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Blood, sweat, finales

May 22, 2008|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

Wednesday night's "American Idol" finale, in which David Cook was crowned the winner of Season 7, was a TV entertainment spectacle comparable in scale only to the Oscars. Yet unlike for that event, the "American Idol" crew has just one week to pull it together. Richard Rushfield -- the first journalist ever allowed to observe rehearsals for the show's finale -- recorded a diary of the week leading up to the show. (For a longer version, go to latimes .com/entertainment.)


IF EVERY "American Idol" show starts with the music, then this unprepossessing white bungalow on a lot off Santa Monica Boulevard is the top of the assembly line -- where the basic pieces are put in place.


Friday, 5 p.m.

Inside, the current tenant, "American Idol" music director Rickey Minor, is conferring with his staff over rights clearances and arrangements, poring over song lists and supervising his three backup vocalists who are in the studio to lay down their tracks for the medleys of George Michael and Donna Summer songs that will be performed on Wednesday night's show. "I've got three things to do now, and 10 minutes have gone out of my life already," Minor says gently but firmly, reprimanding his crew after the conversation takes a detour.

Just 48 hours earlier, David Archuleta and David Cook had become the two finalists. Now the clock is ticking toward the finale, and Minor has to oversee the clearances, arrangements, productions and performances of, he estimates, 35 songs.

"It doesn't make sense to start working on this show early. Everything just ends up getting changed," says Matt Brodie, the show's assistant music director, as the three backup singers cluster around his laptop in the central mixing room, listening to and quietly singing along with their parts in Summer's anthem "She Works Hard for the Money."

As the singers go through the song in a recording booth, stopping to correct themselves, and then do it again, and again, Minor moves into the outer foyer. Asked why he isn't supervising the takes, Minor explains that although he is listening from where he is, "These singers have been with me for 10 years. So for a certain amount of time I push and I push, and then I let them do their thing and have trust that they have the professionalism to do it well."

IDC Dance Studio


Saturday, 10 a.m.

The Season 7 top 12 contestants, summoned back for the finale, are drilling their numbers. Their faces show signs of bleariness, but they dutifully step into place when ordered to go through the routine one more time.

At the moment, as the boys file out so the girls can begin running through their number, the reunited singers are focused largely on cracking up one another. Carly Smithson and Ramiele Malubay stand back to back and mime sultry, burlesque-type moves to the mirror.

"Really girls," cries choreographer Mandy Moore. "I have only an hour and 15 minutes left with you, and you have 75 hours until the show."

Chastened, but still effervescent, the room falls silent. "OK," Moore says, "we're going to go on a field trip." She leads them through the studio's hallway to a cold, dark, fire escape-like stairwell, making them line up on either side and practice walking down while singing the chorus of "She Works Hard for the Money."

"The reality is: Onstage we're a lot wider. We just need to see you walk down the stairs into the screen," Moore tells them, demonstrating how to fan out across the tiny landing when they reach the bottom.

"OK, this is a dancer's secret," she says. "A lot of people when they dance, if you want to move quick you just have to keep your stomach muscles tight."

Contestant Syesha Mercado interjects, "But when we're singing we have to put our stomach muscles out."

"Oh, that's true. So after you're done, pull them in."

An hour and a half-million notes later, they run through the entire routine and pace seamlessly through their steps. Looking fairly stunned but still giggling with excitement, the singers file out and down the stairs to the SUVs waiting to take them to their next appointment.

CBS Studios

Saturday, 1 p.m.

On a smoldering hot afternoon, this one building of soundstages on the Beverly Boulevard CBS lot has been turned into a veritable multiplex of reality TV titans. On the ground floor, Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" (from the people who brought you "American Idol") has filmed its final preseason show, in which the aspiring dancers were informed whether they had been accepted onto the show or not.

Upstairs, the "American Idol" contestants slump on couches, awaiting their turns with Miles Siggins, the show's men's stylist, for their finale fittings.

Beside a long rack of clothes, David Cook, in his own wardrobe of Royals baseball cap and jeans, tries on Siggins' choices, sorting through some scarves he has brought.

"Logan has a guitar," Siggins tells him, "with brown piping." "If it's a lefty, I'll be amazed," Cook responds, carrying off a stack of clothes.

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