The shrieking started at the first mention of his name. It increased when his face was projected on the screen and exploded when the Chosen One stepped onto the stage. Girls bubbled over in tears and screamed "I love you!" throughout his time on stage. At the breaks, he waved to the screamers and gave his trademark "Aww, cut it out, you guys!" impossible-not-to-love embarrassed grin.
Being in the center of this whirlwind is not an experience a grown-up should dive into unprepared, although many ladies of a certain age in the pit seemed to get pretty well carried away by it.
The kids' vote. Monitoring this crucial demographic, I must say that more than a few of the children were carrying signs for David Cook.
Cook. Even more so than in the stands, the rocker candidate appeared by far the most comfortable and at home on the stage. Most impressive was the effortless way he ran his hands along the pleading outstretched fingertips of my pit-mates while he sang, and the way he casually sauntered offstage, giving only the briefest wave back.
However, up close he also seemed fairly exhausted, his energy between songs appearing not just low-key but at a very low ebb. After months locked in the "Idol" bubble preparing for show after show, he can hardly be blamed. One can hope he manages to get some rest before next week's crucial show.
Jason Castro. Whether this was the first time this side came out or it was visible only from the pit, the hippy crooner clearly lost his mellow for a moment after his first judging and showed signs that his previously unruffled demeanor had actually been shaken by the poor notices. Watching from just feet away as a contestant was fed to the lions, one had to feel compassion for him.
Syesha Mercado. Her version of "Proud Mary" provided the biggest bounce in the pit, where the stagecraft speaks loudest. However, her tears after the second song seemed to provoke more confusion -- whether they were tears of joy or sorrow -- than empathy.
As the show ended, my back and feet said it was time to go but my heart was not ready to walk away.
Being so close to these titans of our culture, who stepped forth into this arena after so many weeks of battle and risked everything on two songs, one could not help but feel the immensity of the challenge they face, the grueling struggle it becomes this late in the competition.
In the end it's exhilarating simply to see how each in their own way, with the best that they have in them, rise to face that challenge.