The American Idol Experience

Being the facebook junkie that I am, I recently noticed a friend of mine had passed through the first round of American Idol auditions. Hey, what’s in the feed is fair game! After wishing my friend good luck with the next round, I found myself reminiscing about my own American Idol experience. No, my friends, you will not be seeing me rocking out in Hollywood anytime soon, but I did come away with some rock-and-roll battle scars.
Most people don’t understand how American Idol auditions work. I sure didn’t have a clue what I was getting into when I registered at the United Center in Chicago last summer. Like all other tv shows, AI goes through many stages before you get to see the audition reel.
For those wanting to audition, here’s what happens: After hunting down the locale, you need to go in a day or so before the actual cattle call style audition and fill out the appropriate paperwork. Being a newbie to the whole AI gig, I went the day before, around noon. I was shocked to see no one milling around the parking lot, just a few bored looking employees passing out the registration forms and bracelets. One such bored employee gave me my ticket for a seat in the stadium and bade me come back tomorrow. The gates would open around 7, but you could come sit in the parking lot at 5am.
Taking the parking lot opening time as a hint, I and my oh-so-amazingly-patient friend Liz parked our butts on the asphalt at 5am the next morning, amidst a throng of various people vying for attention from the cameramen who occasionally swept the area. Since we had a few hours, we contented ourselves with our packed breakfasts and people-watching.
Something about competition and the glittering oasis of fame-mirage though it may be– turns what would be normal, sane people into idiots and complete fruitcakes. There were people there who, like me, were obviously there because they actually have experience and some degree of talent in the musical arena, and they dressed and behaved accordingly. There were the obviously delusional, who tended more towards the aggressive side, mauling people who got between them and the camera. And then there were the Camera Ticks. These were people who suffered no delusions, who knew they weren’t going to be kicking out footlights on stage at any point in their lives, but still wanted their fifteen seconds of fame. They were painfully easy to find. For instance, we saw “The Bride of Simon” who dressed in a wedding gown wearing a sign with her proposal to our friendly neighborhood Brit, “The Hotdog Man”, Santa, one of the Bananas in Pajamas who apparently had taken a solo career, and other such characters. At first, it’s funny, but as the hours pass and your sanity thins, and you realize that idiots like these are the reason the goddamn wait is so long, you start picturing the various misfortunes that could befall the Camera Ticks.
And the hours do get long. At seven, we poor, gullible Idol hopefuls are herding en masse inside United Center. Being towards the front of the crowd I thought, oh hey! I may actually not have to wait so long! This isn’t so bad! Beginners mistake, grasshopper.
Contrary to what the bored employee had told me the day before, our ticket numbers were not simply to insure entrance into the ninth gate of hell–I’m sorry, the United Center–They were actual seat numbers. Turns out, the day to wait in line at five in the morning is the first day of registration. But no one tells you that. So, with our enthusiasm only slightly dampened, Liz and I head up to the third floor of the United Center. Once the victims–ahem, hopefuls–have all filed in, the world’s most obnoxious man with a megaphone explains how this is all going to work. But first, he explains, and although I can’t see his face from way the hell up in the stadium I can hear the evil grin in his voice, we must all sing the group song.
I used to like Katy Perry’s “Hot n’ Cold”, it’s a fun song. However, after two hours of singing that damn tune with 12,000 other people, the majority of which have no place near a musical competition, I want kill Mr. Megaphone next time he instructs our section to smile for the camera. Finally, the song that never ends ended, and the first section got in line to sing their little hearts out. Now, at these first auditions, you do not sing for Paula, Randy and Simon–yes I know two are gone now, but they weren’t when I auditioned–you sing for two local judges. There are twelve booths on the floor of the United Center, with two judges a piece. Four people at a time go to each booth, stand in a line and sing for 30 seconds by turn. The judges confer, and then keep who they want and send the rejected out the door. They did this by sections, starting with section one on the first floor. I was in section nine on the third floor.
From our eagle-eye vantage point, the other inmates and I could see who came away from the judges with a gold ticket and who didn’t. They were pretty generous with that first floor. By the second, they’d gotten stingy. By the third, they were just as sick of auditions as we were. I got my chance around 6:30pm. During this wait time, we were told we could wander about on our floors, so long as we did not leave our floor. There were a few vendors selling hotdogs and pretzels, thank the lord, but little else to distract us. On the third floor, there were about two thousand other hopefuls, and most of them were trying to out sing each other.
I mentioned before that there were the “real” singers, and the delusional, right? There’s also an in-between group who I’ve dubbed the choir boys. Not limited to just males, the choir boys think that because they can carry a tune, they have a divine right to be a rock star, and heaven help you if you do not bow down to their talent. To prove their superiority, they had little sing-offs the whole eight hours between our release from group sing to when I got the hell out of dodge. They knew we weren’t seeing the judges any time soon, they knew everyone there couldn’t care less about their song choices, but they wanted everyone to admire and fear them. The choir boys, as well as many of the real singers, had engaged in psychological warfare.
They gathered as many to them as possible and sang like they were being judged–which they were. The purpose? To psych themselves up, and others out. So many people were singing and playing, I was thankful to be on vicodin. (I had my wisdom teeth out two days before) My sole comfort is that I ran into my ex and his new girl, and she was one of these psychological warfare believers. Only, it doesn’t really work if you suck. Hey now, I never claimed to be a nice person!
After twelve and half hours of “Hot n’ Cold” and every other song and shenanigan known to man and watching those gold tickets become endangered, my section was finally called to go audition. Liz wished me luck and off I went. I had chosen a country song by Sugarland called “Stay.” Beautiful song, I hadn’t heard anyone else sing it all day. Until the girl in front of me sang it. I felt like smacking myself in the head like one of those V8 commercials. I got up, sang, and when they turned away my whole group of four, I practically thanked them I was so grateful to just get out of there! When me and Liz finally made it outside again, it was 7pm. Thirteen hours, my friends. I saw a lot of people trowing tantrums outside the United Center, and a lot of cameramen eager to catch the juicy meltdown. Me? I took a nap on a bench until my ride arrived. While a lot of this pissed me off to no end, very little of it was AI’s fault. I mean, they can;t help that the music business is full of divas and drama, or that so many wanted to audition. What really chafes my ass is that I’ve watched this show. I’ve seen them put the awful people in costumes on for a laugh. Or worse, I’ve seen them take someone with some obvious mental issues, exploit their delusions up until they actually get to Simon, Randy and Paula, and then rip them apart in front of millions of viewers. That’s just sick. There are three rounds before seeing the actual judges. That kind of thing is no oversight, it is a purposeful, cruel prank to pull for viewers. Not mention, for every idiot they put up there, another person with real talent doesn’t get their shot. So, for those of you reading this who thought, “well maybe I could just try for it. It’s a long shot but it could be fun” I hate to quash your dreams, but stop right there. It’s not fun, I’m afraid, and unless you have real experience, a killer voice–and I don’t mean grandma told you you sing so lovely in the church choir– and a seriously high tolerance for idiots, don’t bother. You’re clogging up the system, and it’s not worth it. As for my friend who made it? I’ve heard her sing, she’s great. I hope she makes it. After all, the torture session is over.

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