In the course of chronicling the full immensity of the most important show in entertainment history, this column has strived to take its readers deep inside the machine and the psyches that produce it. From the editing bays to the makeup room to the Idoldome bleachers, I have tried to provide fleeting glimpses into a few of the many mansions that make up the house of "Idol."
Ultimately, however, if one truly wishes to get to the essential nature of a beast, one must take a long and lonely walk through dark, snowy woods in that beast's footsteps. On Tuesday's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night, this columnist ventured deeper into the core of "Idol" than any have dared penetrate before. That night, I became, provisionally, the first journalist in entertainment history to watch "American Idol" live from the mosh pit.
Although many of my colleagues in the "Idol" press bleachers chortled at my desire to leave the comfort of my seat and dive into the teen masses crushed before the stage, and as much as my faltering back and flat feet advised that this mosh pit truly was no country for old men, I knew that the only path to understanding the breathing, pulsing heart of "American Idol" lay through that pit.
'Load' the pit
For months I have sat 10 rows high in the Idoldome stands and looked down on the bobbing blond heads of teens lining the front of the stage and shrieking the Chosen One, David Archuleta, along his path to greatness. Of all the tweaks to the "Idol" format this season, the addition of the mosh pit seems to have had the most far-reaching effect.
Replacing the front wings of seats -- often reserved for celeb visitors -- with a standing room seemingly reserved for the most young and jubilant has guaranteed that even the most tepid performances would have a bit of a rock concert air, with screaming fans leaning in to every word. The success this year of the instrument-wielding contestants undoubtedly was made possible by their legions in the pit.
And so Tuesday, I crossed the floor and went down into the mosh pit.
First impression: The stage looks very different from its foot. Looming above the Idoldome, it looks fit for gladiator warfare. I watched the faces of the young people as they entered and 10 at a time were "loaded" into the pit. As they shuffled forward almost to a person, they gaped upon entering the room and looking up at that stage of legend. I could not tell whether it was by natural selection or some coordinated effort, but I soon noticed most of the young and telegenic had somehow found their way to the front, while in the mid-pit, I huddled with a mixed crowd that included a few in an advanced age like myself.
Loaded in to stage left, about eight feet away from where Randy Jackson's right arm would soon dangle, I learned my neighbors were members of a high school girls water polo team from Agoura Hills that had been given tickets after participating in another TV-related event, the exact nature of which I wasn't quite able to discern before the warm-up began.
When the judges entered the Idoldome, they had to wade through the crowd to their desktop perch, clearly giants striding through the masses that parted before them, like royalty distributing alms among the peasants.
Seeing this troika take its place and ultimately deliver its judgments a mere arm's length away gave one the bizarre feeling of having been teleported inside a TV set. In a way that one could never feel from a distance of 10 rows up, I was inside this iconic scene -- as if showing up suddenly alongside the table where Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock were lining up to take their quills to the Declaration of Independence. This remarkable sense goes a long way toward accounting for the state of perpetual giddiness I found my neighbors in.
As the show started and the Idols took the stage, the rock concert feeling became all the clearer as the contestants loomed above us -- tantalizingly real, tantalizingly near, and by virtue of the fact that we gazed up at them, necessarily imposing and awe-inspiring.
Some other observations from the mosh pit:
The acoustics were significantly worse in the pit than they were in the seats. However, the stagecraft and presence were significantly clearer for each contestant. What star power they generate radiated a thousand times more. Likewise, the smaller sighs and grimaces were crystal clear.
Archuleta Time. They say that when you are near the center of a hurricane it sounds like a locomotive roaring toward you. Well, when you are in the pit during a David Archuleta performance, it sounds like a hurricane is about to level you.