'American Idol' on the scene for the Top 13: Jimmy Iovine cheers Stefano, sits for Scotty

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Image Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox/PictureGroup

“Do I need my earplugs?” This was the question a kind woman asked of me as I sat down next to her before the Top 13 performance show of American Idol. It turns out that not only was it her first trip inside the Idoldome, it was the very first time she had ever seen American Idol. Seriously, ever. I imagine this must be akin to never having seen a baseball game and then going to Yankee Stadium, or trying Mexican food for the first time by biting into a dozen jalapeño peppers at once. At one point, the kind woman turned to me, and in all earnestness asked, “So, is that all Ryan Seacrest does? Stand there and introduce people and say numbers? I thought it was somehow more involved.” I am not totally embarrassed to admit that I felt a pang of protectiveness for widdle RyRy in this moment — after observing him in action for going on five seasons, the guy really is great at his job.

For one thing, Ryan managed to keep the show feeling buoyant in the face of the three-and-a-half hours most of us spent inside the Idoldome Tuesday night pretaping Wednesday’s show. By the end of it, Cory the Warm Up Comic felt compelled to apologize by way of promising that from here on out, Idol would always be live (to the East coast) (on a small Steven-Tyler-buffer delay). As for what happened during our marathon session of Idol‘s first official finalists performance night, let’s take a journey, shall we, into the highlights, and lowlights, of what you didn’t see on TV, starting with the (long-awaited?) debut of Idol Season 10 The Remix’s Official Mentor, Jimmy Iovine.

The Jimmy Iovine Standing Ovation Barometer of Quality vs. Scotty McCreery’s Torrid Love Affair with the Idoldome Studio Audience When I spoke to the Idol exec producers last December for EW’s Idol cover story, Nigel Lythgoe had indicated to me that the show’s post-Simon blunt truth-teller would likely be Iovine. Er, turns out, not so much, unless the Idol editors simply left the bit with Jimmy telling Jacob to avoid giving the word “fly” 14 syllables on the cutting room floor. Instead, the Interscope-Geffen-A&M chairman apparently shows his true feelings for the Idol contestants only with his post-performance enthusiasm. Jimmy (pictured, right, with Motown Records guru Berry Gordy) was the first to applaud Lauren after the judges’ lukewarm reception of her uptempo Shania Twain number. He joined the studio audience’s rousing ovation for Casey’s growl-y Joe Cocker, but, like the audience, Jimmy remained seated after Ashthon’s wobbly Diana Ross. Jimmy stood and applauded for Paul, Pia, James, and Haley, but for Thia, he yawned, and when the audience rose for her obligatory ovation, he remained firmly seated. His body language for Karen was even more troubling; first, dismissing her shaky Selena with a limp hand wave, and then watching her critique leaning forward with his head buried in his hands. Stefano was a different story entirely: Jimmy was practically the first to rise to applaud, charging the air with his fist, and he stood back up again after the judges finished their critiques — Jimmy loves this kid. And he loved Naima too, grinning wide and clapping enthusiastically for her high-wire rendition of “Umbrella.”

As for Scotty, the North Carolina teenager whose take on Garth Brooks’ “The River” had the audience roaring with approval with such sustained volume that I literally wrote “ROOOARRR!” in my notebook? Scotty, whose mere name caused pockets of women young and old to collapse in a torrent of squealing? Scotty, who had the audience already murmuring with barely contained delight when his intro video package revealed his music idol was Garth Brooks? Yeah, Jimmy Iovine did not look like he was so much feeling Scotty. He remained firmly planted in his seat as the rest of the studio erupted into an Oprah’s-favorite-things lather, and when Randy subsequently implored Scotty not to change, Jimmy’s arms did not budge. How this budding enmity develops over the season (and/or in my addled imagination) is anyone’s guess, but judging from my still-ringing eardrums, the safe money is on Scotty coming out ahead.

Other notable moments from the night:

Let’s do the wave! And again! And again! Times infinity! Woo! Before the show, Cory and Debbie the Stage Manager led the audience in at least a dozen rehearsals of that Idoldome stadium wave that opened the show. We had cue lines, we had choreography, we had specific instructions to “Woo!” And when it came time for us to perform, we did so admirably. “When we win our Emmy for this audience, we’ll share it with all of you,” said Debbie, who then had to ask use to do the wave again after camera troubles botched the first run. Already clearing my mantelpiece for that Emmy, Debs.

