Monday, May 31, 2010

S9: Finale - "Beautiful Day"

“Tickets to the American Idol finale are just about impossible to get,” the security/stage guy informed me during Top 6 rehearsals. Hm...

The road to LA, it’s a road I have now driven 4 times in 3 months. It’s a road I have come to know quite well. If there was one thing I was determined to do this season, it was attend that Finale. The day after Crystal & Lee were announced the final two, I checked my email just about every five minutes, all day -not sure how much work I actually produced. I never did get an email with the ticket vouchers, but thanks to a dear twitter friend, Caitlin, I did receive that link!

Her and her family would also be helping two others girls get to the finale, one from Arizona & the other originally from Chicago, an old friend of Lee DeWyze. [Actually, they helped a number of people get to the finale including some of Lee’s close friends].

[This is how small the world is ... the girl who got me the ticket, I met her sister & mom back at Top 8 guys rehearsal, while waiting in the stand-by line to get in for the taping (neither of us did). When I started following her (& vis-verse), we had no idea of the connection until a few weeks later.]

My friend, Donna, & I drove up to LA Tuesday afternoon. We decided it would be in our best interest to spend the evening in LA, so we could be well prepared for what Wednesday had waiting for us. Our music choice for our 2 1/2 hour drive? Why the Season 9 Top 36, well at least those songs I had purchased from iTunes, and of course, “Slumberland!”

Upon arriving, we took a stroll down to the Nokia Theatre to get the lay of the land. It just so happened that Crystal & Lee were performing at the same time we wandered the area. We paced around the Theatre as I read the Twitter feed off my phone. Too be so close to the actual event but have to relay on twitter to get the feel of the show..... :/

While eating dinner at The Yard House, I saw a tweet from Christine, Andrew’s girlfriend (who I met the following day), that the idols were currently outside in the media tent. We quickly finished up our food (I downed a martini), paid and rushed out the door.

The only remaining idols were the Top 6 girls (minus Crystal), but I nudged my way toward the front of the crowd, grabbed my permanent marker, the front page of The American Idol magazine, my camera & my phone. First up was Siobhan Magnus, though I barely missed her. I was not aggressive enough in my endeavors to receive her autograph but I was able to snap a quick photo before she was pulled away for another interview. Katie Stevens was so intrigued by everyone's cheers she came over to chat, but again, I just wasn’t aggressive enough. Though Donna did keep shoving my arm forward to get Katie’s attention. [Mind you this is my first experience at such things]. Paige Mills was next, this time my torn out page caught her attention & she signed it [1 down, 11 to go]. I was never close enough to even suggest getting a picture with any of them, but I didn’t mind snapping shots of others getting their chance. I feel like Didi Benami wasn’t too sure what was going on. I got a little video of her running back & forth because she couldn’t figure out where she was suppose to be -this interview or that one. She decided to mosey on over to us since it appeared she was waiting for Lacey to finish up. She grabbed right for my page! [2 down, 10 to go]. I was starting to get the hang of this! Lacey Brown had to by my favorite. She is just so beautiful, sweet & cheery. She was so excited to see the magazine and asked if I even read it, “Great stuff in there!” [3 down, 9 to go]. I took a few more snapshots of Siobhan talking to some cameras and decided it was time to head back to the hotel to catch American Idol, west coast time. We would be back Nokia...just wait!

I’m not really sure I was prepared for what was to come. What I do know is that I could not sleep. My brain was going a 1,000 mph and I literally had “I’m leaving. I’m leaving. But the fighter still remains“ looping through my brain all. night. long. Needless to say, it was a long night and I had a long day ahead of me. The unfortunate thing about the whole occasion is that I was still recovering from a cold I got the Thursday before. Since I has been chatting it up earlier, by the time we got to bed my voice sounded awful.

The morning of the finale, I got a tweet from one of the girls that they would be on Good Day LA, so I tuned in just in time to see Caitlin holding cupcakes with Lee’s face on them. Ha ha. Not too long after, the station showed a glimpse of the line [this line was for those with voucher, to pick up tickets for the show] ... it was LONG and it was only 9:30. Last call for tickets, if they were still available, was 2:00. We quickly finished getting ready, packed up our stuff and headed down to the Nokia. We got there shortly after 10:00 and the line was wrapped around the block. I would say at least 500 people or more were in front of us.

We didn’t wait too long before they started passing out tickets. It truly is completely random. There are about 3 people who pass them out. You walk up to one guy, give him your voucher [that has been checked once for validity and once crossed checked on their list of names] he calls out the number in your party and waits till one of the ticket holders calls out “I got two tickets.” Then you walk up, grab them and your on your way for the day until doors open at 3:00.

