DARLINGTON — When Emily Salathe picked up her phone Saturday evening, typed “Focus” and hit send on the text message, she wasn’t expecting much. Her sister and cousin did the same, as they were encouraged to do by the message displayed across the massive screen just before the American Idol Live 2011 concert began at Allstate Arena in Chicago.
The group — Salathe, her sister Jenny, cousin Kali Shager, aunts Julie Shager and Linda Connolly and a friend of her aunt’s — was seated in the second balcony with 14,000 other Idol fans surrounding them. The chances were slim that anything would come from the text but they knew it wouldn’t hurt to try their luck.
A couple minutes later, Jenny’s response arrived. “Thanks. Enjoy the show,” the message read on the screen of her phone.
Then, only a short time later, Emily got a very different message: “Congrats! You just won backstage passes after the show.”
Emily, the daughter of Mark and Bernadine Salathe, followed further instructions and responded with where she was seated so that after the show she’d get her exclusive meet and greet with the 11 American Idol finalists performing that evening.
She’d been looking forward to the concert since her aunt Julie surprised her with tickets to the show for her birthday in May. The 18-year-old Darlington High School senior is self-described a “huge fan” of Idol and never misses a show Wednesday and Thursday evenings during the season.
The concert, the 20th out of 40 concerts on the tour, lasted three hours and was fantastic, Emily said, much better than she’d anticipated it would be. The 2011 season was her favorite thus far in the show’s run.
As others left the arena, Emily and her group stayed put, awaiting the exclusive behind-the-scenes opportunity. When Emily was escorted backstage, all the others she was with got to go along, too, to meet Scotty McCreery, this year’s Idol winner; Lauren Alaina, Haley Reinhardt, James Durbin, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, Stephano Langone, Thia Megia and Naima Adedapo.
Emily was given a big poster, which the Idol top 11 autographed, and pictures were taken. She even has a picture as she leaned over and planted a kiss on the cheek of her favorite performer, Scotty, a 17-year-old country singer from North Carolina who will, like Emily, be a high school senior this fall.
There were others backstage as well, those with VIP passes, but Emily was the only backstage pass winner selected from simply hitting send on her text message. It was pretty overwhelming to take in. She was struck by how down to earth the performers were as they greeted fans. “They don’t seem famous when you’re back there,” said Emily, thinking back to the experience and how much fun it was to spend an extra two hours hanging out with the personalities she’d watched night after night at home on her television screen.