Tanner Stransky
December 15, 2011 AT 07:02 AM EST

You know what being at a live taping of The X Factor is like? A boxing match.

Now, mind you, I haven’t been to too many boxing bouts in my time. (My reputation can’t withstand too many of those, honestly.) But I’ve hit a couple over the years, and being in the studio last night at L.A.’s CBS Television City as Marcus, Chris, Melanie, and Josh battled it out felt something like those nights at the MGM Grand Garden Arena: A big fight was going on in the middle of the venue; the crowd was yelling like crazy, sometimes shaking their fists; and yes, the stands were trembling with all the stomping and jumping from the audience. In fact, there were several moments where I thought we all might be going down in those stands together in one massive heap that would turn the entertainment-news world on its head, but alas, those stands at The X Factor can withstand quite a lot. Not a person was harmed — even those battling it out on stage — last night, thankfully.

The evening, with all its energy, however, did provide quite a few tidbits that I observed from inside that you most likely didn’t gather from watching on screen. (The commercial breaks at The X Factor tapings are rather entertaining!) The most interesting moments included everything from Paula strutting around the judges’ platform to a wave from a super-excited Mackenzie Phillips, who was in the crowd. Enjoy my observations from inside The X Factor dome:

Celebrity quotient: As usual, there were some bold-faced names in the house. Last night’s famous folks included former X Factor contestants The Stereo Hogzz and — wait for it — Mackenzie Phillips! Not sure what Mackenzie was doing there, but warm-up comic Bill pointed her out after the show and noted that she’d been rocking out the entire time. (Honestly?) There may have even been more celebs there: When I trudged up to my spot in the rafters early in the evening, I saw seats labeled for Glee‘s Amber Riley and The Artist star Penelope Ann Miller, but if they were there, they didn’t make much noise or get their moment in the spotlight from warm-up comic Bill.

Simon and the audience: During commercial breaks at The X Factor, Simon Cowell usually finds a moment or two to address the audience directly. During the first time-out last night, right after the crowd had booed him for giving Marcus Canty a harsh critique, Simon grabbed the mic from warm-up comic Bill and told all of us: “I love this audience. You’re mean. But not enough booing!” As a sign-off for the evening, just before he exited the dome, Simon also spoke directly to the audience again: “Remember: Vote for Melanie.” Simon is never one to pass up an opportunity to shill for his singer.

Strut it, Paula! During that same first commercial break, warm-up comic Bill complimented Paula on her dazzling red dress. So she got up, stood next to her pal Simon, and then turned the subject to her height: “This is what happens,” she said, “when I take off my heels.” And — this is probably no shocker to anyone who’s see Paula up close — but she lost six inches of her height and become a small, midget-sized person. “You’re like a Lollipop Kid!” Bill shouted hilariously. Maybe more like a Hobbit? Then Paula, in true screwball Paula fashion, proceeded to vamp around the judges’ platform showing off her sexy dress and shoes. You almost couldn’t help but smile while watching — partly because it was so weird and partly because she seemed so happy doing it.

Girl talk: The judges seemed to be pairing off by gender last night, during the breaks. Interestingly enough, several times, I’d look down and see Nicole and Paula gabbing to each other in a confidential way. Oh, to be a fly on the side of their Pepsi cups! I’d love to hear what they were whispering about — their beef with L.A. and Simon, maybe? Or, sharing hair-care tips? A possible pop-star collaboration in the works? The possibilities are really endless.

Sober Sal: In a moment both odd and touching, warm-up comic Bill checked out the section of the crowd that could have also been slugged the “Chris Rene support section.” He interviewed a guy who said he was “in recovery,” much like Chris himself, and called himself Sober Sal. “In my heart,” Sal told the audience during a commercial break, “Chris has already won because he touched so many people in our town.” This is the really real America, folks!

The man behind “Hero”: There was, indeed, another bold-faced name in the crowd, although most people probably don’t even know who he is. So it’s a good thing Paula pointed him out! After Melanie belted “Hero,” Paula threw attention to the song’s writer, Walter Afanasieff, who was in the crowd. “This is the guy who wrote ‘Hero’ for Mariah Carey,” she announced proudly to the crowd. Paula asked him what he thought of Melanie’s version of the song. He stuck his thumb up, to which Paula responded: “Thumbs up, really?!” It didn’t seem like she was expecting him to like Melanie’s arrangement of the song.

Rachel Crow’s presence, despite her absence: After her shocking elimination last week, she wasn’t there, but it felt like she was. A few rows in front of me, someone held a sign proclaiming, “We Want Rachel Crow Back!” When warm-up comic Bill spotted it, he told the audience about how there was a Rachel Crow doppelgänger in the front row that he almost mistook for the real gal. (Did they flash her on the TV screen at all, folks?) “Well, you can have the impersonator in the front row,” he told the person with the Rachel Crow sign. “Is that good enough?”

The pre-tape! So, after the show, the audience was kept in the studio for a pre-tape, which is somewhat common on talent shows like this. (It regularly happens on American Idol, where, for instance, Katy Perry would pre-tape her performance a week ahead of the results show where it aired.) Unfortunately, Fox won’t allow me to tell you who was there, but I’ll just say that there were actually four different acts — and that includes soloists and groups. The performance will be spliced into next week’s grand finale. It’s Christmas-themed and, actually, quite fun — and surprising. Prepare yourself! (And, if you really care to find out who it is and want to dig around on the web a bit, I’m sure you can find an outlet or two — or a blogger — who didn’t heed Fox’s embargo.)

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

Read more:

‘The X Factor’: Melinda Doolittle chats about the top 4 performance episode

‘The X Factor’: Name your top 4 Power List

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