Saturday, May 27, 2006

Idol Finale: The Cyclone Effect

Idol MeleeDO NOT SWARM the judges or contestants,” yelled the affiliate coordinator, after setting up a scenario that virtually guaranteed just such a melee. It was Wednesday evening and American Idol’s final performance episode was drawing to a close inside the Kodak Theater. As it did, about a hundred weary media teams loitered just outside the complex and rolled our eyes at each other. Most of us had flown in from around the country to document the coronation this year’s Idol; nothing less than a live Elvis sighting was going to stop this electronic herd from stampeding once the right targets emerged from the theater. Surrounding this idling scrum of photogs, sound techs and reporters, an excited throng of fans and tourists rubbernecked for a better look at the lights, cameras and action that was about to follow.

Rabid Fans AwaitThirty minutes passed and the grumbling built to a crescendo. With only a half hour left until the pre-arranged live shots were about to begin, any chance of peace and order was slipping away with every sweep of the clock’s second hand. In fact, the satellite windows had already opened. All around me, glossy entertainment reporters spoke into brightly-decorated microphones - their booming voices and over-coiffed images ping-ponging across the heavens and into living rooms across the globe. All I could do was eye the grand entrance leading into the Kodak Theater. If Paula, Randy, Simon or Bigfoot didn’t soon emerge and consent to individual interviews, bedlam would ensue. When a few handlers did come out, I tightened the grip on my camera - only to have to readjust the weight when the cell phone hanging off my hip began vibrating.

Katharine Under Seige“Can’t talk, call back…” I said and pressed the End button before the voice could protest. Little did I know the caller was a curious assignment editor back at my station, who’d been watching me pace and seethe in the background of a Fox News reporter’s lengthy live shot. With seven satellite paths feeding out of the Kodak Theater complex, the pre-coverage was quite continuous and fairly breathless. Still, nothing of import had happened, as neither Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, or any of the celebrity judges had exited stage left to greet the pack of toothy reporters and squinty lenslingers. So…we waited and gossiped and bitched. Crews from across the country asked each other about fellow co-workers, photogs admired each others rigs and more than one correspondent checked their looks in hand held mirrors. It was about that time the fans and tourists began screaming.

Chicken Little RulesWhat followed was by far the largest camera crush I’ve ever been a sweaty part of. First to exit the theater were the celebrity judges, Paula, Randy and Simon joined at the hip and walking lock-step into the fray. This in itself was cause for concern, as they were supposed to break off and pause for one-on-one interviews. Instead they emerged as a triple-headed monster - smiling widely but vacantly at the hungry pack of now highly-agitated news crews. Shouldering my lens and surging forward, I instantly found myself hovering inches away from Paula Abdul but unable to hear the delusional sentence fragments she’s come to be known for. Simon and Randy were also within reach, but with a dozen fellow photogs in my personal space, all I could hear was the fans’ roar of approval and all I could smell was what the guy from Cleveland had for lunch. Something with onions...

Though it only lasted a few minutes, the feeding frenzy felt much longer from the inside. At one point I found myself stretched to my full height of five feet nine, camera teetering on extended palms as I peered up into a down-turned viewfinder. Trying desperately not to drop my rig on Taylor Hick’s famous gray head, I trembled and perspired as he cocked his head and yelled “Soul Patrol” for the gazillionth time. At the moment, I felt as if I could lift my feet and remain standing, my weight supported by the horde of cameraman and women around me. To make matters worse, irate handlers kept grabbing our targets by the hand and pulling them to different camera positions. We of course followed, like unwanted debris swirling around the eye of a newborn-celebrity cyclone. ‘Do not swarm’, I thought as my back and shoulders screamed in silent protest. PFFFT! I didn’t fly cross-country only to be kicked to the curb by unorganized lackeys. I just worried what it might be like the following day, when the real madness would begin in earnest...

1 comment:

in-gun-ear said...


Just a suggestion, but, ah, I don't think I would be showing that picture you took of Chris and Deanna to Chris. Know what I mean, Vern?