I took my daughter to audition for American Idol this weekend and learned many valuable lessons. Let me end the suspense right off the bat: Clarke did not get past the first round but she did get to audition, which not everyone does. Had we driven several hours and waited from 5 am (YES, 5am) until 3:15 to audition, and she had NOT gotten to sing for anyone, the frustration level may have been more than we could have endured. However, we were spared that and I am grateful.
What you see on TV, if you ever watch the show, is thousands of excited fans waiting gleefully in line to get into the audition venue. It’s a big party, right? Let me let you in on a little secret: the mass of people in line to audition is not to be under estimated, it’s frightful. It’s more a cattle call than a curtain call. No one that shows up screaming joyfully on the screen is actually that excited – they just want to get into the venue. After all, Charleston at 5 am begins the day at 85 degrees – the thought of the sun coming up struck more fear into me than it would have had I been a vampire.
At 8:30 when we finally got in, the air conditioning did in fact bring brief and actual joy to contestants and guardians. Then we got to our seats. The TV hype began immediately. A constant loop of Lady Gaga’s “On The Edge of Glory” played so that everyone could learn the song and participate when it was time to film.
For those who had not jumped from the upper levels to escape the inane song in sweet and welcome death, a few treats were in store. One of the low level producers let the crowd know what to expect: we would be filmed for TV – all 12,000 of us. We were to shout ridiculous phrases and then jump up and do the wave and hold up banners (if we had them) as the camera panned around the coliseum. They had us chant, “If Scotty McReery can do it, so can I!” and “I am the mouth of the south!”
It was at this point that I elected to get in one of many long lines to buy an some way over-priced food.
In line, I was pleased to find I had escaped singing along with the crowd for the filming of “Edge of Glory.” Although I sound bitter, this is not the case: we had air conditioning, a seat that was not pavement, and eventually, we even saw Ryan Seacrest – the AI people could have gotten anything from us. Anything except $6.50 for a bottle of water!
Ryan got the crowd genuinely excited for about 30 seconds, then evaporated for the remainder of the day. This made the entire trip “worth it” for Clarke, so I was glad for that. The low level producer then explained how the sections of the coliseum would be brought to the floor of the complex, lined up in groups of four and marched up to one of the 12 tables of judges beginning at around 11 am. (And you will be shocked to know that J-Lo, Randy and Steven were not present at any of those tables.)
After an early lunch of salted soft pretzel for me and nachos without cheese for Clarke, we shared a $3.50 clear soda to save her white dress from any insult or injury. While we waited for Clarke’s turn, thousands of contestants marched up to the judges and did what they came to do. Winners exited to the “winners room” stage left with a golden ticket (but not THE golden ticket) and non-winners had the long walk of shame to the right of the coliseum. Guardians of contestants under the age of 18 were put in a corner of the floor of the coliseum that I referred to as “parent time out” to await their childrens’ fate.
Let me insert here a few notes about a full coliseum of very talented and nervous individuals. The singing one hears in the hallways, corridors, sections of seating areas and from the floor during auditions is phenomenal. There is a TON of talent out there and a 15 year old can get a bit shaken up. And at any point the producers can say, “Thank you for coming out, but we’re done. Try again next year” and they will pack up their kit and kaboodle and leave like the Cat in The Hat. So, part of the nerves everyone feels is whether there will be an audition at all.
The smell of bathrooms reflect the fear in a major and unsettling way.
During the first part of the morning, golden tickets are handed out like candy. One after another walks left to the cheers of their peers and a few quietly take the walk of shame to the right. By lunch hour, less and less walk left and more and more walk right.
Clarke’s chance to audition did come around 3 pm. Tickets were fewer and fewer and I was just grateful she was getting a chance to sing. Her practicing had been lovely and hopefully intimidating to those around her. I went to parent time out and she began the long journey toward her chance. As I stood on the floor, I heard one after another incredible voice and watched in shock the rejection of many talented individuals.
I did not get to see or hear Clarke’s audition — parent time out was near table 12 and Clarke’s audition was at table 2. So I shook and prayed and kept my eyes glued southward.
Waiting for Clarke to emerge from the other end of the floor seemed longer than waiting to give birth to her, I swear, and I had no drugs to dampen my anxiety. She emerged finally with the other three contestants from her table, got her wrist band snipped by some soul-less drone and began, not the walk of shame toward me, but a walk of extreme grace — with a large smile and arms stretched out for a hug. I ran out to greet her, arms out too and heard Parent Time Out heave a collective “awww” for us. I was doomed to cry either way, but I was so very, very proud of her and would do it all over again.
She got some good feedback – she got to sing 2 songs (Alison Krauss’s “Lucky One” and Paramour’s “When it Rains”) and they said she did very well but that she was still young and had time on her hands. They encouraged her to come back again in a year or two, reminding her that Haley Reinhart didn’t make it her first time either and that David Cook was 28 when he won. So, I see a return trip in our future – the girl just rocks.
Lessons learned for next time:
1. Register early – EARLY and get a good seat and audition before the judges are sick of everyone.
2. Ignore the rule that say “one bottle water can be brought per person” — bring three each in your back pack.
3. Ignore the “no chairs” rule. They have a place for the chairs to be stored before you enter the venue that can be picked up later.
4. Once you are registered and have your seat, there is no need to show up at 5 am to stand in line. Arriving by 7 should be sufficient. If you still feel the need to get there at 5 am, get to the port-o-johns before the sun comes up.
5. Do not be intimidated by other singers. There is a lot of talent out there; the fact that someone else can sing does not diminish your own abilities.
6. Don’t forget a moment of the experience. You’ll have it forever whether you go to the winners room or walk the other way.
7. Ryan Seacrest really does seem shorter in real life than on TV. But that remains to be seen at a later date.