Thursday, February 25, 2016

So . . . We Took a Quick Trip to California

Most of you gave up on the American Idol wagon. I realize that. Most of our family gave up as well. But there were two holdouts at our house--Lily and me. We spent a few hours each week seated on the couch together, commenting and evaluating and enjoying. Both of us were sad when it was announced last year that 2016 would be the final season, and we've been watching every episode this season tinged with a little unhappiness.

A few weeks ago, I had a brilliant idea of what to give Lily for her sixteenth birthday. The series finales of the show are being filmed April 6th and 7th--the week of her birthday. What could be a more perfect birthday gift than watching the finale in person? I looked into tickets, but the CHEAPEST ones are $2000. Apiece. Yeah. That dream got shot down immediately. I told her what I'd wanted to do and how it was impossible, and that was that.

But I did sign up on a website for a ticket lottery to the regular season episodes. Last Tuesday, in the middle of her voice lesson (ironically enough), I received an email that we had been selected in the lottery. I knew the trip would have to be a quick one, since I was working Monday and Wednesday (still weird to type), but I though we could work it out. Without hesitating, I walked in on her lesson and shared the good news. From that point, it was just a matter of getting plane tickets and finding a place to stay.

We landed at LAX right around rush hour Monday night, got a cab, and drove to our AirBnB apartment. Less than a block from the apartment we saw CBS studios--I couldn't have picked a hotel closer than we were. It was perfect. A cute little one-bedroom apartment with everything we needed. Lily was exhausted at this point and wanted to chill before heading out for dinner, so she flipped on AppleTV and we watched an episode of Fixer Upper before my growling stomach started speaking too loudly. After a little prodding, I got her off the couch and out the door.

We were walking down the street toward a grocery store when I looked in the window of this little restaurant.
And you guessed who was in there, didn't you?
LaPorsha and her baby, along with a friend, were just getting ready to leave the restaurant. I stopped Lily. "Did you see who's in there??" She took a few steps back and squealed! "Mom, what do we do?" "It's up to you. We can go in there if you're brave enough." And with that, Lily pulled open the door.

The restaurant was empty except for LaPorsha's group and two men sitting at a bar table. The hostess approached us and asked if wanted to be seated. Hesitating for the first time, Lily looked over her head and said, "Ummm. No. I just . . . We just want to talk to her." LaPorsha walked over to us and was so kind and gracious. She talked with Lily for a minute and let us talk to her baby girl. It was incredible. I hope celebrity allows her to stay the kind of person she is now. I was impressed. For the rest of the evening, Lily and I giggled about our good fortune, sending the picture to any people we thought might appreciate it (and a few who didn't, to be honest). That encounter set the mood for the big day--Tuesday.
Lily trying her first macaron--not that impressed

We knew our tickets weren't a guarantee that we would get into the theatre, so we decided we would leave the apartment around 8 am, hoping that would be enough time to secure seats. We left a bit later than we hoped (8:15 or so), but we were stocked with snacks and the iPad to keep us happy until the 1 pm call time.

We walked to the studio and saw people in line being ushered through the gates. In a panic, we scurried over there, only to realize that Lily had left her ID at the apartment. When we reached the head of the line, Lily said, "I'm only 15. Is it ok that I don't have ID?" The employee, in a surly voice retorted, "Are you kidding me? You can't come in without ID, and you have to be 18." I knew that wasn't right, because the ticket clearly stipulated audience members had to be 12 or older, so I handed her my ticket to clarify. Another surly statement: "This is the Price is Right line. Idol is on the other side of the building." And with that, she quickly looked through us to the six women behind us, dressed in rainbow suspenders, shamrock shirts, and green tulle tutus. If I had thought for a moment, I would have realized we must be in the wrong line just by the outfits around us, but I was so rushed trying to make it into the studio, I didn't notice.

A quick walk around the block got us in the right place and around our people--the vestiges of American Idol fans from around the country. When we got there, only five people were ahead of us in line. The first three had flown from Pennsylvania when they got tickets and were not going to risk missing the taping for anything--they started the line at 4:30 am. The next two girls had arrived around 5:30, and the line had stayed that way for three hours. We were pumped! Numbers 6 and 7 in line! We were shoo-ins, right?
Can you see Lily looking for something to eat in the blue bag?

