« Previous Post | Show Tracker Home | Next Post »

'American Idol' Tracker: Rock 'n' Roll night live from the mosh pit


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 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 a dark snowy wood in that beast’s footsteps. On Rock and Roll Hall of Fame night, this columnist ventured deeper into the core of "Idol" than any have dared penetrate before.  On Tuesday 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. 

For months I have sat 10 rows high in the Idoldome stands and looked down on the bobbing blond heads lining the front of the stage, 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 has seemed to have the most far-reaching effect.  Replacing the front wings of seats –- often reserved for celeb visitors –- with a standing room crushed against the stage seemingly reserved for the most young and jubilant has guaranteed that even the most tepid performances would have a bit of rock concert air, with screaming fans leaning into every word. The success this year of the instrument-bound 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, a place where no reporter had gone before.

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, their jaws dropped and they gaped upon entering the room and looking up at that stage of legend.  As they came forward, 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 of some youths and a few others of advanced ages like myself.

Loaded in to stage left, about 8 feet away from where Randy Jackson’s right arm would soon dangle, I learned my neighbors were a high school girls water polo team from Agoura Hills that had been gifted with 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.

As they entered the Idoldome, wading through the crowd to their desktop perch, the judges glimpsed over the heads of my pit-mates were at once clearly giants striding through the masses who parted before them, like royalty distributing alms amongst the peasants, and unnervingly near.  Seeing this troika take its place and ultimately deliver its judgments at a mere arm's length away gave one the bizarre feeling of having been teleported inside a television set; in a way that one could never feel from a distance of 10 rows up, I was inside this iconic scene –- like showing up suddenly alongside the table where Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock are 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 and tantalizingly near, but by virtue of the fact that we gazed up at them from their feet, necessarily imposing, awe-inspiring figures.

Some other observations from the mosh pit:

  • The acoustics are significantly worse in the pit than they are in the seats.  However, the stagecraft and presence of each contestant is significantly clearer.  What star power they generate radiates a thousand times more.  Likewise, the smaller sighs and grimaces are crystal clear.
  • Archuleta Time.  They say that when you are near the center of a hurricane it sounds like a locomotive roaring straight toward you.  Well, when you are in the mosh pit during a David Archuleta performance it sounds like a hurricane about to level you to your foundations, break through your levee, flood your basements and render your neighborhood uninhabitable for generations.  The shrieking starts at the first mention of his name.  It increases when his face appears projected on the screen and explodes when The Chosen One steps onto the stage.  Girls jump up and down, bubble over in tears and scream, “I love you!” throughout his time on stage.  At the breaks, he waves to the screamers with his trademark “Aww, cut it out, you guys!" impossible-not-to-love embarrassed grin.  Being in the center of this whirlwind of ecstasy is not an experience a grownup 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 critical demographic, it must be said that more than a few of the children in the Idoldome are now carrying signs for David Cook.
  • David Cook.  Even more so than in the stands, the rocker candidate appears by far the most comfortable and at home on the stage.  Most impressive is the effortless way he runs his hands along the pleading outstretched fingertips of my pit-mates while he sings, and the way he casually saunters 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, one can hardly blame him, but 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 was only visible 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 feet away as a contestant is fed to the lions is hard to see and not feel compassion for.
  • 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 pure empathy.

Jason-Castro 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, stepping forth into this arena after so many weeks of battle and risking everything on one song, it was hard to not feel the immensity of the challenge they face, the grueling struggle this becomes this late in the competition and not be exhilarated by how each in their own way, with the best that they have in them, rise to face that challenge.  Seen at arm’s length, these flesh-and-blood mortals are fighting in an arena built for the gods, whatever strengths and faults are visible.

-Richard Rushfield
(photo courtesy of Fox)

Comments () | Archives (29)

Actually, it's when a tornado is coming close that it sounds like a train. The centers of hurricanes are calm and serene... and a bit eerie.

The most important show in entertainment history? Are you kidding? Okay, perhaps you are trying to hone your writing chops for when you write your novel, but your overinfatuation with this program is beyond comprehension. Please, next time you visit the mosh pit, do not inhale.

Does Randy have a boy crush on David A. ? I can't stand the way he gushes over every boring, predictable performance of his.

David VS David is coming.

Oh Richard, I will miss this column so much more than the show when it finally ends in two weeks. Hopefully you will recap something else this summer.

Not having seats at the front of a crowd does NOT equal a mosh pit. This is more watered down co-opting of REAL populist culture by the media and the well to do. A 'mosh pit' is the term created by heavy metal fans in the mid to late 80s for what was called the 'slam pit' by the punk rock pioneer fans who created it spontaneously in the late 70s. The punk rock 'slam pit' is a place where kids basically hop and thrash about in a way that mostly involves benign body on body bumping and pushing. It is famous for spawning what new wave pundits would eventually dub the 'pogo', a dance of sorts in which one hops frantically up and down as if on a pogo stick (this is claimed to have been created by none other than sid vicious). The modern heavy metal 'mosh pit' is a far more violent phenomenon in which angry male youths flail, kick and basically go berserk to the beat of cartoonishly fast music. At any rate, neither one has any point of contact with the rich girls from agoura hills pressing to the front of the stage to squeal.

