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8:00 p.m.: A surprisingly low-key crowd awaits the start of night one of the Paley festival. My two big questions going in - first, who's going to ask if there will be a "From Justin to Kelly 2?" And, of course, the old Paley festival/San Diego Comic-Con standby - who's going to ask for a hug first? It only works once folks, so be quick to the mikes.
8:09 p.m.: Pat Mitchell, the MT&R's president & CEO, makes some opening remarks. She's totally going to ask Simon for a hug.
8:16 p.m.: File this under the "no shit" file: Pat says more 18-25-year-olds have voted on "American Idol" than in a federal election - ever.
8:18 p.m.: And so the panelists arrive: Cecile Frot-Coutaz (executive producer), Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Mike Darnell (FOX's head of alternative programming) and Ken Warwick (executive producer). Guess who gets the biggest applause? (Simon.)
8:20 p.m.: Ken takes the podium and intros what he calls an abbreviated version of last year's finale...
9:07 p.m.: ...that runs 47 minutes. What exactly did they cut out?
9:08 p.m.: Seacrest has left the building! Apparently he's been working for 20 hours straight - between his radio show, E! news and "Idol" - so they decided to let him go.
9:09 p.m.: Now it's time for introductions... again. Pat calls Randy Jackson - Randy Johnson. And says he used to play bass (the fish, not the instrument) for Journey. I can't make this stuff up. Yup, and she's got another one in her - during Mike Darnell's intro she lists the shows he brought to FOX including - yes - "Hell's Engine."
9:12 p.m.: Hooray, the actual panel begins. Pat asks why "Idol" is so huge. Darnell lists the usual suspects - it's a family show, people like the interactivity, like the judges and "it just has a little bit of magic pixy dust on it."
9:13 p.m.: Ken says the big difference between "Idol" and the talent shows of yesterday is that they say "you suck" to the contestants. "There were a number of people [in the beginning] who thought Simon was too much," he adds.
9:14 p.m.: Simon on the show's genesis: "We were out to make a very politically incorrect show. I genuinely do not believe any other network in America would have allowed us to make this show. Because we wanted to make a show where we appealed to normal people. And say what normal people think when they hear horrible singers." He adds, "It works - Randy knows what he's talking about, Ryan's fun... [laughter] What? He's not here."
9:18 p.m.: Mike details the craptasticness of the WB's similarly formatted "Pop Stars" - "They didn't allow the judges to be mean and that was one of the flaws of the show. They actually made a conscious decision that America wasn't ready for it." Or ready for a WB network altogether.
9:20 p.m.: Paula talks about the various stories people tell her about how the show touches their lives - mothers reconnecting with their daughters, marriages saved, global warming averted. Okay maybe not the last one.
9:22 p.m.: Pat asks if they worry about running out of talented singers. Ken and Cecile mention that "Idol" frequently goes off the air in other countries because their populations are so small as compared to America. "In this country, there is a wealth of talent," Ken adds. "I don't honestly think we're ever going to go on the road and not find 12 kids who deserve to be in the finals."
9:23 p.m.: Cecile also adds: "And another thing that's happened over the years is the range of people that come and audition. Certainly the first year it was seen very much as a pop music program and then people like Bo Bice and Constantine came in and Chris Daughtry and now we have Blake. It's expanded the range of people who think it's okay for them to go on 'American Idol.' Somebody like Chris Daughtry four or five years ago would have been way too cool to ever audition for this show."
9:26 p.m.: Pat asks if the judges "know" right at the beginning who's going to win. Simon says, "The obvious ones were Fantasia, Reuben, Carrie Underwood." Randy and Paula mention Kelly Clarkson but Simon disagrees. Simon adds, "They loved Taylor, [I] couldn't stand him. For me didn't get it, these two loved him." Randy says to take Simon's opinion with a grain of salt since he also loves salmon, the color.
9:27 p.m.: "At the end of the day you have to find a bonafide recording artist because without that the competition doesn't mean anything," Simon adds. "That's why we've got to be careful this doesn't turn into a popularity competition. Because if [it does], then it becomes like 'Big Brother' - nothing's going to happen. That's what happened with Chris and Taylor. Chris is the one who sold the albums, Taylor hasn't." Randy chimes in, "Just because you win the show, doesn't mean you'll go onto huge sales with the record. It's not a guarantee. It means you get to jump into the ring with everybody and duke it out but you still have to make a very hot record." Paula notes, "[People] think we have a say in what the album becomes but we don't. It's like letting your kids go off the college."
9:28 p.m.: Simon on the music industry's perception of the show: "They didn't believe that a competition like this could produce a bonafide recording artist. But some people say it's the death of the music industry, other people will argue it's making people interested in music. I genuinely couldn't care less. I'm very happy. But you have a lot of people who are snobby about it, but that's the music industry. That's why it's in the mess it's in."
