Astute fans of American Idol got a big surprise in the opening moments of Wednesday night's X Factor when Jennel Garcia was joined onstage by a familiar face -- Todrick Hall.
Hall, who made it to the top 16 in the ninth season of Idol, added vocal color to Garcia's version of the Ike and Tina Turner classic, "Proud Mary," and later performed alongside nearly every act, including country singer Tate Stevens on his version of Shania Twain's "From This Moment" and Lyric 145's mashup of Katy Perry's "E.T." and Queen's "We Will Rock You."
How did Hall, who famously put his own spin to Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" for his first Idol semifinal performance (and was eliminated after singing a Queen song), land the gig? Credit choreographer Brian Friedman. "He's a great guy and a friend of mine who follows my work," Hall told The Hollywood Reporter following Wednesday's live show. "He wrote me and said, 'I know this may be weird, but would you ever consider being a backup singer?' I was, like, 'Absolutely!' Two days later, I'm on stage singing with everybody."
As it turns out, Hall didn't even have to audition, but his Idol training came in handy when it was time to learn more than 12 songs (thanks to last-minute changes) in just a couple of days. All told, Hall and five other backup singers put in one long six-hour stretch of rehearsals, during which they figured out all of their five-part harmonies, oohs, aahs, places where they double the vocal and others where they "provide a buffer," Hall, a seasoned Broadway performer with credits in such shows as Hairspray, explained.
As for how it felt being back in the studio that broadcast his name and voice to millions back in 2010, Hall confessed, "It's very weird -- especially to be on the other side and to see the contestants going through what I went through."
Indeed, Hall, whose Idol journey got cut short just shy of the Top 12, feels their pain. "I just want to reach out to some of them and say keep your spirit up because it's the worst thing to get inside your own head."
Inside Hall's own head is Britney Spears. "It's weird to see somebody who's such an icon just sitting there, chewing her gum, or blinking or doing normal human things," Hall laughs. "It's a little bit alarming. I don't know how these kids are doing it -- sitting there, talking to her, being mentored... But I think this is an amazing experience. It makes me wish I had waited a little bit longer to do another show."
And miss the chance to be chastised by Simon Cowell? That, plus rejection by a few million, builds character. So how was the reunion of former judge and contestant? Said Hall: "Simon was, like, 'Don't I know you?' I said, 'Yeah, you kicked me off American Idol a couple years ago. [Laughs] No, he was super nice and it was good to know that he remembered me. Plus it's a lot of the same staff so it feels like being back home."
As for Hall's X Factor favorites? He has a few, "Carly [Rose Sonenclar] is one of my favorites, because she's a Broadway girl. I also like Vino -- he was great on 'Let's Stay Together' and I loved his energy. I love the group Lyric 145 and Fifth Harmony who sang 'Hero.'"
Moreover, Hall likes the vibe of X Factor, which he says is much more relaxed than on Idol. "I feel like they're not as strict here," Hall elaborates. "Everyone’s relaxed. On Idol, we couldn't have our phones, but I just walked with my phone on stage and no one stopped me. I could've taken a picture, I saw Khloe [Kardashian] just hanging out in the elevator... Demi was so nice, Simon was nice..."
That only leaves one more item to cross off his to-do list: meet Britney Spears. "I haven't had a chance yet but that’s my prayer for 2012: to run into Britney in an elevator. We'll see..."
Did you spot Hall? How do you think he did?