Yes, it’s true. I swallowed my pride, grew some balls, and auditioned for American Idol a few weeks ago. It didn’t go well — I didn’t even make it past the first round of cuts. Here are nine things I learned, though:
1. It’s surprisingly easy to register.
They don’t allow online registration — you have to register in person. I drove all the way from Tulsa to Oklahoma City (about two hours), paid 20 bucks for parking and went to get in line — only to discover that there wasn’t actually a line. I had been expecting a long wait and some sort of big production, and had even brought all my homework and some books to read, but registration involved walking in the door and talking to a guy for about five minutes.
He asked me how old I was. I told him 27. He said, “Yep, that’s old enough.” (“Old enough”??? It’s barely young enough.) He gave me a form to fill out, and told me to bring it to my audition. And he put a wristband on me and told me not to get it wet. In other words, I wasn’t allowed to shower for the next 48 hours. Ah, the glamour of being a pop star.
After that, I drove back to Tulsa. It was four hours of driving, round-trip, just to get a wristband.
2. The whole thing really is about idolatry — just not idolatry of what you might think.
I’m talking about idolatry of fame rather than idolatry of people.
They told everyone to show up at five in the morning (!!!) the day of auditions. I had to get up at 2 a.m. to get to Oklahoma City on time, so I drank a lot of coffee on the way there, just to make sure I didn’t drive off the road. When I arrived, though, it turned out that the only reason they needed us there so early was so they could make us stand outside in huddled masses and repeatedly dolly a camera up and down the street, while encouraging us to scream like a bunch of idiots. The whole purpose was to get footage for the show, of course — specifically, footage that acknowledged Fox Studios as the great Kingmakers of Popular Culture and painted us as peons begging them to shower their grace on us and reward us with one sweet, sweet taste of fame.
It’s probably a metaphor for something-or-other. Let me know if you figure it out.
3. It really is about the luck of the draw — even more so than you might expect.
Once we finally got inside, they seated us all in the arena where the Oklahoma City Thunder plays and I realized just how many people there were trying out. There were literally thousands of us, and if even just one percent of us knew how to sing, they would still have to eliminate most of that one percent to get it down to a manageable number. They may as well have just put a sign over the door that read Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
In order to get through everyone in eight or nine hours, they had to audition 56 people at a time. They set up 14 cubicles, each with two judges, on the floor, and auditioned four people at a time at each of them. There was only a thin curtain between each cubicle, which meant that you were singing over whoever was to your left and your right at the time. You also only got about 20 seconds to make an impression, and then they cut you off. You could be the most amazing singer in the world, but if you picked the wrong 20 seconds of the wrong song, you were screwed.
4. There are a LOT of great singers in the world, and that’s awesome.
I had been working on a blues number (“2:22” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals), but once I got there and realized how little of a chance I was going to get, I decided to switch to a Motown classic — “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. (It seemed to lend itself a bit better to vocal flourishes.) I was in the last third of auditions, though, so I had plenty of time to wander the concourse of the stadium, working on my song.
What I heard was astonishing. Thousands and thousands of people with stunning voices, wandering in circles, standing in groups, and facing walls, all singing different songs all at once. A brilliant, surround-sound chorus of love for music and lust for life. I really wished I hadn’t had my own solo to work on, so I could have just wandered around listening to everyone.
5. Not everyone was arrogant and obnoxious.
Sure, there was the guy there in metallic vinyl pants with a feather boa (if only I’d gotten pictures!), but there was also the guy who stood next to me when our group of four was called, and joked with me about prime numbers before butchering a Toby Keith song. There was also the girl standing in front of me who confided that she had had a Star Wars-themed wedding (I tried not to mock her too much). Even the judges weren’t mean when they told me to get lost, which makes sense, seeing as the cameras weren’t rolling at the time.
6. They seem to have a huge problem with religious music.
One of the three people I auditioned with sang a gospel song, and the judges all but demanded that she sing something secular for them. I have no clue what was going on there — it’s not like they could have gotten any footage for the show out of it since there were no cameras around, and even if they could have so what? I’ve never heard of someone changing the channel because of awesome gospel music. Maybe they just wanted to see if she was versatile? Not that it mattered — they sent her packing, anyway.
7. I won’t be a pop idol anytime soon.
The judges specifically rejected everyone in my group of four. I’m not sure if they had to either take everyone or no one, or if they were allowed to pick and choose, but they sent us all home disappointed. It’s not like I walked in with any illusions about how astronomical the odds against me were, but it still kind of hurts to be told, “You’re not what we’re looking for, go away” — even if you expected it. Still, I have nearly five months before I turn 28, so there’s still time to join the 27 Club. Let me know if there are any bands out there looking for an awesome frontman.
8. The high of going out on a limb is addictive.
I actually blew off Idol auditions when I had the opportunity several years ago, and I hated myself for it. As they say, though, you only truly regret the things you didn’t do. Actually going through with the audition was such a roller-coaster ride that I seriously considered going all the way to Dallas the following week to audition for The Voice. My wife talked me out of it, but I forgive her for that.
9. I have fantastic friends.
And here’s the cheesy ending.
If I learned nothing else, I learned this. I first posted my intentions to audition on Facebook — as a joke, originally. I was sure I would get made fun of. Instead, nearly everyone I know immediately stood in my corner to cheer me on. So to everyone who gave me an attaboy or a go get ’em, tiger:
It means the world to me that I have so many people rooting for me, whether I deserve it or not.