For as far back as we were, we got pretty decent tickets: Orchestra section (floor), Row AA (27 rows behind the judges) and seats 318/319 (dead center). This would normally be absolutely amazing seats had the the middle section not been taken out for the cameras. We could not see the far right of the stage and while sitting, Donna often had to lean in to see center stage. Either way though, they were great seats. I can’t complain.

As for the girls we got the tickets from, they were first in line. Caitlin’s mom got in line at 2:00am. It was definitely worth it, they got 4th row seats. They sat right behind Kris Allen’s family & were surrounded by Idol alumni. I know I was jealous! We did have Nigil Lythgoe (So You Think You Can Dance) in the row across from us.

I did get the opportunity to briefly meet the girls when they were waiting in line, but we had to get a place ourselves, so it was a quick “hello.”

At this point we had time to kill, but since we were checked out of our room (dressed and ready to go), we didn’t really have anywhere to go but hang around The Nokia. Most of the red carpet and barricades had been laid out. I saw one of the Texan ladies we met at Top 6 rehearsals hanging out in front of the TV Guide set up, so we wandered over to chat some. Standing on the red carpet is actually blinding. You need sunglasses when you stand on it. Eventually we got kicked off since we were not special nor had a pass. There were quite a few people standing around the barricades so we decided that if we wanted prime spots, we needed to hunt them out & claim them now. Mind you, it was only a little past 11:00 and the red carpet wasn’t opened till 3:00. That’s four hours of waiting...

Donna went to get food while I scouted out for a spot. Security was ruthless. They wouldn’t let us stand or sit anywhere. I stood calmly a slight distance away and was never bothered. We switched out and I went to grab food. I got tea & 2 slices of banana bread, in which I ended up only eating half of one. Something about this excitement left me unable to eat. We ended up sitting outside of Starbucks for a while. It appeared useless to wait near the carpet since they kept kicking us out. We met a family who comes to the show every year. They were 2nd in line, arriving around 5:00 & got Row 8. Not too shabby.

Eventually I got impatient just sitting around, it was nearly one and I wanted a prime spot near that carpet! People had gathered where we had been earlier, apparently the security guard gave up on pushing people away. Psh. The only problem now was that they started putting the final touches of the red carpet up and that included an 8-foot wall right where we had access. Really? The area beside the media tent was getting setup for a winding line for us regular folks to enter the theatre come time for the doors to open (we had to be inside no later than 4:30) so that put a large gap between us and the red carpet which was about to be lined with media.

I noticed in the distance a small group of people lined up by a couple of barricades to the right of the front of the red carpet. We headed over there and staked our claim. It looked to be out best bet. Of course, one of the suited security guards insisted that we make are way across the street to the Staples center to watch from there because we would soon be kicked out by security. No, that was not going to be the case for me, I would wait to be kicked out. This became our focus for about 30 of us standing firm in our spots for the next 2+ hours.

Security eventually came but those to the left of the pillar were allowed to stay, those to the right had to go. We were on the left and I was at the front of the barricade. Bring it on! It was the best spot possible for viewers. The media LOVED us. I’m pretty sure my face graced numerous TV stations and cameras. My hair even made the actual American idol website! Ha. The coke girls came over and spoiled us with cokes & water.

While we waited, the group often erupted in “Lee” and “Crystal” chants. It became a battle of the idols...and Lee kept winning. :)

A few times, the suited security guy kept telling us that we would still have to leave eventually, but we stayed anyways. We were a rather stubborn group of people. This one lady seemed frustrated that she couldn’t get a better spot for a picture. Who was the lady? It was Momma Bowersox, and I don’t mean ‘Mamasox’ herself, but Crystal’s mom, and her brother Timmy. They didn’t get access to the red carpet and she really wanted a picture of Crystal walking the carpet. I ended up giving her my spot so she would have a better shot. Except, she was too impatient to wait and left hoping another lady with a professional camera would be able to snap one and send it her way. Her and her two kids ended up switching spots with Crystal’s mom. So much for my prime spot but I was still in a good spot with a great view.

