With the fires of AMERICAN IDOL still burning, FOX and the show's producers thought it appropriate to air a 2-hour Las Vegas special while everything was still fresh in people's minds. Since I got sent to a whole other city to write this recap, I thought it appropriate to start off with a long-winded, overly pompous and dramatic introduction. I met my goals, so let's see how the show went.
Of course, you can't have a show like this without a lot of preparation, planning and rehearsal. Not really on my part. Give me a notepad and I'm all set. But these kids have a lot more to do, like learning new songs and dance steps. Particularly the lower 20 of the group, who I'm guessing haven't been studying Darren's Dance Grooves four times a week since the day they were cut. We need to sand the rust off of some of these cherubs.
I bravely trek all the way through the MGM Grand Hotel to the MGM Grand Arena, all of which is covered with MGM Grand Carpet. Lest any of you think I don't deserve credit for a simple walk, it took at least twenty minutes, and I didn't leave the building once. This hotel is like a damn city. A damn sexy city!
The first thing I do when I get behind the scenes is slap on my official "important person" decal, thus branding myself as an important person, free to roam wherever I choose. Tremble before me! I have a sticker on my chest! Pushing the limits, I head right backstage to wardrobe to see what's kicking. Within minutes, the Georgia Peach Pit, EJay Day, and his wild puff of hair exit the room. My first celebrity sighting! Kind of. For the record, EJay is wearing big, yellow Homer Simpson slippers. Maybe he just wants to pamper his feet before dancing. We'll see.
After my brush with pseudo-fame, I'm killing a little time and I start playing with a marker. Like most geniuses, I end up with marker all over my fingers. Better head into the bathroom to wash it off. When I'm in there scrubbing up, Jim Verraros ambles in, looking like one of Michael Jackson's cronies from the "Beat It" video. He kinda glares at me. Oh God. This is how it ends? Catching a knife in the spine in a backstage bathroom?
Finally making my way into the arena, I feel a little like Fernando Vargas walking down the runway. Except I'm not about to be punched in the face in front of a big crowd. Unless Paula Abdul spots me. Anyway, the new Vegas AMERICAN IDOL stage is big, glitzy, showy and oh so Vegas. Multiple levels. Stairs everywhere. Big media screens hanging from the sky. Pillars. It looks really nice, actually. I'm always impressed by what these crew guys can do. See? Not so jaded after all. As a note, the media screens right now are displaying "Sweetwater." Is the band from Almost Famous playing tomorrow night? Is Jason Lee around? I dig that cat. The only concern I have about the stage is the 15-foot platform right in the middle. I sure hope nobody plummets to their death on the show. That could really bring things down. Keep RJ off of that thing. He's got a bad track record.
First thing they're going to do today is rehearse "California Dreamin'" I hope they put A.J. back on guitar for this one. Such magical string picking! The stage coordinator begins calling all 30 kids to the stage to begin the rehearsal. She only needs to call them about seven times. Eventually, and without much interest, the kids slowly begin shuffling toward the stage. Of course, nearly every single one has to wrap up a cell phone chat first. Add some posses and these kids are full-fledged celebrities. They already don't listen when people are talking to them. They're halfway there!
Surprisingly, all 30 kids have shown up. I guess Brad Estrin got somebody to cover his shift at Banana Republic this week. "C'mon, dude! Take my Tuesday and Wednesday, and I'll take your Thursday and Friday! Dude! C'mon! I gotta be on TV!"
As Kelli Glover walks by, I see that she's straightened her hair and added extensions. As Jamar walks by, I see that he's added a red tint to his hair. At least this show isn't going to everybody's head. You know, I didn't get a makeover. Okay, I do wear a platinum blonde wig now when writing, but that's cool.
You know, something's just struck me. The little bit this column works stems from the fact that we see the same things, then I make fun of them. Now, you have to pay rapt attention to my fascinating descriptions. Hmm. This could be a major disaster. As opposed to most columns, which are simply minor disasters.
