Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and singer Smokey Robinson prepare to share the Hitsville magic with "Idol" contestants. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
They came, they saw, and eight of the 10 "American Idol" finalists sang Motown on Thursday at the Motown Historical Museum, under the watchful eye of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson.
The "Idols" flew to Detroit from Los Angeles by private jet, arriving before dawn. Just before 10:15 a.m., they motored up West Grand Boulevard in a caravan of four Ford Flex Limited cars to the place known as Hitsville.
Gordy and Robinson arrived in Lincoln Town Cars about 45 minutes later, Gordy all business in a tan glen plaid sports jacket and tan slacks, while Robinson was California casual in denim blue Uggs, blue shirt and jeans, with a hammered silver cross around his neck.
The Motown veterans mentored the "Idols" in taped segments that will be aired next Wednesday and Thursday during a special "50 Years of Motown" week on the top-rated Fox TV show.
"They're beautiful people," said Gordy of the "Idol" contestants. "I asked them a lot of different questions, and they answered them in such a wonderful way, because they're already successes, they have an audience around the world. They're handling it very well, so far. I wanted to encourage them to keep that humility."
What lesson did he impart to the "Idols" about Detroit?
"Everything here is about love. Everything in Detroit is about love. It's unfortunate that the economic situation is happening, but the world is facing this major crisis. But at Motown, it was love of the song, love of your fellow man... I said you can only be truly happy if you're proud of the way you got your success. You can't follow the crowd and get into drugs and drinking."About a dozen fans greeted the contestants as they arrived, and more gathered as the day went on. First to jump out of a Flex was tall, strapping Adam Lambert, wearing his usual all-black ensemble, oversized sunglasses and sporting an aqua-green streak in his hair. Ypsilanti native Matt Giraud stepped out of the vehicle, letting a rush of cold Michigan air fill his lungs. "Hometown, all right!" he exclaimed.
Eight of the Top 10 finalists -- Megan Joy and Michael Sarver did not make the trip due to illness -- were in town to try out songs they'll be performing on next week's Motown-themed episode in the place where so many of those hits were born: the legendary Studio A.
Gordy compared the Motown star-making machine to that of "Idol," describing "Idol" as "probably the greatest platform in the history of the music business."
His advice focused more on the kids as people, addressing the subject of personal happiness.
"I've reached my pot of gold, so to speak," Gordy said. "It's easy to be happy when you're successful. After (success) is when you want to be truly happy. And you can only be truly happy if you're proud of yourself."
This is not Robinson's first tango with "American Idol"; he acted as a guest judge on season two and performed on season six.
The "Idol" finalists did not appear tired from their grueling schedule. Lil Rounds -- who actually is rather "lil" in person -- sported an Anita Baker-like, short, flirty 'do, and was bundled up in a black coat and big shades. Scott MacIntyre, who is vision-impaired, carried a walking cane and was helped up the walkway to the building by an assistant.
When asked if he was going to win it all on "Idol" this year, Giraud -- sporting a cool pair of designer shades -- smiled, drawling, "We gon' try. But it's good to be home, and that's all I'm thinking about right now."
He didn't hesitate when asked to name his favorite Motown act. "Jackson Five," he said. (Giraud sang the Robinson-penned Jackson Five hit "Who's Lovin' You" during "Idol's" Wild Card round, which ended up earning him a place as one of the finalists.)
The Roostertail's Tom Schoenith, a longtime Gordy and Robinson friend, showed up in the 11 o' clock hour with assistants bearing trays of salads and buckets of fruit and vegetables.
Just after 3 p.m., the "Idols" finally left Hitsville, granting autographs to a line of ecstatic fans kept behind a wooden barrier. Asked what he did inside, Giraud said, "Learned how to sing right!"
Robinson gave Allison Iraheta a tour of the Motown museum. "I won't have my one-on-one with him until next week in L.A..," she related.
Gordy advised Lambert of the importance of individuality, of being yourself. "I really picked up on that!" Lambert said with a grin. "The key for us all is to breathe, to relax and realize just how fortunate we all are."
The Idol Eight were then chauffeured back to their hotel just after 3 p.m.
The footage taped Thursday will air during next Wednesday's episode of "Idol," and Robinson is scheduled to perform during Thursday's elimination episode.
Gordy believes the "Idols" have a leg up on their peers, unlike Motown when it started 50 years ago.
"We started from zero; they're starting from a mountaintop," he said.