Until....the sign! I swear the suited security guy had it out for us. He purposely placed the sign “This area is closed for a private event” directly in our view. He refused to move it or turn it. So what did we do? We started chanting “Move the sign. Move the sign. Move the sign.” Yes, we did. All the media were set, ready to go but stopped to stare at us. Eventually some nice guy came and turned it in such a way, we could see again. The suited security guy was not happy. He kept giving us the evil eye and he would walk past the sign in such a way he taunted us. I’m not lying. He did not like that we were there even though all the other security people said we were perfectly fine where we were. He would talk into his headset (which we all deemed was fake) and would just stare us down.

A little after 3:00, when some celebrities started arriving, other security came over and insisted we move. Not one of us turned to look at them. We had been standing there for 2 hours, told we were fine by numerous people, and we were not about to make a move and having someone else take our spots. We formed a solid union. And as one lady said, “You can’t change the rules of Poker in the middle of the game.’ After much failed instruction to get us to move, they gave up and let us be! We prevailed!

Some of the first to arrive on scene were Matt Giraud (S8), Michael Sarver (S8) & Scott MacIntyre (S8). Justin Guarini (S1) & Kimberly Caldwell (S2) were on site at the TV Guide area doing interviews. Most of the early arrivals were people no one recognized. They would come out of the nice cars and wave, yet nobody cheered for them. We noticed a lot of limos kept on driving by. My guess is they contained some surprise celebrities that would appear on the show. The Bee Gees, Hall & Oats & Alice Cooper all arrived on the red carpet around the same time. About this time the first celebrity/idol alumni - Michael Sarver (S8) came over to us to sign some autographs. I just missed getting his autograph, but we did chat a bit while he was signing the girl in front of me’s sign. I told him I enjoyed his new single “Ferris Wheel” and he asked if I had seen the video yet. “Yes! It is absolute beautiful.” I new he really wanted to sign my page but he was getting pulled away to go back to the media line.

In a rather large group and from the opposite side of the entrance came a slew of Idols, Kris Allen and his wife Katy, Allison Iraheta, Anoop Desia, Lil Rounds (all S8) and David Archuleta (S7). Allison caught wind of us and really wanted to come over but they would not let her. Those that broke that barrier... Constantine Maroulis (S4), Michael Johns (S7), and Bo Bice (S4). The only of the three’s autographs I got was Constantine before they were all pulled away from us again. Carly Smithson, Elliot Yamin & Blake Lewis (S7) tagged along with the idol alumni.

We were paying attention to those coming from the cars b/c few people were coming from our left, since it wasn’t really an entrance. Though Megan Joy & Norman Gentle (S8) slipped by us almost without notice. One former idol did not! In the corner of my eye, walking right in front of us, I saw this purple jacket & a head with a slight mullet.
Yes, I actually screamed it! Ha ha... He turned and look, and yes, it was! Alex Lambert, the one who should have been Top 12 this season! As soon as the crowed noticed him, they went crazy. He came over and signed my page, purposely over Ellen’s face, and I let him know how much I love his voice & music he has put out on “If I Can Dream.” He is one down-to-earth guy! He probably spent the most time with the fans out of anyone that stopped by.

Some other celebrities that we saw arrive were Chilli (formerly from TLC), Andrew Lloyd Webber, Dr. Drew, Lori Loughlin (Full House) & Nigil Lythgoe. Will Young & Janice Dickenson came over to say hi, they were the only 2 none American Idol to greet the fans waiting on the side.

One of the biggest reactions from the crowd was when General Larry Platt got out of the car, along with William Hung. Everyone broke out in some “Pants on the Ground,” as Platt showed of his new belt.

About 4:00 the current Top 12 finally arrived! Crystal Bowersox was pulled up in the Ford vehicle she designed, with Lee DeWyze trailing behind in his. The crowd over at the Staples Center, us, and all those around erupted in huge cheers as they existed. The crowd near the front of the carpet was so crowded it was hard to get glimpses of them. The remaining 10 followed after in various Idol designed Ford vehicles. Here are some photos of the Top 10 on the red carpet: Siobhan Magnus, Lacey Brown, Lee DeWyze, Lee DeWyze, and Casey James

By this time, it was necessary for us to get in line to enter the theatre, a line that was already wicked long. Try herding in 7,000 people at last minute because everyone was watching the celebrities come in. Despite my attempt to hide my camera & phone in my purse pockets, the lady seemed determine to find something in my purse reaching in every nook & cranny. :/ So I had to turn it in. Donna got hers through, as did MANY others. I didn’t plan on using them, I just didn’t want to deal with getting it back afterward.

