Kristy Lee Cook is a revelation, singing in a pure country voice. Her electric blond hair and sequined body win over the formerly disinterested dads in the audience. During Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA, folks tear up.
Smithson brings back the rock vibe. She's spot-on with "Heart's Crazy On You", and the crowd lets her know it. "Wow," she says. "A year ago, we all had regular jobs. Now we're here playing to you. That's crazy."
White softens the mood with her set, typified by her barefoot performance of Let It Be.
Smiling is mom Danielle Achepohl, here with four young girls. "If you have kids who love music, there aren't many shows you can bring them to," she says. "This is clean."
The first half ends with a video nod to the charity effort Idol Gives Back. All those who have performed so far return to the stage for U2's "Pride" ("In the Name of Love"), which then gives way to a Guitar Hero audience-participation session.
Backstage, Eze is off by himself, video game in hand. He smiles easily, but his voice is hushed.
"I guess I'm a loner generally," he says. "But the audience does give me so much. Excuse me." He disappears off toward the chiropractor's office.
Smithson walks by. "Have you seen the keys to this golf cart? I want to go for another ride," she says. The tour has been "a lot more work" than she expected, between the travel and the incessant autograph sessions, not to mention the concerts. "I'm not sure when Motley Crue gets up, but it's not when we do."
The upside, she says, is being able to sharpen her act without worrying about whether it's Beatles week or what Simon Cowell might say about her outfit. "I feel I'm stronger all the way around, from my personality to my voice," she says.
Kristy Lee Cook nods. "On the road, it's been so satisfying to hear fans say, 'We didn't really like you that much on the show, but we love you now.' "
Archuleta brings the show to a crescendo
On stage, Castro's ukulele is mistakenly left unplugged, but he perseveres. Mercado scores a standing ovation after a blistering version of Beyoncé's Listen.
Then comes the Boy Wonder, recalling Beatlemania. The structural integrity of the arena is in doubt as Archuleta rises from the floor, seated at a piano, to perform Robbie Williams' Angels.
"All we're missing is people on stretchers," says Jeff Archuleta, mouthing every lyric.
After Hello, Idol winner Cook whips out a video camera. "I've been filming every audience on this tour to remind me of this experience, so make some noise," he says. It does.
"We're done!" White says after the Idols' Don't Stop the Music finale.
Not even close.
More fans, and more autographs
Back in T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, the Idols return to their fans. This time, the crowd lines 100 yards of fence, three deep. Nearly two dozen police keep an eye on things, though teen girls tend to pose a threat only to eardrums.
For an hour, 10 singers no one knew a year ago sign shirts and posters and newspaper clippings, collect candies, brownies and kisses, and generally bond with a populace that may stay loyal. Or may move on to Season 8's winners.
But for now, they're theirs.
"I'm tired, sure," Johns says. "But you get energy from these people. Just look at them."
The shrieks erase all thoughts of sleep.
On the road again …