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"American Idol's" Top 24 make their case at the Fillmore Detroit

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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DETROIT -- "Thank you for the waves," one of "American Idol's" stage managers told the crowd at the Fillmore Detroit on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 19. "Detroit is a friendly city."

Detroit, in fact, was downright fanatical when it came to having "Idol" in town for the first two of four episodes being held in the Motor City -- and the first time the Fox singing competition has gone on the road for anything other than auditions.

The two shows on Thursday, featuring the final 24 contestants -- 12 men and 12 women -- will air Feb. 25 and 26. Viewers will then cast votes and the 16 remaining singers will return for live broadcasts on March 4-5, during which they'll perform Motown songs. "Idol's" 12 finalists will be chosen after those episodes and return to Hollywood for the balance of Season 14.

"Idol" executive producer Trish Kinane explained that this season she and her colleagues wanted to give the contestants a chance to "get more experience" before the live broadcasts begin, including performing at Los Angeles' House of Blues as well as making the trip to Detroit. "We wanted to give them a feeling of being a working musician," Kinane said. "If they're going to be the next American Idol they're going to be working very hard, so we wanted to give them that experience of traveling and being somewhere different."

Detroit, according to Kinane, was a natural spot to take "Idol" on the road. "It's stepped in Motown, Eminem, so much music; it wasn't just a place. It's stepped in music history," she said. It also helped that Detroit viewership for "Idol" on Southfield-based WJBK-TV is among the top-rated in the country. "It was, 'You like us, we like you, so we'll do it here," said Kinane, adding that there will likely be some surprises for the next two shows.

Harry Connick Jr., one of "Idol's" three judges, certainly approved of the choice. "Everybody's just fired up," he said before Thursday's taping. "There's a huge musical history here. To be a part of it via 'American Idol' is a big deal not only for everybody performing on the show but for us, too. It's an incredibly history-packed city, and we just feel honored to get to spend a little time here."

The feeling was mutual at The Fillmore. "I like the live experience," said Mikki Rubin, 39, of West Bloomfield, who attended the first show taping. Rubin and her friend Heather Marwill, 45, also of West Bloomfield, brought their two young daughters as a surprise, and the girls quickly made their way to the very front of the theater near the stage. "It's cool to see what's going on. It's a great atmosphere, a lot of fun and totally different from what we see on TV."

Abby Cook, 23, of Madison Heights was part of a small delegation from Southfield's Specs Howard School and also marveled at the Hollywood-sized production in the Fillmore -- which will also host tapings of "So You Think You Can Dance" next week. "It's really interesting to see it from this point of view instead of on TV," Cook said. "It's still glitzy, but in a different way. It's very controlled."

The all-ages "Idol" faithful were certainly well-choreographed throughout the two tapings and exuberantly followed directions about when to cheer, laugh and create the general air of excitement that accompanies "Idol" episodes. Some brought signs, and those close enough to the judges table shared a few words with Connick, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and host Ryan Seacrest -- whose make-up was touched up after every two performances.

The Arctic weather presented some challenges for the production staff of 250, which rolled into town at 6 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 15 with its five semi trucks of equipment -- including 400 lights and 12 cameras -- unloading in -8 degree weather. Gear that would normally be stowed in the trucks had to remain inside because of the cold, while mentor Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Record's arrival was delayed by bad weather in Nashville.

Neverthless, the 24 contestants still trotted around to various Detroit locations -- including Eastern Market, the Heidelberg Project, the Riverwalk and the People Mover -- for additional footage to be used during the broadcast.

Specific details about the shows are embargoed until after they air, but there was definitely a charged atmosphere throughout the tapings. As Lopez pointed out, "This where the competition really starts becoming about America choosing. There's so much we can do to this point as judges. Now they have to win over the home audience."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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