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`Idol's' thinner slice

Producers have cut the postseason touring group from 12 to 10 contestants, raising the stakes on fans' votes.

March 23, 2007|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

Unknown perhaps to viewers but heavy on the minds of "American Idol" contestants were the especially high stakes involved in this week's elimination -- that, for whatever reason, only the final 10 contestants, not 12, get to go on the traditional postseason tour. So, for those who survived this week -- Sanjaya Malakar made the cut, Stephanie Edwards did not -- the party is guaranteed to continue through the summer at least.

Despite the fact that the "Idol" contestants and their friends and families have had the fear of God put into them about the dangers (and Fox restrictions) of speaking to the media, the impression that genuinely comes through, more or less, is that the producers have succeeded this season in actually creating that summer-camp atmosphere the show endeavors to portray.

First of all, it must be said just how young this year's finalists seem -- individually, up close, they look like actual teenagers, or very near to it. Collectively, they resemble a bunch of college undergrads. They seem far, far younger than the casts of the previous two seasons, which were dominated by strong personalities such as Bo Bice and Katharine McPhee who strove toward various kinds of adulthood, not to mention Taylor Hicks, who actually looked decades past his actual years. What seemed a lack of gravitas early in this season now comes across as youthfulness.

The friendship between the cast members is constantly on display on stage, as they practically walk around in a giant group hug. The Chrises (Sligh and Richardson), Phil Stacey and Blake Lewis seem to form the core of the group. Family and friends tell of how close they've all become, of how the group goes to dinner together every night. Unthinkably, in the midst of all this, two of them sneaked out to bowl after the performance show Tuesday.

Away from the cameras after Wednesday's show, the contestants rushed to crowd around the window of singer Lulu's car to say goodbye, like bidding farewell to a favorite counselor, before heading to dinner. The whirlwind does have a way perhaps of binding everyone together and making them forget that only one can win. One contestant said that while he was in terror during the elimination shows, he just feels numb now, weary from the blur of the week.

And the summer-camp atmosphere is clearly hard to let go of, even after you've taken your lonely walk off the plank. Sitting in the audience last night were eliminees Leslie Hunt, for the second night in a row Alaina Alexander and, a mere one week to the day after he was sent home, Brandon Rogers. Not to mention Justin Guarini. Each studio audience seems to have an entire exes section. Moving on is a challenge, whether the wound is fresh or half a decade old.

In the studio, it truly seemed the best of times as the room swayed to Peter Noone's "There's a Kind of Hush," which sounded much fresher in person than it did on television. The contestants danced with one another to their mentor's song, forgetting for a moment all the stresses of the last week.

And then in mid-song, from stage right, Ryan Seacrest, the angel of death himself, silently shimmied over and took his position in front of the sofa, cards in hand. The party has a price, and the piper will be paid.

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