The stage may be smaller in person, but the talent -- especially at the judges' table -- feels much bigger.
I might not fit into what is now the stereotypical "American Idol" fangirl demographic, but growing up on the show that changed the face of television keeps me tuning in. So on Wednesday, for the first time, I got to experience the singing competition live.
I was 10 years old when Kelly Clarkson belted her coronation song, “A Moment Like This,” and from that night on, my family and I would crowd around the television to watch. I’d turn up the volume when my two older sisters would bicker, and wouldn't you know, the show got them to shut up. They would soon enough grab a seat on the couch with the rest of us. It's how we all found ourselves glued to the TV for 13 seasons straight.
Who could forget hilarious auditions like William Hung's “She Bangs?” And, I'll admit it, I shed a few tears last season when Kree Harrison sang “Here Comes Goodbye.” It’s an emotional show, and for that reason, it’s the prototype for the rest of TV's talent competitions -- the ones you’ll find if you flip down a channel.
"Idol" is the first. It’s the original. I would call it the "American Bandstand" of my generation. Although Dick Clark can’t be replaced, Ryan Seacrest is slowly, but surely, following his mentor's iconic footsteps. Watching him in the flesh, he doesn’t stick to the script. He forgets about the teleprompter and jokes around with those around him. That’s an element to the show viewers at home don’t get to glimpse.
I also got to see the "Idol" stage, whose size took me by surprise. When watching at home, the stage seems massive, but in person, it's much smaller. Still, hearing the band close-up and live feels larger than life. That brings me to the sound quality, which, for the most par, doesn't differ all that much from watching at home -- except when it comes to hearing Jena Irene hit her high note from 15 feet away; and feeling it, too. Even the roars of audience applause was amplified, which made the live show seem that much more epic.
Caleb Johnson dropped his microphone during his performance of “Sting Me” and I’m not sure what you saw at home, but he handled it like a pro. Jennifer Lopez was thrilled by his slide to save the mic. The show must go on, the saying goes, but I got to witness Jennifer's genuine care for all the contestants. Her authenticity and love for the show makes the crowd even more enthralled. Case in point: one sparkly sign that read, “I Luh Ya JLo.”
Of course, there is on-camera banter between the judges and the host, but during commercial breaks, the fun never stops when, Ryan Seacrest, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Keith Urban poke fun at each other, crack jokes and enjoy the ride like the rest of us. It’s not all for show, as you may think from watching from home. It’s real. Other gawk-worthy moments came from watching them interact with audience members huddling around the stage and yelling, "Let me take a selfie!" And there was Harry’s constant reminder to everyone in the studio that he was, “live Tweeting!”.
It’s a strange twist watching Randy Jackson sit over with the contestants and not at the Coke-cup-adorned judges table, but it works. He, out of everyone, would chat with the contestants after each performance, and although CJ Harris didn’t get rave reviews from the judges last night, off camera, Jackson was there with a handshake and some words of wisdom.
"Idol" is slipping in ratings, but it, for sure, is not slipping in talent and value. It’s still, in my eyes, the ideal family show to watch. I even was fortunate to sit next to a mother and daughter from Detroit who flew out to see the show, which made my first live experience feel, well, like being at home.
This article first appeared on THR.com.