9:29 p.m.: More Simon: "It's not a music show, per se. The music is a part of the show. Because if you take away the criticism, the craziness of the beginning... if we just gave you 12 singers every week without you knowing them and they just sang and nothing happened, it would be the most boring show ever." Mike quips - "I think it's called 'Grease.'" - causing Simon to laugh for a full minute.
9:30 p.m.: Simon on why contestants cry when someone else gets voted off: "They didn't mean it. Why would you cry if one of your competitors is being kicked out? Deep down you're delighted. They know that the cameras are on them now so they're practically rubbing their eyes before the show ever starts. The second the cameras are off they're doing cartwheels."
9:34 p.m.: Ken uses the term "hamburger bar." I don't know why this amuses me.
9:36 p.m.: Pat asks about the boys having a rough start this year. Simon mentions that they're not as bad as season one's guys. "The best was Justin, [end of story]." Randy then goes on to accuse Simon of seeing "From Justin to Kelly" five times in the theatre. "That was a masterpiece," Simon jokes.
9:37 p.m.: Time for audience Q&A. Someone asks about what were tonight's results - since we were busy watching last year's finale. Paula is about to tell us when the audience shouts at her not to. Really people? So we don't find out. Simon just says, "no surprises, well... maybe one."
9:42 p.m.: Good question - someone asks if they think previous "Idol" contestants "forget where they came from." "Well, how long have we got," quips Simon. "It's very rare, I'm going to be honest with you, that we get a returning winner who apart from us will actually go up to the team of people - the producers, the stylists, the hair and makeup people - and say, 'Thank you for the time I had on the show.' Some people will deliberately turn against the show that made them successful. The truth is anyone who enters 'American Idol' is because all of the doors have been closed in their face. But they come on 'American Idol' because it's the one chance they've got. We put them there in the beginning and then the audience decides whether they are going to stay or go. There was somebody this week who was asked about her time on 'Idol' and she said, 'It was a stepping stone.' That was Jennifer Hudson. And I thought at the time, 'well, if you thought it now, why didn't you say it then?' It wasn't a stepping stone, it was her big opportunity to become noticed. And she got noticed and she got 'Dreamgirls.' So to answer your question: 'Yes.'"
9:43 p.m.: Paula says she hasn't forgotten where she came from: being a Laker girl.
9:44 p.m.: An audience member asks if they're any early favorites. Nobody goes out on a limb. "I think it will be a boy or a girl," Randy says. "The girls are the frontrunner for the moment," Simon adds. "But I think that's going to change in a few weeks."
9:45 p.m.: Simon on the biggest surprise on the show: "The biggest shock we had the first time was Tamyra Gray [getting] voted off in season one. We were really hyping ourselves up for this big Kelly Clarkson-Tamyra Gray final... it was incredibly disappointing at the time. I think it would have been potentially the best final we ever had."
9:47 p.m.: Paula notes that there hasn't been anyone quite like Ryan Starr since season one. Other favorite water cooler moments: the "panther" from this season, the kid who sang "Like a Virgin," the Clay Aiken look-a-like getting surprised by the real Clay Aiken.
9:48 p.m.: Paula and Randy claim the kid with their instructional singing video this season was a total setup by the producers.
9:50 p.m.: Simon on them being too harsh: "What you don't see is that before we start like we're talking to you now, the people who are going to audition are in a holding room so we come out in the morning and we introduce ourselves... we always say the same thing, 'If we say you're terrible, don't say thank you because they all do no matter what we say... [and] if you don't want to be criticized - because the chances are a lot of you will be - leave because that's what's going to happen today. If you're terrible, we're going to tell you you're terrible. Not a single person has ever left."
9:51 p.m.: Paula adds, "Nobody believes that people are that delusional. Honestly, we'll go into the room and half the parents are on one side and I always go up to the parents and say, 'You would never let your kid [go up there and] be embarrassed, right?'... And it's always those parents who speak up... stop me during a bathroom break and say, 'Why didn't you like my kid?'"
9:54 p.m.: Simon's girlfriend makes a cameo. "When are you getting married?" Paula asks. "I'm not," deadpans Simon.
9:55 p.m.: Someone asks about their dream celebrity guests. Ken mentions Janet Jackson. "[If it was] 10 years ago," Simon quips. As for their previous guests, Simon notes Prince refused to duet with any of the contestants. "I think it's more interesting when you see these people dueting."
9:57 p.m.: Pat asks about a rumor going about concerning Paul McCartney making an appearance. Ken says it's in the works but won't happen this year due to McCartney's touring commitments. "We're going to have a British Invasion week instead."
9:59 p.m.: Lastly, someone asks how to get tickets. Simon jokes that kissing up to him works. Mike adds that they're given away internally for the most part or to various charity contests and whatnot.
10:00 p.m.: And with that we're off. See you tomorrow for night two.
COMING MONDAY: NBC's "The Office."