Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Truth About American Idol Auditions, part 3

So, here we are again 6 months later.   The New Jersey Idol auditions aired tonight, the New Orleans ones (the ones I participated in) are airing tomorrow.  Sorry it took me so long to post this, but partially I didn't because I was still afraid of pending legal action and it's difficult for me to go farther into my story (and what actually happened) without giving myself away.  Part of it though was because I was so saddened and discouraged by this entire experience that I was unable to bring myself to think about it until I was forced to do so this week.   I'll write an opinion post at a later date (because believe me I DEFINITELY have an opinion).  This used to be my #1 favorite show of all time and now I couldn't even watch the New Jersey auditions without physically becoming ill.   But for now, we'll just continue with the facts.

The callbacks (continued)

When my story last left off, myself and a group of about 125 other semi-finalists had assembled at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans for our second set of auditions.   We sat in a large room, learned the words to the tune "Billionaire",  and were split up into about 25 groups of 5.    There were a few people in costume (a Pocahontas, Saintsation, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz),  and a few people I recognized.  There was a guy named Dave Pittman who suffered from Tourette's syndrome who was from Dallas a few years ago and had made it all the way through to Hollywood (or maybe even farther, I can't remember).  I remembered him because they featured him.  Really a sweet guy.  There's also another girl who had auditioned SEVERAL times....  had made it to Hollywood at least twice.  Her name escapes me right now but she was featured at the end of tonight's episode with Steven Tyler asking her "where did you get those lips?"    But I digress again.  More on each contestant later.

So, we met everyone and learned our song, now my small group of 5 is sitting in the small Guantanamo Bay type holding room with two assistants.   I nickname my group the "J's plus me"  because of the 5 of us, I'm the only person that does not have a name that starts with a J.    There's a beautiful red-head named Jessica on my left who is there with her mother &  equally beautiful husband for support, and she is a cosmetologist,  there's Juan, there's an African-American fellow with a fro and his name escapes me right now (but I promise you it starts with a J),  or maybe one of them was Jovann and fro dude was Juan?  I'm not sure at this point anymore, and on my right is my favorite friend & compatriot of the day, Jorge.  Jorge has previously auditioned for a Menudo reality TV series and made it very far, he also is very talented and from Florida.  From what I have been hearing he has already made the top 40 and perhaps even the top 24.   But more on individuals later!

We know after this intense holding room we are going to be brought to the tough female judges room.  If we "pass" her (her name is Mel)  she will remove our small sticker and replace it with a large one, and then we will go into another holding room waiting for the Exec Producers.

After about 45 intense minutes in the room from hell, the PA's arrive to let us know we're being moved.   We go all the way across the hotel to rooms called River & Port  (these are some of the most beautiful rooms in the hotel and have a perfect view of the Mississippi, I've been here before for weddings).  I automatically realize that THIS is the room they are going to use for the actual airing because the judges usually sit in front of a wall of glass.  I also realize that the Exec Producers are going to be in this room and are going to have it set up EXACTLY the way it will be for the actual judges.  I was right on both of those counts.   The small room is an itty bitty little conference room very near the other two.      Since River and Port have an open courtyard type area attached to them, they had heavy black curtains hung to  keep the public in the hotel from seeing what was past that point.  You could sort of hear what was going on behind (if it was loud clapping or screaming) but you couldn't see anything.  Unless you had either a wristband (family)  or a contestant sticker (contestant), you were not getting past that curtain.  Also to note is that they had security who physically checked your body and bags going in and out of that curtain.

When we got close enough to the curtain to hear what was going on, we immediately realized that something CRAZY was happening.  We heard a male voice singing "Smile" at the top of his lungs... you know the tune, it's a  quiet, endearing little song, "smile, though your heart is aching, smile even though it's breaking,"...   only he is screeching it, and it is very very bad.  I'm not one to judge and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but it is AWFUL.  And it is LOUD.    My first thought was "what on earth is THAT?"  but my second thought was "and why can we hear it?"   I knew that all of the judges were behind closed doors.   I mentioned that to the others but they were too nervous and consumed with fear to even think about it. As soon as we got through the curtain I looked to my right and saw this adorable (but strange) little blonde haired boy, dressed kind of how you'd expect to see Forrest Gump,  nice white dress shirt, slacks, loafers, passionately waving an American Flag for the cameras (at least 2 of them are now in his face), and talking to them.   I assume this is some sort of interview and they asked him to give a preview (or repeat, I wasn't sure) performance.    He's in the "standing' group of contestants.

This area is kind of difficult to picture so let me try very quickly to break it down.  There are 4 sets of 5 contestants.   5 who have just entered the room ( us),   5 who have recently entered and are standing (flag boy's group),  5 who are seated on the far side of the room, and 5 who are seated nearest the door.     The 5 who are seated nearest the door go into Mel's room one at a time,  she cuts them or bigger-stickers them and sends them out.  Once the entire group of 5 has gone, they then remove them from the seats, the far group goes to the near chairs, the standing group sits, and the next group comes in, and so forth, and so on.     This means that my group of 5 got to see 3 separate groups of 5 go before us.    Group 1 had 2 or 3 people make it.  Group 2 only had 1.   Group 3 goes in and I can't remember how many people made it.  All I can remember is one of the most important things of the day:

If a contestant is CUT, and they act CRAZY,  they will put them back in so that they can air the reaction on the show.