Did any of these kids go to summer camp? Before the show started, Debbie brought out the Top 13 to shoot an intro package for Thursday’s results show. She had the contestants stand in a circle, facing inside, the camera panning by their faces at a deliberate (i.e. dramatic) pace. After the camera had passed Lauren and Haley, the two girls got themselves into such a forceful mock cat fight, Lauren appeared to have smacked/scratched/impaled Haley’s hand; all I know for certain is that at one point Haley grasped her hand while mouthing “OW!” so widely, the cheap seats could see if she has her wisdom teeth. (Not really.) So: Take two. “Kids, smile on this next pass,” implored Debbie, “like you’re happy!” With that happy take in the can, someone, somewhere decided for aesthetics/logistics/audience torture, the kids should also all be shot facing outward in a circle. You would think the basic task of standing in a circle would be simple enough for 13 near-professional performers, but eventually Debbie had to step in to physically arrange them all.

Lauren Alaina’s apt tongue With the results show circles finished, the audience wave completed, and the judges in their seats, Ryan tried to start the show in earnest, and almost immediately, Nigel and Debbie began frantically moving about the studio, Nigel finally parking himself on the steps just below the judges table. Just as Ryan cued up Lauren’s interview package, production halted for a never-fully-explained technical issue in the “booth” (which I believe is a truck sitting just outside Idol‘s CBS Television City soundstage, but I digress). We sat waiting for said issue to be resolved for nearly a half hour, while Cory dragged a precocious kid named Robert onto the stage for interviews that consisted mostly of Robert answering, “I don’t know” to Cory’s every query. Through most of it, a freeze frame of Lauren speaking in her video package sat on the Thunderscreen, her tongue peeking out of her mouth just enough to embody the sentiment everyone in the audience was beginning to feel for the slightly scrambling Idol crew.

A brief note on earpieces and studio speakers Before we continue, I should acknowledge what some of you I’m sure noticed last night: The judges were wearing what appeared to be in-ear monitors during the performances. On the one hand, I don’t blame them — the studio sound system at American Idol is famously cranked to dance-club decibels (i.e., yes lady sitting next to me, you will likely want to use those earplugs). The thundering volume blasts out many if not most imperfections from each singer’s voice (unless your Paul McDonald, in which case the in studio audio system struggles to register your apparently irresistible rasp at all), and gives the studio audience an aural experience at times far different from the ones viewers are having at home. Simply put: People (who aren’t Paul) just sound better in the studio than on TV. On the other hand, those ear monitors now mean the judges really have no excuse for praising performances that everyone at home can hear are at best off pitch.

Nigel, the swaybots are gone, please just deal with it Speaking of Paul, during his performance, Nigel wandered into the audience, and began forcefully clapping above his head — and like the trained monkeys we are, everyone began to join him. Nigel pulled the same trick again with Scotty, but by that point the audience was seemingly so transfixed by the low-voiced lad that Nigel’s overhead applause never quite gained enough traction to have a life of its own.

Ryan is cramped After Pia performed “All By Myself,” the production shot James and Haley’s outro button three separate times, in an attempt to get everyone in the Idoldome peanut gallery to stand behind them and cheer. (Yup, it took three tries to get people to stand correctly.) Then Debbie forced everyone to be quiet, as they had to do an audio pickup with Ryan. We all fell into a hush — what was Ryan going to say? Did he flub Pia’s numbers? Was he going to cover for Steven wishing everyone a “Happy International Woman’s Day” on a show that was going to broadcast the day after International Woman’s Day? Were we gonna have to do the wave again? Okay, and we’re rolling, and cue Ryan: [Chuckling] “Oh, charley horse, charley horse!” Quick mini contest in the comment boards: Who can come up with the best totally not realistic scenario in which Ryan would be called upon to use those words? (Keep it clean, folks.)

Cory primes the pump for Naima In the final ad break, before Naimi even took to the stage, Cory was busy boostering for her performance. “This next one is going to be hype,” Cory explained. (Yes, he really does use words in that way, and yes, I think he’s entirely aware that he’s doing it — hence the comedy.) “Y’all ready to get up and party?! We’re going to end this thing with a bang!” At first, I thought Cory was playing favorites, trying to win Naima a berth on next week’s show. In hindsight, however, I think Cory inadvertently took some of the wind out of Naima’s sails, stealing away the surprise of discovering her performance without any preconceptions for what ending a show “with a bang!” would entail. Just food for thought.

