SAN FRANCISCO — In a way it was a little silly, but given the nature of what it is and what it has become, OO7 security measures probably did fit the bill.

Second-round tryouts for American Idol are one thing and one thing only – hush-hush.

This is when contestants do or die, sing or shut-up, continue to walk the path to fame and fortune or turn around and go back to those mundane, minimum wage day jobs.

You see, what they accomplished, or didn’t accomplish on Tuesday and Wednesday, we won’t view until January 2011. And you just wouldn’t want to have the fun spoiled, would you?

And it was all happening at the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square.

For starters, after receiving an invitation to attend a press gathering with this season’s judges and production staff, we were sworn to secrecy,

“Do Not Release This Location” the invitation said in no uncertain terms. That was good enough for me. Didn’t tell you, did I? Figured it made more sense not to let everyone in Occidental know the whereabouts of Randy Jackson on Wednesday afternoon rather than lose my privileges to watch Steven Tyler saunter onto the set.

So, about a dozen of us gathered in the St. Francis lobby (three TV crews and moi) and we were ushered to the back elevators.

Now, if you have never ridden the back elevators of the St. Francis you owe yourself the trip. You go up 31 floors on the outside of the building and it’s a picture postcard ride. You can see all the way past Simon Cowell’s ego and to the East Bay.

The hunch was that on Floor No. 31 we would find AI in all of its glory. Nope. We were greeted by an AI security guy, complete with ear-piece so he could communicate readily with other guard types I am am guessing, and he inquired of the youthful publicist if this was group. It was and we were hurriedly whisked away to a back staircase.

Now it started to get a little odd. We were basically in the bowels of the old St. Francis.

Looked a little like a movie set than the real hotel. You were looking over your shoulder in anticipation of Matt Damon running past you and away from some bad guy.

A couple of flights up and there we were – voila – American Idol!

Couple rows of techies with laptops in tow sporting photos of some of the day’s shoots no doubt. A row of assorted snacks (Humm, I wondered if JayLo munched on one of those apples earlier in the day) and then onto the set.

It was about what you would expect, although maybe a little smaller. Judges chairs were in front of the window which sported a picture-perfect SF day. You almost had to look twice to make certain it wasn’t a painting. Four chairs were in place, three judges chairs and one for Ryan Seacrest, no visible Coke items (where did they go?).

To the left were huge photos of past winners. Behind me was another AI logo and the sign that said: They All Had To Start Somewhere.

The stage was about six inches high. At one point I put my foot up on it just to say I stood on the stage where Adam Lambert and David Cook and Tatiana and Nick Mitchell (aka Norman Gentle) started. That’s when the youthful publicist asked me politely not to do so.

No biggie. That’s about the time that Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, two executive producers of the show, started to answer a handful of questions anyway.

Both seemed to be upbeat explaining the new-look judging panel, sans Simon; the changes we can expect for Season No. 10 (“Actually, remember we did this show in England one season so this is really our 11th season,” Warwick explained); and the wealth of talented youngsters they have seen this season.

The mini-press conference was delayed momentarily as the judges were lounging behind a curtained off area to the left and they still could be heard yucking it up.

“Steven!” Nigel hollered at one point, “quiet over there please!”

That would be Steven Tyler who along with Jennifer Lopez and old standby Randy Jaokson make up this season’s judging panel.

After no more than 10 minutes with Nigel and Ken, that trio walked in.

In person, Tyler is smaller than you might imagine. The Aerosmith rocker looked the part, but he was polite, well-spoken and acted like he just might fill the bill as a judge.

Randy bounced in with a glow and more than his share of energy although he appeared to be slightly overweight. At one point he hollered for the fourth member to be on the set, Seacrest. “Hey, Seacrest, hurry up, what are you doing cutting another deal?”

And then there was Ms. Lopez. One word sums her up in person: Stunning. Nothing more needs to be said.

It was interesting just to see them in person, but there was a melancholy feel to it. No Simon. Sort of like interviewing the New York Yankee outfield the season after DiMaggio retired.

In subsequent posts I’ll tell you what they had to say.