DULUTH - A crowd was gathered outside the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Friday night well after the 2009 American Idols had sung their final notes of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
Mom and daughter duo Kay and Katie Houston of Lawrenceville exited the concert early, missing out on a couple of winner Kris Allen's solos, as well as the group finale, so they could get a premium spot right up against the metal barricades outside the venue.
All of the top 10 finalists from season eight of the Fox reality TV show "American Idol" were expected to sign autographs for fans after their performance.
The Houstons hoped to catch a glimpse of and, even better, snag an autograph from runner-up Adam Lambert.
"Let me just tell you," Kay Houston said, holding a glossy photo of Lambert she had bought inside, "Adam could right now tour on his own. Every time they flashed his face, the crowd went crazy."
Kay Houston had bought tickets for the concert the week they went on sale as a graduation gift for Katie, a Brookwood grad who showed off her new T-shirt with Lambert's face on it.
"We love Adam," she sighed.
Madison Nixon, 15, arrived at the Arena with her mom and a friend a little after noon on Friday.
Standing outside a metal barricade near the west entrance to the venue, she saw her first Idol about 2:30.
By 4 p.m., the Suwanee resident had gotten four autographs. Allen, Danny Gokey, Megan Joy and Michael Sarver had signed a photo Nixon had printed out of the top 10 "Idol" finalists.
But what really brought her out Friday?
"Adam Lambert," she said, followed a beat later by, "and Kris."
Nixon was able to snag tickets for the sold-out concert about a month ago from a seller on craigslist.com.
Idols' day off
The Idols arrived in Atlanta on Thursday after an 11-hour drive from Sunrise, Fla. With the day off, Anoop Desai was able to hang out with his best friend and a college roommate, both Atlanta residents who were set to attend Friday night's show.
Sarver got to take in one of Atlanta's famous eateries. A few of his friends from Texas in town to see the show took the singer to The Varsity.
"I had chili-cheese dogs and I ate an apple pie and some French fries, and it was quite tasty," Sarver said Friday afternoon. "I would like to have some right about now if I could."
Allen saw "The Hangover" solo, while other Idols, including Allison Iraheta, took in "Bruno" after doing some shopping.
"(I) went to Metropark (and bought) shirts, pants, belts, whatever," Iraheta said, "anything in Metropark I love."
Tour so far
"American Idols Live" kicked off July 5 in Portland, Ore. The tour stop in Duluth on Friday night was No. 18.
"We've been pumped about Atlanta because we know where Atlanta stands on the love scale," Sarver said. "We hear about the votes and where they come from, trust me."
The Idols were set to drive out of the Arena parking lot at midnight headed to Charlotte for a performance tonight.
"We're trekking through," Scott MacIntyre said Friday. "We have a ways to go, but I'm feeling great. It's been a great tour."
The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident celebrated his 24th birthday while on tour.
"Had a great dinner and got some Cold Stone (ice cream) on Matt (Giraud)," MacIntyre said.
Sweet treats, such as midnight milkshakes on the bus, are common on this tour, according to Desai, who stays in shape by running up and down stairs at each venue.
"I won't eat dinner when we have shows because we have food on the bus when we get out," Desai said. "We'll be on the bus at midnight and it' be burgers and shakes and stuff, so I have to keep in shape somehow."
Allen and MacIntyre used some time on their day off Thursday to work out.
"I did a long workout I hadn't done in a few days, so I'm very sore today," MacIntyre said Friday.
Allen said typical performance days for the Idols involve arriving at the venue and eating lunch before going into press interviews, which are followed by fan meet and greets. Sound checks begin at 5 p.m.
"Right after the sound check, we can kind of get into our little modes before the show starts at 7," Allen said. "Before I go on stage, it's been, I guess, the past two shows, I started doing jumping jacks ... 100 before I go on. And then after that I just kind of get quiet and say a little prayer and just get ready for the show."
Sarver is the first Idol to perform as the countdown from No. 10 to No. 1 begins.
Sarver said sometimes when he is finished with his solo set, the first of the show, he heads out to the audience.
"I get done singing ... and I'll find a little entrance and watch the show," he said. "I'd buy tickets to this thing."
The Idols' tour will conclude Sept. 15 in Manchester, N.H.
Allen, Iraheta, Desai, MacIntyre and Sarver all have plans in the works to release albums coming off the tour.
Desai is in talks about a record deal.
"I hope that solidifies itself before the end of the summer," he said.
Iraheta's album is expected to drop in the fall, followed by Allen's in November. After starting work on his album as soon as he left "American Idol" after his elimination, MacIntyre is now about midway through production.
"I'm be scrambling as soon as I get off the road to tie up some loose ends and then it will be hitting in the fall," MacIntyre said. "It's all original music kind of along the lines of John Mayer, Gavin DeGraw. There's always a little Bruce Hornsby in the back there somewhere."
MacIntyre said fans can get a sneak peek of his upcoming album on his MySpace page at www.myspace.com/scottmacintyre.
Sarver plans to release his own album late next year, which he described as modern, soulful country.
"Before 'American Idol,' country music was never even the slightest thought in mind," Sarver said. "People are shocked to hear that, but I am actually not a country singer. I am a soul singer that has a country accent that happened to work on an oil rig and lives in Texas. So I fit the profile."
But Sarver will give his fans what they seem to want - country music - on his debut album
"I've embraced it and I've woven it in to what I am," Sarver said. "I'm writing country music right now and it's awesome and I love it."