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What it's Like Auditioning for American Idol


Hey, everyone. So, a lot of people know I sing, and for a while now, I have been trying to sing professionally (record deal/label backing; management team; touring; etc.). In my pursuits of achieving this life-long dream, I have been one of the millions of people who thought I could catch my big break by auditioning for American Idol. Yes, the same American Idol that has made the likes of Fantasia, Reuben Studdard, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and, of course, Academy Award Winner, Jennifer Hudson, house-hold names. And not only did I think about auditioning, but I also took action and went to the try outs! My audition for American Idol is a part of the winding path that I am on as I seek to make a name for myself in the music industry, and I will let you know some things that you might not have expected that go into an audition for Idol. (This was my experience pre-pandemic, before COVID-19).


It all started as I was browsing Backstage, the popular website that actors and singers add to their favorites lists in order to be alerted to new auditions in their area. Since I would describe myself as a singer who acts, I was looking for singing auditions in my area. I noticed that there was a posting for American Idol and was curious about what this was for. The post asked for "Amazing Singers" who were between the ages of 15-28 for the American Idol Production. Seeing as though I was turning 28 towards the end of August, I thought that it was meant for me to see this post because it would be my one and only shot at auditioning for Idol since I would have aged out for any future productions. I thought to myself that I had nothing to lose by responding to the post because I thought of myself as an "amazing singer!" So, I uploaded a video of myself singing to the post and was excited when I got a response from one of the show's casting producers!


After being contacted by one of the show's casting producers, I was offered a Front of the Line Pass. This pass allowed me to skip the long line of people that were auditioning for Idol the same day as me. During promo commercials for Idol, it is customary for viewers to see the long lines that a cameraperson pans to show all of the excited people auditioning--I got to skip all of that! Call me naive, but I thought that being offered this pass was a pretty good indication that I might at least get to audition in front of the tv judges (Lionel; Katy and Luke). I say audition in front of the "tv" judges because for most tv show auditions, there are several rounds that you have to go through before getting in front of any of the judges that are giving commentary on tv--this can be quite a shock to anyone who does not realize this fact and thinks that as long as you stand in the audition line before the cut-off time, then you will get to audition before the tv judges. But this is just not the case. Ultimately, I knew better, but I thought that I did have a slight chance.


Before I get to how my audition went and who I auditioned in front of, let me talk about my song selection--what I sang vs. what I should have sung. It goes without saying that song selection is just as important, if not even more important, than the actual audition. American Idol is essentially a "pop" singing competition, so singing anything other than a pop song or extremely popular classic song that has become timeless is not the best thing to do. I am writing this now because I want to reiterate this very important point for anyone reading who was thinking any song would do. That being said, I did not sing a pop song, even though I had practiced one and felt in my gut that I should have sung it.


As I was preparing for my audition, I was trying to decide between singing the following three songs: Too Good at Goodbyes x Sam Smith; Didn't We Almost Have it All x Whitney Houston; and Up Where We Belong x Bebe and Cece Winans. Bebe and Cece weren't the first to sing that song, but I liked their version. I will tell you now that the Whitney song got eliminated EARLY! Let me caution anyone who is thinking of singing Whitney Houston that you WILL be compared to Whitney, so if you cannot make your rendition ALMOST as good as hers, then DO NOT sing Whitney! That left the Sam Smith song and Bebe and Cece song. In my gut I wanted to go with Too Good at Goodbyes (a pop song), but ended up going with Up Where We Belong(Inspirational/Gospel) because I thought it was more my style and that I could do more to make that one my own. The song Too Good at Goodbyes didn't sit well in my voice, and it was easy to get pitchy with that song. Also, I sang Up Where We Belong for my family, and they felt good about me singing that one, too.


Alright, so now that you know the background of my song selection, let me take you to the actual audition. I didn't know what to expect on audition day since it was my first time going out for Idol, but I at least knew to bring the essentials with me--water, snacks (peanuts/peanut butter crackers), voice spray and hand sanitizer (I learned this after my audition for Sunday Best; I'll write about that audition in another post), in addition to the two forms of identification that the Idol producers required you to bring to prove your age. I also had my front of the line pass ready to show the crew at the check in stand. Since my experience was pre-covid, I was in an outside audition environment with hundreds of other people. I thought that I would only stand outside for a brief moment then go inside to audition, so I was a little caught off guard when I realized that the first round of auditioning would be outside.


There were four tents that were set up as make-shift audition stations that people had to go through for their first round of auditions before moving on to the next round. At each tent there was either one person judging or two people judging. Once I was at the front of the line with my pass, I was paired up with three other people. We were told to go to the fourth station and line up side by side in order to audition. In my line, there were initially two young women (one African American and one Caucasian) and one young man. The young man was seated in a wheelchair. Once we all got to the tent, the producers pulled the African American young woman from our line and had her go over to the first audition tent. I'm not sure why she was moved. Anyway, that left three of us, so I thought that my chances of going through to the next round would increase since it looked like there were two people out of the four going through at each of the other tent stations.


There was one judge who had a British accent adjudicating at my tent. The other young man went first out of the three of us. I do not remember what he sang. He received his comments and moved back in line. Next, the remaining young lady sang. She sang a popular song, but I cannot remember the title. The judge liked her and asked her age. She said that she was 15. The judge asked her if there was a different song that she could sing, one that could show more of her range. The young lady picked a different song, but I cannot remember what it was. The judge still really liked her second song and told her that not only did she have something "special," but that she also caught her attention and that was "not an easy thing to do." After the young lady received that praise, she was told to step back in line.


Finally, it was my turn. I was ready. I had rehearsed the starting note in my head over and over. But before I started singing, I was trying to show a bit of my personality and strike up some small talk with the judge. I let her know that I traveled from Atlanta to Durham to audition. She asked me how long the drive was, and I told her about 400 miles. She was impressed and could tell I was dedicated. When I opened up my mouth, the right notes came out. I emoted throughout my audition. I gave it my all. I heard cheering from onlookers who did not even know me as I was singing. I finished my song and was told to step back. The judge gave her comments to us all after I stepped back in line and said, "While each of you have something unique to offer, it is not what we are looking for with Idol." With those words, my dreams of being the next American Idol were over, and I was crushed. None of us made it (the young lady that was moved to a different tent station did make it though, however). I thought that I was going to be the next Reuben Studdard--or that I could at least make it to the Hollywood round! I guess I'll have to meet Lionel Richie some other day, some other way!


--David

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