ATLANTIC CITY - When the band started tuning up Saturday afternoon at the Trump Taj Mahal's Mark G. Etess Arena, Danielle and Gabrielle Sakowski ran to the door and pressed their ears to the crack.

At 4 p.m., showtime was still hours away.

But they're big fans, and when American Idols Live pulled into Atlantic City on Saturday, the girls did what big fans do: Waited with nervous excitement for any sound, sight or indication the stars were nearby.

They drove with their parents, Dan and Donna Sakowski, 45 and 43, of Freehold, Monmouth County, to the Taj Mahal.

"I'm a die-hard fan," said Danielle, 13, whose ticket was a birthday gift.

Gabrielle, 10, was excited to see Lee DeWyze, the 24-year-old former paint salesman who won this year's competition. "I like his talent, his voice," she said.

If the two want to keep hearing from their idols, they will probably have plenty of future opportunities.

Earlier in the day, several of the show's performers said they looked forward to getting back to the studio and writing more music once the tour wrapped up.

Casey James said he had been talking with some people about some things, but did not want to be specific. "Hopefully I'll be able to make an announcement soon," he said.

Similarly, 17-year-old Aaron Kelly said he was confident in his pop-country style but that it was hard to get noticed because he said people did not take teenagers seriously.

Didi Benami, 23, said she wanted to do more work with the Rebecca Joy Lear Imagine Foundation, named for a friend who died in a car accident. Beyond that, she wanted to travel more, through the U.S., Europe and Israel.

The tour comes as "American Idol" has begun to show signs of aging. The show, in its ninth year, received some of its lowest ratings this year, while lower-than-expected ticket sales meant that several dates were canceled or rescheduled.

Still, "we're blessed to have 40-some shows. Whether that's being shortened or something else, we're still blessed," said Crystal Bowersox, this season's runner-up.

Tim Urban also shrugged it off. "It's the nature of the game," he said. "I mean, we still have a tour. It's not like we canceled the tour."

Benami said the reshuffling was a "bummer" because her sister, whom she has not seen in two years, had a ticket for a rescheduled show in Bridgeport, Conn. Other family members had wanted to see a show in Kansas City, Mo., that was canceled.

The idols said the tour was mostly fun.

"We all have a good time, goofing off backstage," Bowersox said.

Kelly said that if not for the show, he would be back home in Sonestown, Pa., on the computer or hanging out with friends.

He said that earlier in tour, James and Michael Lynche tricked fellow idol Andrew Garcia into believing that he had to be up and ready to catch the tour bus at 3 a.m. "I'm so glad it wasn't me," Kelly said. "I need the sleep."

Kelly said he and other idols even made a couple girls cry when hugged. "You don't want to make people cry," he said, "but knowing that you're making them cry because you're making them happy, that's a good feeling."

Tim Urban said he was looking forward to playing a hometown gig in Dallas, as well as in Buffalo, N.Y., where his grandparents live. But he also said the travel, performances and other requirements did not give them much time to sleep.

There is a significant age gap between some of the performers, such James, 27, and Kelly and Katie Stevens, who are both 17.

But James and Kelly both played down the significance

"Things you might say to Mike (Michael Lynche, 26) you wouldn't say to Aaron," James said.

Similarly, Kelly said he considered James and Siobhan Magnus, 20, to be like an older brother and sister.

Back at the doors, Linwood resident Heather LoPresti, 37, also waited with breathless anticipation for the Idols to take the stage.

She saw last year's tour and was there early in hopes of scoring backstage passes.

She loved the show but could not decide if it was the singing, the performance or the drama of it all together.

"I just think once you start watching it, you get drawn into it," she said.

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046