HomeMy American Idol Experience (or I Hate Rain)

Jonathan Shade's picture

This year was my first time auditioning for American Idol. Why would that be, you ask? The show has been on for eight years now, and we’ve seen many aspiring artists rise to great heights of fame, and great lows. Well, I can tell you why I haven’t auditioned until now, and I can do it in one word: Lines. I hate waiting in line. If it can be avoided at all, I will find the way to avoid one.

But this year I decided I had nothing to lose. My theatrical career is currently at a standstill, I have been going on countless auditions, and have received countless rejections. [Editor’s note: this status changed right after this was written!] Something’s gotta give. So, I sucked up my line phobia, and decided to take a shot at it this year.
I currently live in Philadelphia. Anyway, this year, the closest audition city was Boston. I found this out ten days prior, so airfare was a no-go because the tickets were too expensive that close to the flight. I mean, does the phrase “starving actor” mean anything to airlines these days?

I decided to go with the train, which was reasonably cheaper, and I stayed (CASA board member) Amy Malkoff’s place, which is just north of Boston. She was nice enough to give me room and board for four days, and I don’t think I drove her TOO crazy…

So this was the plan: take Boston’s public transportation system from north of Boston to Gillette stadium on Friday morning, have Saturday off, and the audition would be on Sunday.  Let me just say that Boston did not make it easy to get to the stadium. I called ahead of time and asked about ways to get there, and they said that trains only run to and from the stadium for major events and games. I’m sorry, but I would consider 7000 people auditioning for American Idol a major event.  With this news, I found that I would have to take regional rail to Mansfield, and then take a taxi to the stadium. When I arrived at Mansfield, I was roaming around with no idea of what to do or where to go, sort of like a prostitute at church.  As I was walking around aimlessly, I happened upon three other twenty-somethings who looked as lost as I was. I learned that they were also heading to the auditions, so we split a fifteen-minute cab ride to the stadium of dreams.

When we got there. We were surprised to see that was nobody else waiting in line. I asked a bodyguard if we were in the right place. He said that we in fact were, and that there were about 2,000 people lined up from five am to seven am that morning. I had an immediate sense of self-satisfaction that I had slept in that morning, taken my sweet time in getting there, and to top it all off, there was no waiting at all. It was a wonderful feeling.

We headed back to the train station, and as we did we made plans that we would go in for a rental car, which I would rent because I was the only one over twenty five, and we would drive to the stadium on Sunday for the actual audition, and then went our separate ways.

The Day of the Audition

The Idol camp told me I had to be to the stadium no later than 5am! I am one of those people who are miserable before noon, so that was going to be a bit of a problem. That being said, I woke up to rain at 3am, left in the rain at 3:30, picked up my friends in rainy Boston at four, and arrived at the stadium at exactly 5am. Oh, yeah…..it was raining.

There must have been at least 2000 people already in line, so we walked to then end of it, which seemed like an eternity. And basically we waited outside in the rain for three hours. The rain subsided once for about thirty minutes, and it was like a little slice of heaven, which quickly downgraded to hell when it restarted again, and went on for the better half of the day. All you could see in the line were umbrellas; large umbrellas, small umbrellas, broken ones, rainbow ones, ones with Looney Tunes on them. No people, just umbrellas. 

Once we got inside, everyone was taking shelter in the walking areas of the stadium, because it had no roof, so all the actual seats were being rained on.  The producers came out and said that the “day” couldn’t get started until everyone was seated, so we all begrudgingly came back out into the rain, and found our assigned seat, and waited for “the day” to begin.

Once seated and settled, the MC came out and introduced Ryan Seacrest, who thanked us for coming out, braving the rain, and wished us the best of luck. Then he did some things with the camera, using his trademark inflection on “THIS………….is AMERICAN IDOL” and all that.

I just wanted to get to the audition and be done with it, but since this was my first time, I didn’t realize we had to do all the stadium shots that I had seen when I watched the first episode of each season. This took about an hour.

The poor MC had his hands full. He needed us participate, and do it with all the energy we had. We had to yell, we had to clap, we had to whoop, holler, sing, and dance. Over many takes. He kept chastising us because we weren’t giving him enough…how does one put it? Vibrancy. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Look buddy, while you were in your cushy hotel room getting ready for today, we’ve all been up for many hours now, AND we waited outside in the rain for three hours. Sorry we can’t feign the energy you need at the moment. Looks like you’re gonna have to use some of that magic of television and dub in some extra applause, or edit in clips from audience close ups at a Jonas Brothers concert, because you ain’t getting’ it right now. “ We were also asked in advance to be familiar with the song “When I Grow Up” by The Pussycat Dolls, because it’s going to be the opening montage, with everyone from all the states singing it, cleverly edited, I’m sure.

Once all that hoopla was over, the first audition started at 10:25am. They called you by section, starting with the right and moving left, through all 7000 people. I was seated about halfway from both ends, and it was a long wait. Almost five more hours.

