This October, American Idol will begin its eighth season. Once again, I will be sitting in front of the TV, laughing along with millions of Americans at the crazy people: some crazy good, some crazily bad. Except this year, I won’t be telling myself, “I should do that! I should audition!” Because I have. Just two weeks ago, I stood in line with hundreds of other American Idol wannabes, and actually tried my hand at becoming this season’s next singing sensation.
3:45 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 24 My mother and I leave our home in Connecticut in order to make it to Philadelphia by 6 am No, this is not the day of the audition. This is the day to sign up for the audition.
5:45 a.m. We reach the thruway exit to Philadelphia on our way to the Wachovia Center, which opens at 6 a.m. Seeing brake lights, we slow down and soon realize we are stuck in a traffic jam, with at least 5000 other cars. So much for being early.
7:45 a.m. I decide to begin walking to the Wachovia Center while my mom waits in the American Idol traffic. As I reach the line, I see thousands of people, some in ridiculous costumes, others looking like they just rolled out of bed, crowd the entire area. And although this is one of the largest masses of people I have ever seen in my life, everyone is incredibly friendly.
8:45 a.m. I am waiting in a “pen” of at least 700 — talk about a cattle call! There are five other pens full of people in front of me in line.
9:45 a.m. Still waiting, although I am not too bored because I have made friends with two girls: one, Jennifer Waters, a musical theater major who graduated from Syracuse, another, Adrina Lewis, a senior at University of Pennsylvania, a communications major. Both live in Philadelphia and did not have to make a two-and-half-hour trek.
“The only thing I’m really worried about is getting to my waitressing job later this afternoon,” says Jennifer, who works alongside Adrina.
Adrina adds, “This is much crazier than I expected.”
11:50 a.m. I make it to the registration and receive a blue wristband to wear to audition, as well as a seat ticket in the Wachovia Center that will also serve as my place in line. My Mom gets a white wristband and a seat beside me; only one “support” person is allowed per contestant.
6 a.m., Monday, Aug. 27. Although we were instructed by American Idol personnel to arrive between 5 and 6 a.m. the day of the audition, we knew to come later to avoid excessive waiting. Since we signed up for my audition two days earlier, we already have a designated place in line.
7 a.m. In the Wachovia Center parking lot, over 20,000 people are lined up, looking more polished now and warming up their voices. American Idol employees assure everyone that they will get a chance to audition.
8–10 a.m. Those auditioning wait in the Wachovia Center’s gigantic auditorium. We then proceed to “make good television,” as the producer of the show asks us to scream various phrases like, “I’m the next American Idol!” as the camera, hoisted high on a trolley, pans the entire stadium. People who have dressed up for the occasion (some in angel costumes, prom dresses, or drag) are specifically pointed out by the producer to be filmed. I’m wearing a simple black dress — not exactly stand-out material.
10:30 a.m. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest enters stadium, says his one line, “*This* is American Idol!” and then disappears.
11 a.m. The producer is satisfied with the amount of footage of the crowd standing up and cheering, and the auditions are about to begin. On TV, the producers make it look like every audition takes place in front of judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson. Of course, this is not the case. There are several cuts that are made before the three judges see the 25 best (and 25 worst) singers of each city. For now, production assistants, camera people, and other various people involved in creating the show must sift through 20,000 hopefuls. Auditions are conducted on the main floor of the stadium: there are 18 tables separated by black curtains, and one or two producers listen to each contestant. Four people are presented to the judge at a time, each singer steps forward to perform for 30 seconds, and then steps back for the second singer to come forward, and so on.
12 p.m. About 300 people have gone through auditions, but only five have made it through to the next round. Of these five, one is dressed in a Batman costume.
2 p.m. So far I have seen about 15 people cry, one person tearfully begging to the extent that the judge actually lets her go into the next round, and three more people smile happily and skip off with their golden tickets to the next auditions.
5:07 p.m. I audition! I’m the first in my group, and I sing “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac. After I finish singing, the judges talk behind a clipboard. I step back in line, and the next three people sing. After we finish, we are all asked to step forward, and...
5:08 p.m. The judges tell all four of us that we “do not have strong enough voices to continue in the competition. Thank you for participating.”
5:10 p.m. As I shuffle out with the rest of the losers, or “non-winners,” as the producers call us, I see a few fellow rejects talking to American Idol cameras about how they should’ve been given another chance, or didn’t sing as well as they could have, etc. I am happy with my audition, and having gone through the audition process, I believe that American Idol is a legitimate talent contest. Although half of the people sent through to the next round were jokes, wearing silly costumes, the majority of the people I saw audition were great singers. Unfortunately, with 20,000 people auditioning and just a few plane tickets to Hollywood, chances are like winning the lottery. But hey, there’s always that small chance, right?