Thank you for acknowledging that Jason was shaken up by what the judges said. I'm getting really annoyed that the common belief seems to be that he wants off the show and doesn't care, all because he's chill and he doesn't brown-nose the judges or the audience(AHEM, Syesha). He just stands there and humbly takes his criticism, and I definitely saw the way his face dropped when Simon compared it to a round 1 audition. He's getting hated on so bad today, I feel bad for the kid. He messed up, he's probably going home for it, but he has a great body of work behind him. I wish everyone would give him a break!

Many of the other AI contestants have talent and style and likability, but none of them can REMOTELY sing as well as David Archuleta. That kid could sing the birds out of the trees. I've never heard the like. What is weird is not just that hauntingly beautiful, soaring, emotive voice but how deeply his singing touches millions of people. Some are cold and inured to him but for millions, he a prodigy.

I looked "prodigy" up to make certain I was on track, and I was. A prodigy is someone so extraordinary as to excite wonder or astonishment; a marvel. Synonyms are genius, virtuoso, marvel, wonder, phenomenon. David A. is amazing.

I'm driving to Murray to attend his homecoming celebration this Friday--730 miles one way--and glad to do it. It's a small price to pay to hear an angel sing in person. The next opportunity will be the Idol tour which will only entail a trip of 300 miles one way this time.

I love this kid. I think he is going to be HUGE!

David A.'s version of "Love Me Tender" was overwrought and overdone. I didn't see Randy complain about that (as opposed to his criticism of Syesha's "Change Is Gonna Come").

Why the constant praise for David A.? I think he sounds the same virtually every time.
The whole thing seems rigged. In addition, I tried to vote for Mercado--and carefully put in her number-- and was thanked for voting for Archuleta! Is it possible they randomly add votes for him? I am really enraged, but wonder if anyone else has had such an experience.

i loved david archuleta performances last night.........................they were awesome!!!!!
he definitely deserves to win it this year.....................and david cook was not just in his zone.................i think he is feelin the pressure of loosin it already!!!!!!!

I'm so tired of David Archuleta's detractors saying "he sounds the same every time" ad nauseam. All the contestants do. They all have their own unique style. It's okay to prefer one vocal style over another, but not all right to continually single out one paticular contestant for a criticism that pertains to all. For example, I could say that Syesha always sounds like a diva, Jason always sounds like a folk artist, and David Cook always sounds like a tortured Daughtry wannabe. By the way, Richard, I love your Idol blogs. They never fail to make me smile. Some just don't get your admiration tinged with irony. Those of us who do look forward in eager anticipation to each Idol Tracker entry. Please don't change a thing!

i love archuleta soo much!!!!!!

Advantages of writing about the show on-site as opposed to on-couch: No references to Carly Smithson The Most Electrifying Performer In American Idol History, and I do believe, thanks to this column, she has petitioned the courts to make that her full legal name. (Kinda like that Pro-Life guy in Idaho.)

Was there something wrong with the mix of the music during the live performances? I could barely hear the band. But during the final recap, the music and vocal mix was spot on. The whole night seemed really bad mix-wise... real heavy on the vocals.

Did anyone feel the same way?

My first time to watch the show and all I can say is they were ALL TERRIBLE. The woman had the best voice and the only thing she might have coming out of this is a back up singers job for some studio. You've got a pretty warped perception of talent, that David A kid looks like a flippin' creeper looney toon and cannot sing either. Producers of the should be embarassed. what a joke

This is to comment on the rediculous note by Karen. The only birds I see coming out of trees are those falling dead to the ground, or those falling a sleep, you can chose either one works for me. He's the most predictable singer/immitator that I've ever seen in Idols history. Last night just proved it again. He can't and won't touch a song that is faster than 2 beats per second. The only people that is going to buy this bloke's music are going to be bubblegum poppers and their parents, he has no depth, no soul, no emotion. If he wins he'll just be another Guy idol winner that couldn't make it in the big time. My prediction, no record, no hit single nothing, nadda, zip...by next year this time, he'll just be another forgotten no-soul Idol. What a shame.

I agree that the sound mix was way off. It was most evident during David C.'s 1st song, Hungry Like A Wolf. I thought it was an awful song choice for him anyway, but you could barely hear the band at all making it really sound even more aneimic.

XFerred I noticed the same thing. There was definitely something wrong with the mix. The band was so faint for most of the performances you could hardly hear it. It threw a spotlight on the contestants' vocals, and it was not flattering to ANY of them. I also noticed that the balance sounded fine during the brief recaps at the end of the show.......

I agree with you Kat. It is so annoying to constantly listen to people who don't like Archuleta say it's because he sounds the same. Well what are you expecting? Do you want him to sound like Stevie Wonder one day, then Bob dylan the next? I don't get it? I think their isn't really anything else to criticize about him, so people nitpick. He is a great singer and it is okay to admit it, he doesn't have to be your style or favorite. I don't understand why people dislike this kid so much? Is it because he is talented? Makes no sense.

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: