If you think Randy, J.Lo and Steven were alone in picking their wild-card favorites on Thursday night’s “American Idol” final-cut night, think again.
As the casting decisions during Fox’s live two-hour broadcast got more intense, so did the executive power surrounding the judging table during the commercial breaks.
After 10 contestants earned their places in the finals as the result of the public vote, judges — and producers — had their final opportunity to tinker with season 11’s marquee cast members, recalling six rejected contestants for a final chance to perform to be a judge’s “wild-card” selection.
Also read: “American Idol”: Top 13 Finalists Are Set
Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe was a constant presence in front of the judges during breaks. (His twitter handle @dizzyfeet should really be @busyfeet, as he also hopped on stage for one-on-ones with Seacrest during video packages and to share congratulatory hugs with contestants as he floated between the status-differentiated groupings.)
And in the second hour as the urgency to choose the three “wild cards” increased, Fox Alternative president Mike Darnell (center in black leather jacket, above) joined the judge’s conversation. By the final few commercial breaks before the reveal, Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice (second from left) was in the on-stage huddle, as well.
In the end, Jeremy Rosado, Erika Van Pelt and Deandre Brackensick, 17, got the on-air nods for the final three spots.
(At right, last-minute wild-card Rosado caught a monitor replaying his career-saving performance inside sponsor Ford and Coca-Cola’s “Finalist Party”. For the third time in an hour, he broke down in tears. )
After the reveal, the immediate divergence of career paths was palpable. The 12 eliminated singers slinked off stage right, eventually taking standing places amongst the extras in the crowd for the remainder of the show.
After signing off, the separation between contestant and cast-off was immediate and distinct. Despite appearing on multiple national broadcasts, non-finalists did not get anywhere near a red carpet or the press. They were not even invited to the “Finalists Party” bash taking place a few hundred yards away at The Grove. “That’s it for them, it’s over,” an Idol staffer said.
Of the celebrity talent, “the originals” stick together: Seacrest and Jackson carpooled in a town car from CBS to the party next door on the roof of the Grove’s parking structure, an under-utilized event venue with killer views. Their route bypassed the elevators and deposited them only feet away from the entrance to the tent with the a neon show logo marking the entrance.
The two spent a few minutes making calls in the back of the ride before emerging to tackle a gigantic “U-shaped” blue carpet awaiting. As Tyler ambled up to the duo to make a joint entrance, Jackson greeted him by belting out one of Tyler’s own refrains: “living on the edge!”
Lopez’s boyfriend Casper Smart milled about the judge’s table in the commercial break preceding the night’s final reveal, making the same studio-only cameo that columnist Kirstin Benson recalls ex-husband Marc Anthony making last season. The dancer-turned-arm-candy was part of “Team JLO” that arrived to the party separately, including high profile styling duo Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn.
Inside, the finalists had their virgin brush with a press line, working their way around a Ford that had been strategically placed on the carpet. Several spoke of their newfound appreciation for their official Twitter accounts, which producers provided them before this week’s live shows. Their personal Facebook accounts have been deactivated.
“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t huge in to twitter before,” finalist Hollie Cavanagh told TheWrap. “But now, oh my Lord. My face is in my phone like 24/7.”
Louisiana’s Josh Ledet addressed the inevitable comparison of follower counts between contestants, a perceived barometer of relative popularity.
“Everybody’s always in the room like ‘such-and-such’ has this many followers. I’m one of the ones with the low followers, so I kind of ignore it.” But he’s not fully blind to the crowd favorites: “Phillip Phillips and Colton (Dixon) have crazy followers,” he told TheWrap.
It was an early night as all the contestants had to be out of the venue by 10 p.m. At the end of an emotional day, one contestant was yawning between photos.
Amidst the influx of network singing competitions, someone else may have been showing fatigue: perennial “Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” audience warm-up guy Corey Almeida. Before the show, he accidentally imported terminology from NBC’s “The Voice,” referring to the ‘Idol’ judges as “coaches.”