What It's Like To Attend a Live 'American Idol' Taping

by AOL TV Staff, posted May 20th 2010 6:35PM

You know 'American Idol' inside out -- you can name every finalist in nine seasons, you tune in every week to watch your favorite 'Idol' contestant sing and you can't wait to hear what crazy British thing judge Simon Cowell will say next. You are an 'American Idol' expert. But have you ever given any thought to how the 'American Idol' magic comes to your TV screen every Tuesday and Wednesday night? What goes on behind the scenes?

If you've ever thought about attending a taping or just want to know what it's like to experience the 'Idol' madness in person, here is your survival guide to attending an 'American Idol' taping. -- By Andrea Reiher, Editor at Zap2it.com


You know 'American Idol' inside out -- you can name every finalist in nine seasons, you tune in every week to watch your favorite 'Idol' contestant sing and you can't wait to hear what crazy British thing judge Simon Cowell will say next. You are an 'American Idol' expert. But have you ever given any thought to how the 'American Idol' magic comes to your TV screen every Tuesday and Wednesday night? What goes on behind the scenes?

If you've ever thought about attending a taping or just want to know what it's like to experience the 'Idol' madness in person, here is your survival guide to attending an 'American Idol' taping. -- By Andrea Reiher, Editor at Zap2it.com

Bon JoviLeave your cell phone and iPod in the car

Security is tight at CBS Television Studios -- yes, it's taped at CBS and not Fox. Not only will you be made to walk through metal detectors, but your bags and purses will be thoroughly searched. By next season, they'll probably be implementing body-cavity searches. Whatever electronic devices security finds will be confiscated. You will then be given a ticket and you can pick up your items after the show ... along with 500 other people. So it's usually best to just leave them in the car.

Remember your mom's advice and "go" before you leave home

There are no real bathrooms at an 'Idol' taping. The producers aren't total barbarians, of course -- there are eight Porta-Potties outside for your use. But if you need to use one of them, you have to go out through security and come back in through security. So take your mama's advice and go before you get there.

Bring something to do

If you attend a taping, you will actually have to show up several hours before the live show starts. There is a holding area outside with metal benches. It's crowded, it's hot and you'll be there a long time. So either bring along people to talk to, a book to read or ...

Aaron KellyGet your people-watching glasses ready

Out of the hoardes of teenage girls dressed like they're 21 and going clubbing, the cougars dressed the exact same way and the adorable little kids with signs who are probably the only true die-hard 'American Idol' fans in the building, there are plenty of things to keep your eye on. My very favorite person of the entire season was a woman a few weeks ago whom I dubbed the "Chattanooga Cougar." She was in her mid-40s and had on white booty shorts, a halter top and high-heeled strappy sandals, and she had a sign that read "Chattanooga Loves Aaron Kelly." She kept bouncing up and down and shouting, "I love you, Aaron!" (which is fine, I guess) and "I'll go to prom with you!" (which is not at all fine). PS -- her teenage daughter was so beet-red she practically glowed in the dark with embarrassment.

NPH and Ted DansenBe on the lookout for celebrities

Celebrities are always in the house. Whether they are there because Fox is making them go or because they are actual fans, there's a shot your favorite TV stars will be around, so keep your eyes peeled. Portia de Rossi, Ellen DeGeneres' wife, is always there. The guest mentor is usually in the house. But I've also seen Melissa Etheridge, Chi McBride, Olympian Shawn Johnson, Bradley Whitford, Colin Hanks and many, many past 'Idol' contestants. I always find it fun to see which contestants they're actually into and which ones they don't seem to care about, particularly if you can tell they're there to promote their Fox show and not because they are 'Idol' fans. It's also interesting to watch if the judges come over and say "hello" or not.

Siobhan MagnusMake sure to set your DVR

This serves two purposes. First, you really might see yourself on TV, which is always delightful. Secondly, the 'Idol' performances are oftentimes very different when you watch them in person.

In the studio, the sound mixers can't optimally balance the lead vocal, the backup vocals and all the instrumental accompaniment, so sometimes the vocals are drowned out a bit. At home, you can hear the Idols much more clearly. Sometimes that works for them -- it reaffirms for you how great the song was. Sometimes that works against them -- every imperfection is noticeable. It's interesting to compare.

The best example of the television broadcast working for a contestant would have to be Lee DeWyze's 'The Boxer' from Inspirational Songs week. It was certainly good live, but the driving drums and guitars made it a little hard to hear him. Once I heard it back on TV, it became one of my favorite Lee performances of the season.

The best example of this working against a contestant ... well, there are many. When you're watching it live, the lights and thumping drums and backup singers and blasting horns can trick you into thinking every performance is uber-exciting. The one that stands out for me is Siobhan Magnus' 'When You Believe,' also for Inspirational Songs week. This seemed like a heartrending ballad in person, but upon watching it back -- yikes. It got bumped four spots down in Zap2it's ranking of the performances that night.

ChildBring a cute child with you

There is an off-camera host named Cory. He warms up the crowd, organizes dancing or singing contests and gives out gifts during commercial breaks. If you have a cute child with a homemade sign (or are willing to make an absolute spectacle of yourself jumping up and down), you can get anything from an "Idol"-specific t-shirt or bag to a Samsung Mythic phone to an iPod Touch. I still haven't gotten an iPod touch, and I mention Cory in my weekly "Idol" dispatches all the time. I'm very bitter about it.

Justin BieberIf there's a post-tape, definitely stick around

Several performers during season 9 -- Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lady Antebellum -- have taped their performances before they actually aired. So the night you go to 'American Idol,' you might luck out and get to see an act perform that you didn't know would be there and that the at-home audience won't see for weeks. It usually keeps you at the studio for several more hours, though. I've enjoyed sticking around for them -- Lady Antebellum is great live, Bieber was hilarious if for nothing else than to watch the tween girls go bonkers, Lady Gaga is straight-up amazing -- but keep in mind that if you don't want to stay, the CBS ushers will get up in your face and tell you that you cannot leave. This is false. They want to keep the seats filled for wide camera shots, obviously, but if you need to leave, they cannot physically restrain you like some kind of prisoner. I actually had someone ask me once if they were allowed leave, and I told them that the ushers cannot force you to stay.

So that's your guide to attending an 'American Idol' taping. If you're a fan of the show and find yourself in the Los Angeles area next season, the tickets are definitely something you'll want to look into. Tickets are free and can be found at the On-Camera Audiences website, though be warned -- the waiting list is usually quite long.

Andrea Reiher writes the 'American Idol' Dispatch column for Zap2it.com's 'American Idol' blog.

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