So how did Naima play at home for you, PopWatchers? Were you sufficiently surprised? Who do you expect to go home? And how happy are you that the show will be back to live broadcasts from here on in?

Read more:
‘American Idol’ Central
‘American Idol’ recap: Let’s hear it for the ’90s
‘American Idol’ behind the scenes: ‘Idol’ coaches dish on the Top 13
‘American Idol’ Our live blog of the Top 13


Comments (43 total) Add your comment
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  • darclyte

    Just because Cory says that it’ll be live next week doesn’t make it so. They could keep it “live to tape” until the Top 10 in order to make sure that they fit the show into 2 hours, as well as continue to work out any technical issues.

    • d

      I think that one of the girls will be going home. Good chance that the bottom 3 will be all girls. Those girls on the show seem like they have manipulative behavior problems.

    • calistoga

      @d: I agree with you! I think at least 3 gals will be off’d before any guys. Top 2 gals are Alaina & Pia. The guys are all great in their own unique ways, but my money says Idol will be one of gals.

  • TorontoTom

    This taped-and-presented-as-live NONSENSE is really ridiculous. How long before they take them into a studio with Quincy Jones and record the song so that they can lip-sync “live” on Wednesdays?!? Way too much audience manipulation – just let them SING LIVE and let the viewers decide.

    • Yo

      Yes, totally agree, there is far too much room for fiddling with the performances after the fact.

      • calistoga

        There are some who obviously do not understand the logistics of sound effects. Otherwise, they would not make such ignorant remarks as “lip-sync live” and “fiddling with the performances”.

    • Sally

      As long as the show doesn’t go overtime, something that happened too often in past Idol years, I am just fine with the recording.

      The Idol producers won’t mess with the performances – there is a live audience that will say something if the producers do mess with something.

      • Kevin C.

        Even if they won’t mess with the performances (and are you SURE about this?), they’ve been messing with other things. Jordan’s “It was offered to me” comment about his poor song choice miraculously never saw the light of day, lest sensitive ears hear it and think it meant someone chose a song for him…

      • calistoga

        Jordan’s attitude during is last two weeks had more to do with determining his fate. His performance was less than stellar, so he should man-up and shut-up. Idol doesn’t need to mess with and will not undermine these performances. If you’re determine to think conspiracy or conflict of interest, then think Simon Cowell and S9!

    • PN

      I think that Jennifer and Steven are not quite ready to do the performance shows live and want to do the results shows live. I think they don’t want to say anything too critical on live TV to the contestants.

      • Suncatcher

        None of the judges can say what they really want to this year as the PRODUCERS are also judged at the same time. The 3 already have worked with these producers or will have to work with them in the future. It’s the main problem with this year’s format. So, don’t blame the judges – they showed all of us that they could be very forthright during the auditions.

    • paul

      I found it interesting that these kids did WAAAAAY better in their auditions and performances thru the Hollywood rounds than they did with Jimmy Iovine and his team of TOP TALENT PRODUCERS> I LOVE this season’s contestants, but most of last night’s performances were boring drivel!! (and that bobblehead Alfred E neuman clone Scotty is just too hard to look at yuuuchsheeesh!!

    • On now I know why

      Did you notice that Stefano had the lion’s share of the group number?

      Now we know why….TWO WORDS: Jimmy Iovine.

  • Harmony

    Maybe Ryan was remembering Tiwan Strong’s Aunt who got a charley horse during the audition rounds.

  • Yo

    The various articles on one show need to be in one place; they are hard to find. As a matter of fact, I found the coaches once but can’t find them now. They were interesting.

    • Al

      Ummmm, click on “American Idol” to the left of ew.com at the top of the page……

      • Elizabeth

        beat me to it Al…

      • @benmuniz

        Count me in. Ready set go.

  • Thinking

    For the first time this season, I truly missed Simon. The gushing love from the judges was often ridiculous. Half of these talented kids could go home tonight, and we’d be better for it. Many of them sang old-fashioned songs without making them current or fresh. B O R I N G. And this love-fest for Pia – come on, she’s good but so are a lot of them. So far, I’d only buy albums from Lauren, James, Casey, and maybe Stefano. I’m even getting tired of Scotty’s twang, drawl, and no range.

