BURBANK, Calif. - In a small, unadorned studio far removed from cameras, spotlights and songs ending with an instant review, the top 10 "American Idol" finalists are getting ready for a nationwide tour.
They're working on the intricacies of a group performance of "Don't Stop Believin'," with Matt Giraud and Scott MacIntyre singing and playing at dual pianos and the other eight, slouching comfortably on leather couches, adding their voices from the sidelines.
With so much behind them, and so much ahead, they manage to come across as friends who've gotten together for nothing more than a casual jam session.
"I'm not feeling the backup vocals," Danny Gokey offers at one point, after Adam Lambert notes that a transition in the reworked song is sounding awkward.
"I'm open to suggestions. It's very much a collaborative effort," responds musical director Dave Kochanski.
It's also, at least this morning, a relaxed one. At one point, Gokey delivers a full-blast note and, adding his own colour commentary, declares the "crowd is in shock and awe." Later, the former Milwaukee church music director playfully exhorts the room, "If God's been good to you, I want you to say yeah!"
Kris Allen, the mellow Conway, Ark., contestant who came out on top, said he expects the tour that begins July 5 in Oregon to be a welcome contrast to the weekly show experience.
"The energy is going to be better on tour," Allen said, and it will be easier to loosen up and feed off the crowd's energy. And, he added, "no one's judging you."
"I'll be with my friends, have a good time. I'm really excited," he said.
There will be family as well as pals. Allison Iraheta, who at 17 must have an adult accompanying her, can count on her mother or sister being on hand. Lil Rounds of Memphis, Tenn., expects her husband and three children in visit her in a few cities. Same with Allen's wife, Katy, although "she's not following me around," he said.
At least three of the finalists will have more than the tour to think about: Allen, Iraheta and runner-up Lambert already have deals for albums.
How will Lambert, for one, manage to record and tour?
"You tell me," he responds, with an easy grin. "We're doing a lot of great preliminary work on the album right now. ... It's just double-duty, you know, multitasking."
He's co-writing material for the CD and is enthusiastic about working with RedOne, who's produced hits for Lady Gaga and Sean Kingston, as well as Greg Wells (his artist list includes Katy Perry, who played favourites on "Idol" by wearing a cape emblazoned with Lambert's name) and Ryan Tedder.
Lambert, whose powerful voice and glam style made him both an object of admiration and mystery during the Fox TV singing contest ("I know who I am" was the mantra he repeated to questions about his sexuality), said in a Rolling Stone cover story that he's gay.
During a break from the tour rehearsal, Lambert said although "I wear myself on my sleeve," he wanted to keep part of his life private as he introduced himself to the "Idol" audience.
"It's weird when you're all of a sudden thrust into the public spotlight. It's a hard road to navigate," he said, and "you have to protect certain parts of yourself and see how it's going to play out. ... I really wanted people to identify with my entertainment before my personal life. I wanted people to enjoy my performances and get on board."
"Now that some people have, I feel more free to become personal," he said.
Iraheta, who calls her "Slow Ride" duet with Lambert a personal "highlight" of the contest, said the pair, both of Los Angeles, have been talking about recording a song together.
"I'm definitely down for that ... that would be so much fun," Iraheta said with a grin.
She's also upbeat about something else: Getting rid of her braces.
"There's just one sucker, a tooth in the middle, that just doesn't want to get straight," she says. "But I'm just tired of the braces so I'm probably gonna get them out before we hit the first venue."
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