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A peek inside the 'American Idol' party, where the top 13 soak in the spotlight

March 4, 2011 |  7:58 am

Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson glide across the red carpet. Lights flash, reporters bellow out their names, but they are unfazed. They wave, they chit-chat, they stop and pose. To them, this is just another party, just another season of “American Idol.”

To those who follow behind them on the red -- er, blue -- carpet, the finalists for the 10th season of “Idol,” this is their star turn. A blizzard of white strobes flashes in a room already blindingly bright. Some finalists start posing like they’re taking profile pictures for their Facebook pages. Some stand cautiously toward the back of the cluster.

James Durbin, a faux-hawked Adam Lambert lookalike, blossoms before the cameras, strutting, smiling a broad, cheeky grin. Paul McDonald, the sensitive type with a colorful wardrobe that caught Steven Tyler’s eye, wilts at first. In a rapid-fire of group shots posing next to a Ford Focus, he squints his watering eyes and scrunches his reddening face, overwhelming by the publicity blitzkrieg.

These artists are billed as a normal young men and women, hailing from Hometown, U.S.A. And here they are being courted by reporters dressed like models at a boat show, asking what it’s like to be living their life. There are a lot of 'This is absolutely amazing' and 'I can’t believe I’m here' responses.

Durbin Durbin mentioned how in awe he was of the response he’s gotten from fans. He’s received an onslaught of letters and messages on his Facebook page and elsewhere online, and was surprised by the positive words they’ve had to say. And, he added, “all the good stuff, all the inspirational stuff” -- he reads it. “I can’t even describe it,” Lauren Alaina, only 16, said in her sweet Southern drawl. “I can’t believe it’s happening to me.” The night comes together like something from a fairly tale.

On the roof of the parking garage of the Grove shopping center sprouted a glitzy, star-studded nightclub. Tarp walls and fake grass flooring turned into something that looked like the inside of a lava lamp. J-Lo -- a bona fide superstar -- is sharing a small chair with her husband, Marc Anthony, in a cordoned-off VIP section. As the DJ plays her latest song, “On the Floor,” she bobs up and down in her chair, nodding along with the beat.

It is a party for the finalists, but it seemed as though they missed much of it. They were still over on the other side of the tent working the carpet. They would make their way to the end of the line and start again. Hours had passed since the finalists first arrived. J-Lo left with her entourage. Many of the cameras were packed up and hauled away. Crew members started taking down part of the barricade between the press and the carpet.

Yet, there they were, answering the same questions just as giddy and as animated as they were the first time. They were soaking in the moment. A long road, a tough competition and an uncertain outcome lies ahead. Right now, though, they are stars. People are still calling their name.


-- Rick Rojas

Photos, from top: Scott McReery, left, Paul McDonald, James Durbin, Jacob Lusk, Karen Rodriguez, Casey Abrams, Pia Toscano, Stefano Langone, Naima Adedapo, Haley Reinhart, Thia Megia, Ashthon Jones and Lauren Alaina arrive on the red carpet at the Grove in Los Angeles; Durbin said he was in awe. Credit: Mark Davis / Fox