Walking into the theatre was almost surreal. If you didn’t know, this would be my 4th American Idol taping/rehearsal this season. I saw two shows during semi-finals which are taped on a small circular stage surrounded by approx. 75 people. Very intimate. Then I saw Top 6 which is in the same studio but it was completely transformed with a large stage, massive staircases and seated approx. 450 people. Then to walk into the Nokia Theatre with 7,000 in attendance...I can’t imagine how the Idols felt after each transition.

I was very anxious. Perhaps it was a good thing there were no idols or celebrities within my surrounding area because I was hyped up. It was the finale! The last show! Tonight someone would be crowed the new American Idol! And then it would be over, but I couldn’t think about that...I had to think Lee or Crystal. I was nervous. I think a lot of it comes with the vicinity you are in, you can’t help but be involved.

With fifteen minutes till we were live, out comes the MC, Cory! Me and Cory? We have history. We go all the way back to the Top 20 result show where he mocked me all night and asked if I was putting on lip gloss to look good for “The Gokey.” We even go back to the Top 6 performance show were he gave me a personal shout-out in the studio & on twitter. Even that night I would get a simple shout-out at the end of the show, simple because I cheered. Let’s be friends, Cory, and hook my up next year!

Back to the finale, Corey gets the party pumping. We are up on our feet dancing in the aisles. He even brought on a few people to show off their dancing skills. He then introduced the judges, always in the same order: Kara, Randy, Ellen...and then usually with seconds to spare, (this time minutes) Simon. This would be Simon’s final entrance to American Idol. It was a bitter-sweet night. Ryan pops out and with that we are introduced to our Final 2: Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze. The crowd goes W.I.L.D. Debbie hops on stage and gives them each a hug and then starts a 10 second countdown while Cory lets us know we have 1-minute till were live. Huh? What? “6-5-4,” why is Cory still talking, [I don’t think they are ready] “3-2....” never-mind. False alarm. Debbie scared herself, yes, Cory was right, we still has 1-minute to live. I think everyone was anxious.

“Look to the screen.” Here we go. This is it. Crystal, Lee & Ryan wait at the top of the stairs.
“This IS American Idol!”
Despite it being a 2-hour (and 7-minute) show, it went by very quickly yet very slowly. The show was amazing. I remember when the boys came out to sing their songs with Hall & Oats ... Lee started singing and I jumped up and yelled,
“He’s got some swagger!”
I was very much involved in the night of performances. I would stand when no one else was standing. I would yell when no one was yelling. You can actually hear me when Ryan announces Kris Allen, I would be that first “Woo” that you hear! :) I was grinning, ear-to-ear when that boy was singing! When a song would start, I would be up on my feet (especially when Crystal & Lee were on stage). I would also be the one cheering when Ryan announced that Janell Wheeler was in Toledo with Crystal’s fans.

One thing I found interesting, during the commercial breaks, Cory would go around and chat with people, give away phones & ipod touches to 8-year olds (why?) and always ask, “Who’d you vote for?” Every since person he asked said, “Lee DeWyze.” The girls beside me would sigh in anger (they were Crystal fans). I knew at that point that if Lee did not win, the crowd would not be too pleased.

There was an interesting moment during Dane Cook’s song that was apparently not so planned. When the Idol rejects came out, the strange guy with the fur, sleeveless jacket (we saw him on the red carpet and nobody knew why), stole the mic from Dane. While him and Tatiana were fighting over the mic I heard in the backgroundAmerican Idol music in the background...yep, they cut to commercial early. Smart move. That guy did not want to give up the mic or get off the stage. Then adds Cory,
“Got to love live TV!”
I allowed myself to be distracted by the “seat fillers” during commercials. They would jump up from their seat, wanderer around for a new seat or some director would be calling those from the “crap” seats to move somewhere else. American Idol does not want an empty seat on TV. For instance, when the idol alumni had to get up for their song, they needed fillers. Not sure that would be fun. You never know where or if you’ll have a seat.

There are three girls who sit behind the camera section (where the only empty seats are cause you can’t see anything) with laptops. It took me a while to figure it out but they are at constant work with the pictures from the show. You see picture cards being passed back and forth. That way they have shots ready to go the moment the show ends. Pretty cool, huh?

One of my favorite performances was the Idol Alumni song. I knew something was coming, I just wasn’t sure what BUT that was amazing! You could feel the energy and emotion fill the room. What a moment! Kelly, then Rueben; Fantasia, then Carrie...and look, I see David Archie, Matt Giraud, Kim Caldwell...Awe, here comes the current idols (minus our Top 2). Wow! I’ll admit I almost got a little teary watching it. It would have been cool to have Crystal & Lee up there, one of them would be joining that elite group of Idol winners.