Once you are called, you go to the other side of the stadium where there were thirteen individual tents, about ten feet from each other, each housing two producers from the show. They put people into groups of four and assign a tent for the group to go to randomly. Once you get there, you wait to audition for said producers. If they like you, you get a golden ticket, and proceed to a meeting inside the stadium, where you sign papers and are told when to come back for the second round of auditions, at which I’m not sure if the TV judges appear. If you don’t get the golden ticket, you simply exit left, and go on with your sorry life.

In the meantime, people were free to wander around the stadium, go back to their cars, and do whatever they wanted. There was a makeshift circle blocking one of the boys’ bathrooms of about fifty people, and they all took turns singing for each other. I had drunk a lot of water that day, so trips to the bathroom were frequent, and I saw many of these people singing. I even joined in myself, not really to show off, but just to warm up and make sure my voice was going to be able to make it, especially after standing in all that rain, and screaming for the cameras. That circle lasted for at least four hours, probably longer. There was a constant influx of new people, all who wanted to sing, some for the love, and some for the attention. It was actually a pretty cool sight, but it would have been cooler had they not blocked the men’s restroom.

The Audition

So my moment finally came. At about 3:20 they called our section, to rapturous applause from all of us. I don’t think we really cared where we were going at that point; it could have been to a firing squad. Either way, we were just glad to be moving somewhere.

I was in my group of four, and I went up to the producers’ tent and I could hear a girl in the tent to the right of me belting out “Who Will Save Your Soul”, and to the left of me another girl singing “Vision of Love”. I began to sing “Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder, because you know how the show likes their white boys who sing R&B. Then after me, the second person sang right away, then the third and the fourth. The producers invited us to come to the table and this is what we were told.

“Thanks, guys, some great voices, but you’re just not what we’re looking for this year” And that was it. I would be lying if I were saying I wasn’t crushed. I know that I have an above average voice, am reasonably attractive, and I’ve never done anyone bodily harm, so I just knew I was a shoe-in. I guess the producers had a different opinion.  I wanted to plead with them to at least let me through to the next round because, really, one more person isn’t going to change a thing, and if I’m going to be rejected, I’d rather it be by Paula Abdul than a nameless producer, thankyouverymuch.

As I slowly trudged out of the stadium, there were many faces that had running mascara and that general look of defeat. I waited for the four people I had met, and none of them had made it either.  We got in the car, as I drove back, they did a combination of whine and sleep, and we hugged each other goodbye at the train station.

For me, it was just another failed audition, but for others, it was if their entire being had been rejected. They probably had never been to a major audition before, and unless you have grown a thick skin from many rejections, this one had the potential to sting for days, maybe weeks.  I felt very sad for them. I knew that I would move on, and I hope that they are eventually able to as well.

So, that is my American Idol experience. A little bittersweet, but still a valued lesson in the learning process of being an entertainer, paying dues, and struggling to share your gift with others. I wouldn’t change a thing. Ok, that is a huge lie. If I were God, it wouldn’t be raining, and I would have gotten though, at least to the next round. In retrospect, I also don’t think I chose the right song. I didn’t want to blow my load and show off right from the beginning, but I really should have sung something that was even higher and more of a showcase piece where I could have yelled out a high B flat. You live, your learn, you take these things as they come, and hey- I can always audition at another city this year, and of course, there’s always next year.


Driving Amy Crazy


If Amy is going to name her group after her cat, I think that you driving her crazy for crashing at her place is kinda like having the string quartet playing on the Good Ship Titanic... or was it Good Ship Lollypop, I get those two confused. In any event, it's just another layer to something that's already a forgone conclusion. (Much love to you Amy!)

Here's my question for you: You say you can do it next year. But will you do it next year?
It's easy to take the pat on the back from the producers, but getting your head up from out of the "aww shucks" sand, ASAP is a hard thing to do. I think if I've learned anything today from reading the responses to Mister Tim's editing post, it's that subjectivity is (seemingly paradoxically) the bane and joy of the music biz.

J. Paisley
Slapdash Graduate '05-'07
Nantucket Cobbletones '04-'05
Ithacappella '98-'03

i did not name the band alone!

1.) he was an awesome cat!

2.) so is jon, though he's not a cat.

3.) jon can stay here anytime!

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

thanks for your comments,

thanks for your comments, guys. jpaisley- I think I in fact will do it next year. It didn't really leave a sour taste in my mouth, and I think I'll be better armed next time around. I'm not one to give up easily.

Kai- Thanks for your kind words and advice. the problem with the song was that I had never performed it in public before, and I was unsure of the lyrics, so all my energy was spent on making sure I knew the lyrics, instead of it being spent on my connection to the song. 


Had the same experience...

Went with a bunch of super-talented aca-friends, and we all got rejected. Wah waaaaaaaah...

When it came time for me to "do my thang, dawg," they made me sing two songs (started with the "I'm a contemporary rock girl!" song, then they wanted to hear me do something softer/slower). But then they sent me and some other kid packin', and kept two people dressed as... I guess you could describe them as matching goth skittle gnomes? I don't know, lots of bright colors and butterfly wings and knee-high leather boots goin' on with those two. So yeah, it might just be that Boston was to be their shitshow city for the sake of Americans who love watching... y'know, shitshows.

PS- Are we allowed to be talking about this? Probably not. But I like living dangerously.

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