    • Tarc

      Frankly, it will be too soon if I ever see Simon Cowell again. I think this group is by far the most talents set they’ve ever had, and it’s pretty obvious that they aren’t – in any way – just spouting old versions of old songs (with the exception of Pia tonight – gorgeous vocal, boring tired song). I’m also not on the Scotty fan boat. He’s not much to look at, dresses poorly, and churns out carbon copies of boring old country songs. Meh. Give me Naima any day over that, even with a few pitch problems.

    • Jade

      Pia is wonderful, no doubt, but it would have been nice if she sang a verse or two instead of just the chorus. “Jimmy” isn’t “the voice of America” he should get over himself.

      • zizi

        I agree w/ the Jimmy getting over himself. Something about this guy irks me and I’m not even a fan of the people he dissed. I felt like last night showing all the producers was pointless except to feed their egos. First the contestants had to battle the judges for air time and now the producers too! smh.

      • Seriously??

        Jimmy should get over himself…seriously?? Jimmy Iovine has worked with Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks, Simple Minds, and Dire Straits. More recently, he was responsible for the signing of the likes of Eminem and Lady Gaga. He founded Interscope Records and produced the films 8 Mile and Get Rich or Die Trying. When you have gathered the credentials he has…then you can suggest that he “get over himself”

      • Jimmy Iovine IS ITALIAN

        Jimmy Iovine is Italian and both Pia and Stefano are Italians and Stefano Langone comes from a well known Italian musical family.

  • finnyd420

    Charly Horse?, oh he’s a cousin of Ryan “Mini Horse” Seabiscuit

  • PN

    Having to get the audience to raise their hands during the performance is not a good idea. And the swaybots and mosh pits are gone Nigel. This audience wants to be more respectful to the contestants performing by not standing up or swaying their hands during the performance.

  • KatRob

    I”m kind of curious about Jame’s Durbin’s performance of Maybe I’m Amazed. When they were doing the clips prior to his performance, his producer/mentor played a beat for a brief second that reminded me of a One Republic type sound and they said they were going to add a fresh sound. Then when he performed it sounded EXACTLY like the orginal song?

    Am I the only one who caught that?

    • Sarah

      I saw the same thing! After I heard that clip, I thought “Okay… let’s just see what happens. This might work.” But then he performed and it was the original version. And he basically just beat the chorus to death. Hated it.

    • Lila

      The “original” version was recorded by Paul McCartney and James’ version WAS different than Paul’s.

  • Jim

    I think Karen is likely to be the first one voted out.

    • calistoga

      For me, Ashthon should be first one off’d. Impossible to understand why Randy picked her as his wildcard, other than he liked her ‘attitude’!!?? Doesn’t matter anyway, top 4 should be Casey, Jacob, Alaina & Pia. Just sayin…

  • Tully

    Your observation of Jimmy lovine (why not Lovine?) is very telling about who’ll get to go home next.

    • Dan

      It’s not Lovine. His last name is Iovine, starting with I as in Idol. I wondered that at first too because it looks like a lower case l.

  • Underwhelmed

    What is the deal with calling the theater “the Idoldome”? It’s not cute or clever and after all the years he’s been doing it, it’s time to find a new nickname for the stage.

    • T2

      I AGREE. It’s stupid.

    • ladyhelix

      I like it, and thanks for a great re-cap Adam!

  • laritarae

    The Top 13 Idols are terrific! I love them all for different reasons. My favorites after last night are Casey, James, Pia and Stefano. I voted for all. I too think the guys are the most interesting this year as far as variety and talent. However, Pia is already presenting herself as a super star.

  • April

    Thumbs way down on Asston.

  • wg

    Good – let Jimmy Iovine focus on the pretty-and-pop-marketable Stefano and get maybe one lightly charting hit out of him. Leave Scotty for Nashville to make the next superstar – for about the next 70 years.

  • On now I know why

    Did you notice that Stefano got the lion’s share of the group number?

    Now we now why…two words; JIMMY LOVINE.

    • On now I know why

      Now we know why Stefano got the lead in the group number; Jimmy Iovine.

      REMEMBER JIMMY IOVINE IS ITALIAN…and Stefano is from a well known Italian music family.

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