Though it seemed like it went by so quickly, it felt like it would take an eternity for Ryan to announce the winner. At one point, Donna asked for the time, but I didn’t have my phone to check. But I had this feeling at one point we were coming to a close. Sure enough, one more commercial and this was it! Crystal & Lee come out on stage. They share a beautiful moment hugging each other. The rest of the top 12 huddle up on the side. Andrew looked anxious from the distance. I was on the edge of my seat and my legs were bouncing. I would be happy either way...Crystal is amazing, but Lee was my guy! To be honest, I was kind of hoping it would be a tie.

Debbie starts to count it down ... “3, 2, 1...” and we are back. Here we go, the crowd is on its feet. I start to feel Lee’s anxiety. Poor guy looks sick. My head is going from the stage to the screen ... back & forth, not wanting to miss the reaction but wanting to see it actually happen. Ryan flips the card open, a piece of me starts doubting, but no, he’s got this! I know it! I can see Crystal mouth “Lee,” (Crystal knew it, too).
‘And the winner of American Idol is ... (the pause from eternity) ... Lee DeWyze!”
The crowd went nuts and I mean ... CRAZY! I literally leaped in the air (and got some height). He won! Uh oh, I think he still might pass out. The crowd does not stop cheering and the screens are flashing “Lee wins!”

That was an amazing moment to experience. Had I not had these tickets, I would have been sitting on my coach with my laptop in my lap watching a live stream, 3 hrs before it aired in California....not the same experience!

I caught a glimpse of his brother with the biggest grin possible! I imagine his mother was the same. Lee was emotional, but I don't think the camera even captured the real emotion. The atmosphere and feel of the theatre is indescribable. To be there in that moment! The song, the confetti, the tears, the cheers...It surely was a "Beautiful Day!"

I think someone got a little confetti happy, for a few moments I thought it swallowed up Lee but then he appeared of nowhere, trying to make his way to the stage behind the judges. When the cameras were off, he still couldn’t believe it. He gave a brief speech thanking everyone over and over again. He even acknowledge Simon before the ushered him off to do his “I’m going to Disneyworld” advertisement. It appeared he tried to go hug his family first but they wouldn’t let him. I watched him tape the commercial about 3 times before he got it right.

And that was that.
Season 9 of American Idol was over.
Four months of my life ended with two words, “Lee DeWyze.” And that is just what I hoped for when he auditioned with “Ain’t No Sunshine” and I responded, “Hey, that’s Kris Allen’s song ... oh, but not too shabby!”

We walked out of the theatre and I went to pick up my phone & camera. [My phone battery was about dead because I did my best to keep my Twitter followers up-to-date with the red carpet happenings.] We walked out and a huge crowd was already over at the media tent waiting for the idols to come out to talk to the press. I insisted we sit down for a while, so I could catch up on my @replies before we headed home. My feet were killing me (4 blisters and wicked sunburn--> totally worth it). Not too long after we sat, I started to hear some screaming, “Casey! Tim! Siobhan!” I had no energy to head over there...but when I looked up I saw a familiar face!

Standing my the theatre entrance was Christine Conception, Andrew Garcia’s girlfriend. I couldn’t not say hi. So I walked up and introduced myself (using first name & twitter name, ha). She totally recognized who I was and we chatted briefly. She’s super nice and adorable! Glad I stopped and said “hi.” So though I have yet to meet Crystal, Lee or Andrew ... I have met and conversed with their family (Lee’s mom, Crystal’s mom & brother, Andrew’s GF).

We grabbed some Starbucks on our way out and then briefly stopped by the media tent just as Tim walked over to the crowd to sign some autographs. I tried snapping a few shots of the tent in general (you can see Siobhan, Big Mike, Casey and Tim) and got one of Tim Urban before my camera battery died.

So that would be it, except we first passed by Debbie and I told her “great show!” before we finally headed out and back to our car. The whole ride home (despite our 30 mins on the wrong freeway....) we kept bringing up miscellaneous moments from the past two days. Lee winning, the performances, Alex Lambert...! It was phenomenal! We played mostly Lee’s music on the way home, of course, in celebration of our new American Idol!

I only got three of the Top 12 autographs, but I got 2 of the most important for the time being (Lacey and Paige, seeing as they won’t be on tour). But I do plan to complete that during the tour! :)

That was the end to my Season 9 Idol adventures. Four great stories! So many memories! And approx. 860 miles of driving.... all worth it! Right? I’d say so!

All my pictures from  The American Idol finale can be found here.