Standing in line for hours with strangers immediately makes you friends, right? Have you ever had that happen--you start sharing where you're from and who you're there to see, and instant friends.
 These two girls were there to see JLo--American Idol itself didn't matter much to them. And the PA people were there to see Keith Urban--they are members of the 100+ club--a group that has seen him in concert more than 100 times.
Lily and I don't have true favorites in the field of contestants (Lily likes Mackensie the best, but still likes a few of the others, as do I), but these two girls in the plaid were the presidents of the Avalon fan club. Fun to meet people from all over the country.

April, the JLo fan, had attended a taping before, and she started sharing her experience with Lily--how to get into the pit, the odds of us getting in, etc. It was good to hear from someone who knew all the ins and outs--except the studio has changed how things work a little bit.

In the end, it worked out ok. People with VIP and priority tickets were let into the studio before we were, and that worried us all a little. But once we got past the front gate, we knew we had made it!
We were greeted by another employee who quickly sized up each person--cute young ones got wristbands, and geezers like me were given tickets and assigned seats. At this point in the process, they separated those who were going to watch from the floor from the rest of us, took our cell phones, and seated us in rows of bleachers to wait.

It was 1:15 pm.

Taping was scheduled to begin at 3, and they let us all into the studio about fifteen minutes before then. I found my seat (next to a pillar on the first row of the balcony) and looked across the floor. Lily was guided to a section directly across from me, where I could watch her experience without dampering it with my presence. It was perfect for both of us.

3:00 came and went, and the audience warm-up guy kept postponing and stalling. He took some video of the kids on the floor and posted them to his Instagram account (chuckdukas--you can see some great video of Lily having a blast in one of them). This was the worst part of the whole experience--waiting in the studio for it to start. Lily struck up a conversation with the cutest of the 12 boys on the floor (SOOOO many teenage girls), and they talked for the rest of the afternoon.

Finally, just after 4 pm, the stage manager announced that Ryan Seacrest was on his way out. The show began.

It was incredible to watch my daughter have the time of her life. She was stationed in a spot where she could shake each contestant's hand as they exited the stage, and she did. She can say she shook hands with the next American Idol (since she got all 14 of them!), Ryan Seacrest, and Keith Urban. She talked with Harry Connick, and I just watched. Something strange happens to you when you become a mom--watching your children live life experiences is just as rewarding as experiencing them for yourself. And that's exactly how I felt that day.

Before we knew it, the taping was over, we were reunited outside to collect our cell phones and exchange stories from the past few hours. I was starving and Lily was tired of standing for the past few hours, even though the adrenaline was still pretty high. We walked to Chipotle, ate burritos, and talked and talked about what we'd just seen. Before long, we were back at the apartment, changed into comfy clothes, eating ice cream, and watching House.

It was glorious.
Our flight left LAX Wednesday morning at 6:50 am, and being unfamiliar with the notorious southern California traffic, we left the apartment at 4:20, counting on an Uber driver being close by. Close driver, paired with nary a person in sight, got us to the airport almost two hours before our flight left. Lily used her "sleeping in the airport" skills she'd perfected last summer in India and promptly fell asleep until we left.

By 10 am, Lily was back at school and I was on my way to work.

All told, we spent around nine hours at the studio that day--with only a little over an hour in the actual taping. And we were in California about 36 hours. But it was wonderful. It was fantastic. And it is a memory we will share the rest of our lives.

**If you want to look for Lily as you watch the episode, you can't ever really see her face (only her back), but look for the dress she's wearing in these pictures and her long dark hair. She is standing next to the stairs coming down from the stage, three or four people back. She reaches out to greet each contestant as they pass. And if you really want to search hard for me, I'm standing next to a pole and am one blurry pixel in the distance in a couple shots. 


  1. I loved reading this! What a super fun birthday are one COOL mom!
    (Mackenzie is my favorite too!)
    (And, Harry Connick Jr. ;)

  2. You get a BIG ribbon for being a great mum!! What an experience for your Lily!!