Go Back
Print this page

Food + Cooking

American Idol: Singing for Their Supper

Published in Gourmet Live 03.16.11
The judges walked the blue carpet. The top 13 arrived. The cameras flashed. But what did they eat? As Season 11 builds to its climax, we reprise Katherine Spiers’ insider report on the finalists’ fete of 2011

Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson

Since American Idol is one of the top shows on television, it’s only natural that it should be feted thoroughly, frequently, and in Los Angeles—a town that loves to celebrate its own successes. This most recent party is being thrown in honor of Season 10’s top 13 finalists. It’s being held immediately after the taping that announced said finalists, and it’s a lush-looking affair, all blue, silver and white—the show’s signature colors—with loud music, strobe lights, elevated couches, music icons (Paul Simon! Marc Anthony, of course)—and enormous buffets.

Hope Shapiro, a chef at Joe Melillo’s Epicurean Events, which is catering the party, says tonight’s event is nothing compared to last season’s “ridonkulous” 1,500-person finale party. To a casual observer, though, it seems like a pretty big deal, starting with the press line, its photographers getting frenzied with the approach of the cast of that other popular FOX music-themed show, Glee.

Of course, for the food-inclined, the real action’s in the back, and it’s been going on for hours. Epicurean Events’ chefs, along with the bartenders and the servers, have everything in place for the soon-to-be descending hordes. They’ve all done this many times before, so the celebrities and the glitz have lost their luster. In fact, the more important questions for the catering crew right now are: Where is the staff meal? And will tip jars be allowed on the bar? (In back. And no.) (And, yes, everyone watched Party Down, the comedy about the foibles of a Hollywood catering team.)

Though they may not be the most generous tippers, FOX appears to be one of the better clients from the caterer’s perspective. They like the food offered by Epicurean Events, which specializes in comfort food with a sense of humor (on the menu tonight: Cheddar mashed potato lollipops, tomato soup shooters, mini five-peppercorn-crusted strip steaks, and a “make-your-own shortbread cakes” bar). Joe Melillo says they’re good people who treat every cater waiter with respect.

There’s a long downtime before service. Attractive people in tight black American Idol T-shirts mill about, and really the cater waiters and the American Idol contestants are practically interchangeable—all of them well-scrubbed, enthusiastic young people. Journalists and press arrive first, and stand around picking chili cheese steak fries from American Idol logo cups, while staring at the AI episode unfolding live up on the big screens to see which contestants they’re about to interview.

Various TV stars have arrived, but they’re just sitting around, having cocktails, before walking the—blue!—carpet at the appointed time. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, servers are trying to evade the cigarette-girl-style trays that strap around the neck. They’re fairly embarrassing for the user. Though not as embarrassing as being the few early arrivals out front who are walking the press line, only to be photographed by absolutely no one.

Though once Ryan Seacrest, in all his gregariousness, and Steven Tyler, in full sartorial splendor, show up, so do all the other guests. The contestants are practically bouncing off the walls with excitement; Gordon Ramsay is having his picture taken and generally being very kind to his young fans. The buffet lines are attacked immediately; there are calls for replacement beef within five minutes of the guests arriving. The make-your-own-dessert bar is a wild hit.

Though the most tense thing Melillo says all night is: “That was supposed to have lettuce and salsa on it,” he confides that he’s not sure if he’s managed to exhale all day. No, breathing doesn’t happen until an hour after the guests of honors’ arrival, once they’ve been fed and his cooks are done with the rush. It’s all just as nerve-racking as singing for J-Lo.

Well, maybe not.

Gourmet Live,