I have been covering “American Idol” for the last 11 seasons. I’ve interviewed everyone from Kelly Clarkson in Season 1, right through to this season’s crop of contestants. Whether it’s backstage, after the contestants are eliminated, the morning after the big finale, goofing off with the judges or even chatting with former contestants years later as they embark on new projects, I have had so many amazing moments.
Besides being the first person to chat with the winner the morning after the finale (and loving those special moments), perhaps my favorite time to chat with the contestants is the day after they are eliminated. I always try to cheer them up with a fun little gimmick.
Last week, while backstage at ““Idol”,” I ran into Season 9 finalist Katie Stevens and she reminded me of when I presented her with a cap and gown. It got me thinking about all the fun moments I have shared with the contestants over the years. So as the Top 10 perform for your votes this week, today I present my top ten favorite ”“Idol”” interview moments.
No. 10: Aaron Kelly’s “Idol” Camp Rewind
Back in the day, “American Idol” held this camp up in Massachusetts for aspiring contestants. Our show had filmed there. So, once I found out that Season 9 teenager, Aaron Kelly, attended that camp as a pre-teen, I scoured our archival tapes and bingo! I found some nice embarrassing footage of an unknown Aaron wowing the crowd. The day after he was eliminated from the show and the Top 5, I couldn’t resist springing it on him.
No. 9: Paula Abdul Surprises Scott McIntyre
Sure, Paula Abdul could be a little loopy on “Idol” but she truly has a heart of gold. Just after Season 8 wrapped up, she took it upon herself to surprise Scott McIntyre, who is legally blind, with a guide dog. I was honored to be asked to attend the big reveal.
No. 8: Ace Young & Diana DeGarmo’s Naked Truth
Oddly enough, one of my favorite moments happened recently. Season 3 runner-up Diana Degarmo and Season 5’s Ace Young have been dating for about two years. He recently wrote a song for her to sing on “The Young & The Restless,” where she plays mob daughter Angelina. Celebrity couples are typically tight-lipped about their personal lives but these two told me the whole naked truth about how they met… which was actually, naked.
No. 7: Katie Stevens’ Mock Graduation
It was a double elimination week in Season 9, when both Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens were sent home. Being on “American Idol,” meant Katie was going to have to miss her high school graduation. So if she couldn’t don a cap and gown, I decided to bring one to her.
No. 6: Danny Gokey’s Inspiring Story
Most of my favorite moments are silly and fun, but I was truly touched when Season 8’s Danny Gokey — during rehearsals for the “Idol” tour — asked me interview him. And during that interview, he told the whole story about the loss of his wife Sophia and how it affected him during the show.
No. 5: Jason Castro’s Dreaded Hair Moment
Now we all really dug Season 7’s dreadlocked Jason Castro. He said many times he would never cut the dreads for the show. So, I thought it might be fun, after he was eliminated at Top 4, to see what he would look like with other hairstyles… like Simon Cowell’s or Sanjaya Malakar’s. I also thought, perhaps I would bring along some clippers just in case in changed his mind about cutting the dreads. I had a few upset fans after this aired, but it was all in good fun.
No. 4: Jennifer Lopez Joins “Idol”
People always ask me, as someone who interviews celebrities day in and day out, do I ever get intimidated by anyone. Very few people can shake me, but one who can is Jennifer Lopez. The day it was announced she was the new “Idol” judge is the first time I have ever interviewed her. Despite being a little on edge, since I knew I would have to ask about how this schedule would affect her role as mom to her twins, Jennifer put me at ease right from the get go. She is a strong, confidant woman and is very media savvy, so nothing throws her off. I found her to be lovely and warm and yes, still just a little intimidating.
No. 3: Kris Allen & Adam Lambert’s Morning After
I had a special relationship with the contestants of Season 8, who — by far — will always remain my favorites. I know Kris loved coffee and was going on no sleep, so I figured he needed a caffeine fix. I remember meeting Adam when he made the Top 24, and we just instantly bonded. It was no secret I was a huge fan of his from the get go. Unfortunately, the day after the finale aired, many people were still questioning Adam’s sexuality. He had yet to come out at the time and it was brought up by the media at a post “Idol” press conference. So, I wanted to find out his reaction to it. When he mentioned he liked that people were “curious,” it just made me think “bi-curious,” which cracked Adam up.
No. 2 & No. 1: So Long Simon Cowell
After nine seasons on “Idol,” Simon was the king of that show and therefore deserves two spots on my list. Sure, he came off as gruff and mean while judging “Idol,” but let me tell you… Simon is one of the nicest, most charming guys I have ever met in this business. We have always had playful banter in our interviews. Over the nine years we spent doing interviews (and him always calling me “trouble”) it was only fitting in our last interview at his final show, he playfully pass the judging baton to me.
But truly, this video, where his fellow judges and past contestants reminisce on Simon’s nastiest remarks from the Season 9 finale, is my favorite. It shows that no matter what went down, everyone had nothing but love for Mr. Nasty.
-- Laura Saltman