If you were wondering, and I can't imagine you were, EJay is still wearing his Homer slippers. To rehearse. In front of a bunch of people. Bold. Also bold is the choreography from "California Dreamin'." During the chorus, the boys are supposed to squat down next to a girl. The choreographer, who goes by Peggy I gather during the day, advises the boys, "Don't look at any crotches." Always tough advice for me to follow.
Right now, the rehearsal process can only be described as "frantic." People are out of place. Nobody knows the steps. The choreographer is trying to yell at people without upsetting their sensitive, artistic souls. How will it all come together for tomorrow? Oh, the drama!
After the 29 non-winners take a bottled water and healthy snacks break, Kelly takes the stage to work on "A Moment Like This," her #1 hit single, available in stores everywhere. Hey! Marketing guy! Get the hell away from my keyboard! Kelly is wearing the official celebrity's day off uniform of a baggy gray sweatshirt and a baseball hat pulled low over the eyes. As for me, I'm wearing shirt B in my three-shirt rotation.
Backstage while Kelly rocks out, some of the other kids work out their pacing for "Footloose." I suppose the soundtrack from Caddyshack was unavailable at the time. Everybody cut loose! And they do.
Now the time comes to rehearse the show's intro number. All thirty kids are a part of this one. As you can imagine, it's quite easy to corral them all from their various places around the arena. They all hustle right to the stage, if you can consider taking fifteen minutes hustling. I know I do. Cue the video for the intro, please. The first thing we see is an overhead shot of the sprawling MGM Grand Hotel fortress. No wonder that woman said Kirk Kerkorian is her daughter's father, or "baby daddy" like all the kids are saying. I'm thinking about blaming him for three of my kids. Look at this place. They must make $10,000 a year here, easy.
During the rehearsal of the opening dance number, the producers and choreographers keep saying, "And the pyro comes in here." Pyro? As in pyrotechnics? Or is this a new wrestler? Thirty bored kids barely paying attention to their marks mixed with explosions? Should be a hoot.
After watching the rehearsals for a couple of hours, I begin to realize that maybe the other twenty aren't so happy to be here. About thirteen of them look absolutely miserable. Like it's a punishment to be on a big, glamorous television special. They should take a note from Kathie Lee Gifford. She loves these things. And yes, by making a Kathie Lee crack, I've officially become a registered "comedian." I expect my union card to arrive in the mail next week.
Bored of watching bored kids, I decide to wander around a bit. Back in the dressing room area, I meet the assistant wardrobe director. I'm not sure if that title should be capitalized. I guess not for an assistant. You gotta earn those big letters, son! Anyway, he's wearing white running pants, a white denim vest with nothing underneath and a backwards white hat. Perhaps this is why he's just the assistant wardrobe guy. He looks like a frat jock-type guy straight from central casting. I half expect him to start doing keg stands in the middle of rehearsals. "C'mon, Chad, you're ruining this. Quit drinking." "I can't quit. I'm too hammered! Whoooo!"
It's getting late in the day, and everybody is about ready to break for dinner. Especially me. Give me some free pizza, please. I'm begging you! But, before we go, Alexis slips on the stairs onstage and opens up a gash on her knee. Looking at her top, I can see why she has balance problems. The production staff urgently calls for a paramedic. I'm not one, but I can spell it, so I figure that's qualified enough. After a look at the cut, I advise Alexis to just RICE it. Rest, ice, compression, elevation. Or maybe that's for sprains. I also offer to kiss it and make it feel better, but I'm rebuked.
As I'm walking out of the rehearsals, Alexis is bleeding, people don't know the lyrics or sassy dance steps and there's a good chance that somebody will be incinerated by a pyrotechnic effect. Or else Alexandra Bachelier will step into the flames on purpose to end her obvious misery. If I had to wager a guess, tomorrow's show will be a complete disaster. Expect for the recap. I think it's been really terrific so far.
