prize giveaway during the first commercial break, Liv took home an “I Love Casey Abrams” t-shirt. She seemed more than pleased to take home the swag.

Thia Megia, “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” (Martha and the Vandellas): Everyone was instantly on their feet for this one. My first thought: “Motown Night” is really fun! More so than ever before, Thia seemed comfortable on stage. Everyone — down to the head-bopping judges — was into this performance.

The commercial break after Thia’s performance featured several cat-calls (or would they be cougar-calls?) from older ladies in the audience. “We love you Steven Tyler!” Daughter Liv seemed more than amused by the situation, taking the opportunity to check out what kind of women were purring for her father.

Jacob Lusk, “You’re All I Need to Get By” (Marvin Gaye): Backup singers — that’s what you noticed from the get-go! During the clip leading up to his performance, Jacob looked so focused and thoughtful, which probably led to his rather intense and metered performance. Another standing O from the crowd! Jacob also took the opportunity to bow to bow to his bassist. So cute. And that Steven Tyler hug? It didn’t seem orchestrated or rehearsed at all. Steven literally just felt moved to get up and give Luskie a big ol’ hug. (And, then, per Ryan, several of the audience members felt so moved, too.)

Lauren Alania, “You Keep Me Hanging On” (The Supremes): That dress! The whole night featured Lauren twirling, touching, pulling up, and just generally dealing with her hot animal-print dress. The crowd couldn’t keep their eyes off it, even when the focus wasn’t supposed to be on her. Her totally hot performance brought everyone in the house quickly to their feet.

Stefano Langone, “Hello” (Lionel Richie): The vibe turned inside the Idoldome with this performance. (Did it on television, too?) Everyone sat, no clapping. It felt sorta…pensive? Stefano seemed almost nervous, but he still did a great job, in my opinion. But there was a definitely slowdown in the overdrive mode of the evening up to that point.

The commercial after Stefano’s performance featured a big announcement: Kirsten Dunst is in the house! (But why? What’s she promoting?) Plus Jay needed to check in with the “rowdy” people: “We are almost halfway through the show! Do we still have rowdy people in the house?” Yes, Jay, they’re still rowdy! Give the “rowdiest” ones makeovers at Bloomingdale’s, and be done with it!

Haley Reinhart, “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles): Haley’s performance continued the downer vibe that Stefano began for the crowd. People didn’t so much clap or stand up until she finished. But no one was particularly disappointed, least of all Haley herself, who seemed happy with how she did. (And there was no lipstick bungle this week, thankfully!)

Scotty McCreery, “For Once in My Life” (Stevie Wonder): Slow vibe continues! But no one knows how to work the crowd better than Scotty, who seems almost effortless with his smile. The girls go wild for him. In a weird way, it seems so orchestrated and so natural for him at the same time. And the night’s hyperactive “Motown Night” vibe? It essentially evaporated with this performance, but no one in the Idoldome seemed to mind — that Scotty vibe had taken over instead! The audience just love love loved Scotty. That wink? Swoon!

Pia Toscano, “All in Love is Fair” (Stevie Wonder): There’s a respect in the Idoldome when Pia is on stage. Like, literally, it was almost as if the school marm told the audience to sit up straight and pay attention to the beautiful voice. Respect the voice — that’s what everyone in the Idoldome did during her performance. No one moved! Thrilling and chilling at the same time.

Paul McDonald, “Tracks of My Tears” (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles): Now the night’s concert took on a singer-songwriter vibe, probably because a guitar was brought into the mix. Everyone was on their feet without prompt. Even though we were in the Idoldome, it felt like an intimate concert in a small venue, if that makes sense.

Naima, “Dancing in the Streets” (Martha and the Vandellas): Ramp it up again! The crowd ate up Naima, who seemed to know exactly what she was doing with her African dancing. Even if they hadn’t announced who was singing next before the commercial break, you’d know right away, as the grips started bringing out African drums. Naima, dang! Girl certainly brought the party back to “Motown Night.”

James Durbin, “Living for the City” (Stevie Wonder): It’s almost like everyone has been waiting the whole night for James to take the stage — the anticipation was certainly in the air! And more than anyone else, he worked the stage, playing to the crowd from the moment he came out until well after he was done performing. The crowd was immediately on their feet for this one, as you might guess.

So that’s the report from inside the Idoldome. Overall, a very good night — what could certainly pass for an entire, totally legit concert night on a respectable Idol tour. Here’s hoping you enjoyed it as much on the telly.

Read more:

‘American Idol’ Central

‘American Idol’ Top 11 Power List

‘American Idol’ behind the scenes: ‘Idol’ coaches talk the Top 11 — EXCLUSIVE

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