I know you're smart, dear reader, or else you wouldn't be here already, so you probably know where this is going.  Let me spell it out for you anyway (just because the details are delicious).   So, Flag Boy (I knew his name, wish I could remember it, but we'll all know tomorrow because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will air him) goes into his room and sings Smile.  We can hear it through the door this time, but barely.  He doesn't last longer than 10 seconds before he comes out with a small sticker, cut.   He immediately starts crying HYSTERICALLY.    The cameras swarm on him.   He has at least 2 or 3 cameras on him again, the same ones from before.  They must have known to wait for him.   These cameramen are silent cameramen and usually don't talk but they are asking him questions and prompting him.. "why is this so important to you?"     He sobs: "because... I love... it!"       They ask: "why are you the next American Idol? what is so American about you?"      in a glimpse of brilliance I remember they saw him waving the American flag before hand, and sure enough, he whips it out and starts doing this 5 minute diatribe about how patriotic he is and how he loves it so much and he's actually shouting at some point...  there is total chaos and everyone is staring at him.   Suddenly the door to the small room opens, and I think that they are going to shut him up so the next girl can go in, but I realize they are summoning him back in.  He stays in the room 3-4 minutes (an awful long time for this set of auditions), and returns very proudly with his large sticker.  A contestant and on to the next round.    Imagine that.

I mentioned the silent cameramen, what I mean by that is that there are 2-3 cameramen who are doing some of the same shenanigans as in Large Room #1 -- they are circling you, filming close up of your face as you sit and worry, practice your music, etc.   Whenever you see the footage of the contestants waiting nervously in the holding rooms, that's from these silent cameras.  They are not with the judges, Seacrest, or fake Seacrest (just you wait),  they are just roaming getting footage.  They are not supposed to talk and only will unless they want, they NEED you to say something specific.       So, silent cameramen are in my face and in Jorge and Jessica's face and we're bracing ourselves to go into the small room.

My small group (just J's plus me)'s audition

Juan is first, he goes in, lasts about 2 minutes, comes out un-cut.  We all offer our congratulations.
Jessica is next, she goes in, lasts about 3 minutes, comes out un-cut.   Ditto.

I'm next.  I go in, and after 20 seconds (I'm barely through the first line of my song), I get a "you're in."  from Mel.     To give you an idea, I'm singing Barracuda by Heart.   I got as far as "So, this ain't the end, I saw you--"   before they stopped me.    I'm IMMEDIATELY paranoid.  I realize this is not good.  I know I'm already marked as an "N"  and I'm wondering why they are letting me through like this.  I know I'm not fantastic enough to have wowed anyone with 20 seconds, but I didn't think I was as crazy as Flag Boy either (and even he was cut the first time around),  so I'm really unsure what is going on.  All I keep reminding myself is that Mel was my original judge, I sang the same song, she wrote notes on me then that she has in front of her now, and she gave me positive feedback then, so she must remember what her opinions were and that's that.

I move outside, not as excited as everyone else was, and get the thumbs-up and congratulations from the group.

(More about this later, but unlike the game show I cannot mention because I actually am still a finalist and not yet disqualified where it was a completely 100% positive experience and I like all of the people I met very much and we were all there because we were good and rooting for each other no matter what, and we still talk to each other,  American Idol was very strange.  You knew people didn't want you to cry, but they didn't really want you to make it either, at least not if you were taking their spot.  There was this undertone of competitive harshness all day.  Most people didn't even eat lunch with each other on their lunch break.  But more on that... you guessed it, later!)

Jorge goes next and is in there forever and comes out super excited and through.   At this point everyone is excited because we realize that the other groups of five only had 3 people max get through, and we're now 4/4.

African American guy who's name I forget (but guarantee it started with a J) goes in next, and does not make it.  We all feel so sorry for him or at least say we do (I really did but I was so consumed with my own worries at that point)  and he leaves through the black curtain.  I felt especially bad given that 2 seconds before he went in the room we put a lot of pressure on him because the rest of us were in.

The rest of us cross the wooden floor into the courtyard just outside of the River room, where we are going to see the Executive Producers.   We are assigned chairs, there are already about 15 people who have made it here ahead of us.  There is space for about 30 behind us.  We sit and we wait.   Some people are handed water or chips by their parents or husbands or wives or sisters (I'm there alone by my own personal choice so I dig some stuff out of my bag),  we chat about how we think we did and we "meet"  the new people that are coming out of the small room as they come and join us.  We are no longer groups of 5 but one big block of people.   It's cordial again and some people are strumming guitars, and have left their assigned chairs to pow wow on the floor and play music.  Some are reading, some are reading sheet music.  Jorge is very nervously listening to his cd (I think it was Ricky Martin.. I don't remember, he played it for me).  Jessica is talking to a girl in front of us who is this R&B girl who is also in the previews and is an AMAZING singer.   She has curly hair and black leather pants on.   Her parents are with her, she is from Mississippi or Tennessee, she is poor and her church and community have raised funds for her to be here.  More on her later.      We are just basically hanging out, and waiting.

.... to be continued!


  1. I think you've done a great job chronicling your experience. I like how you stay on course and promise interesting tidbits later. I'm so sucked in to your story now, I'm certainly going to finish all that you've written.

  2. You've done an awesome job describing all the itty bitty details. And your writing skills are wonderful. (I'm from Canada and the whole American thing is really freaking me out.) Can't wait to read all the rest. Thank you!!!

  3. This is a great blog post, amazing that you remembered all these details after so many months.