The gang and I head out for an evening of revelry on the Strip, which brings the part of this article about the first day to a close. But tomorrow
It's a new day! Show day, in fact! The big two-hour AMERICAN IDOL special from Las Vegas will tape later tonight. Right now, there are still 3½ hours until show time. The kids are milling around the arena, most of them dressed in all black. Alexis' knee seems to be fine. It's hard to tell, because I'm not really looking below her waist. Man, she's open with those things. Congratulations! And of course, now that Alexis has turned 18, my comments have moved from creepy and illegal to simply dirty.
A production-type person comes around and tells the kids they need to change into blue jeans for the opening number. Kristin Holt greets this with, "Yeah, I'm coming. To change for the 30th time today." Gee, sorry to burden you with our unreasonable demands before putting you on national TV. Besides, shouldn't a pageant chick be used to changing multiple times a day? Pageant chicks know how to get out of a swimsuit and into a gown in three minutes, and they know they want world peace. Other than that, they're blank.
Justinn Waddell struts by, his shirt wide open. This kid believes in buttons less than the inventor of the zipper. Following closely behind Justin is the assistant wardrobe director from yesterday. Today, he's wearing all black. And yes, a vest. I don't think I'll run into this guy tomorrow, but if I do, I'm sure he'll be wearing all red.
The kids come onstage to rehearse their country rock number. Somewhere, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams weep. Watching this number, I determine that A.J. stands for "Anti-Johnny Cash."
After that ditty, it's time for Kelly to rehearse her number with tonight's surprise guest, Reba McEntire. Kelly turns into a big, giddy kid. It must be nice to experience such joy. Winning a million dollars and meeting your biggest idol. Sounds like fun.
Today's rehearsal is going a lot smoother than yesterday's, that's for sure. Whatever happened after I left for dinner sure is working. Maybe it was just the simple fact that I took my hideously bad mojo with me when I left.
Reba and Kelly wrap up their number, and as she leaves the stage, people with a camera and microphones start interviewing Reba. Brilliantly, I deduce that they're television people, and my thoughts are confirmed when the Extra producer standing next to me panics and yells, "Access Hollywood has Reba!" Oh no! where did they go wrong? Since they got scooped on Reba, they'll have to lead tonight with that piece about Frankie Muniz at the putt-putt course! Ah, celebrity journalism. So damn dignified.
Ninety minutes before the show is scheduled to begin, the ushers start filing in. Their teal blazers match the arena's teal chairs perfectly. Somehow, this makes me want to gamble more. This whole place is one big mindsqueeze, designed to milk more hard-earned bills from my pocket.
Seventy minutes later, it's twenty minutes to showtime. If you're wondering what happened in that time lapse, the answer is nothing. I find my seat, and the crowd is buzzing as I sit down. I reject the logic that the crowd was probably already buzzing before I even entered the arena.
There's a big crowd in here tonight. I estimate it at somewhere between 54 and 10,000 people. Are all of these people from Las Vegas? Or does AMERICAN IDOL already have a fan base that follows them around like Phish? I don't see a single hackeysack or drum circle in the building, so that can't be it.
A quite glamorous couple sits down a few rows in front of me. They're wearing matching tan linen outfits. So elegant. And they're each about 20 years old. It's like they're playing dress up. The dude is wearing a peasant shirt. Who does he think he is? Justin?
The seats next to me fill up with a bubbly young girl and her boyfriend, who could pass for an 18-year old Mark McGrath. I wonder if he likes bad power pop too. You know, I hate to sound like an old codger, and it may be way too late for that anyway, but all the kids these days dress in the same rebellious manner. They all try to hard to be "nonconforming" like they're little reverse-Orwell youth. Where does it go from here? By sometime next year, I think teen punks that want to stick out will wear white polo shirts tucked into neatly-pressed chinos and have short hair with a sensible part on the right side. I don't know what other option they have.
A girl walks by in a white beaded prom dress with a feather boa. Damn, baby. The show's not that important. It's getting closer to start. The show's executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe, comes out to warm up the crowd. "Any Nikki fans here?" Some people yell cheer and some boo. This girl is polarizing. He might as well warm up the crowd with a treatise on the death penalty. We're getting closer and closer to showtime now. So how did the show itself turn out? Move your eyes to the right for that answer.