Monday, May 31, 2010

My American Idol Experience - Part 3

When I last left you, Ryan and I had made it past the first audition at The American Idol Experience and were sitting nervously in the "Red Room."

Since I'm not an "Idol" fan, I didn't know that this room is based on the same place where the contestants go after performing on the live show.

Disney has really created a nice, soothing place here where you can pick up one of several iPods and listen to every single song on the American Idol Experience list.

They have each song with and without a singer, so you can learn the particular arrangement. All of the songs are around 90-seconds each, so you have to be able to remember which parts of the song are included and which are cut.

This is where I felt I had an advantage over everyone else. As part of my prep on the podcast, I had gone on YouTube and listened to the actual arrangements for both "Sway" and "Walking in Memphis."

Previous contestants had posted their performances, so I knew everything about those particular arrangements... the verses used, the lyrics, even the key in which the songs were sung.

It was interesting to look around the Red Room and observe the various contestants.

There were those like Ryan and me who where there for the challenge and the good time. But there were surprisingly a lot of "stage moms" there who were there pushing their teenage daughters to audition.

I over heard one pushy mother admonishing her daughter by saying "Come on! Remember what you were told in all of those singing lessons I paid for!"

I don't think this woman realized we were in a theme park attraction. I supposed she thought that this experience was her daughter's ticket to fame and fortune. It made me feel bad that this mom was turning her family's Disney World experience into a pressure-filled audition.

Anyway, after about 15-minutes of listening to my two songs, I told one of the producers that I was ready to go.

The head producer walked in with a production assistant and reviewed the paperwork that I had filled out in the red room. They discussed the arrangement that had been made about how I would audition with two songs that had previously been chosen by contestants in another show. If I made it past this next audition, I would be assigned the song that was used by the person who wasn't moving on to the finale show.

The production assistant walked me over to another audition room. This one was bigger, but still had the desk with a computer. But this time, on the wall was a large flat-screen TV and a giant video camera.

Greg followed me into this room too, because as I said in part 2, he wasn't going to miss a second of this embarrassment.

This second producer was just as friendly as the first. He engaged in some small talk as well. This was not only to put me at ease, but also to determine if I had any personality. Again, I amped it up by telling some funny stories about singing and even saying something about how 30-somethings can be American Idols too.

Before long, it was time to sing my two songs. But this time, I would have the full backing track behind me and a live microphone in my hand. I would also have the lyrics in front of me on the flat screen TV if I needed them.

Before I knew it, the room was filled with the familiar samba sounds of the song "Sway."

Even though I had told myself a hundred times that this was only a "theme park ride," I still found myself extremely nervous.

I guess that says something for how authentic of an experience that the Imagineers created. Even though my mind was telling me that I was at Disney, my body and emotions were reacting like I had advanced to the second round of the Idol auditions.

Even though I knew the song extremely well, I found myself wanting to use the on-screen lyrics as a crutch. I had planned on showing some personality as I sang, but I found myself wanting to concentrate on just getting the words and the notes right.

I had fallen into the trap of singing like I was in a karaoke bar.

At the end of my song, I tried to impress the producer by jumping an octave and singing the final note in an glass shattering falsetto. It sounded GREAT when I sang it in my car and in the shower. But I don't think it impressed the producer any. He looked up at the end of my song, smiled and said...

"If you make it onto the show, DON'T DO THAT!"

I could feel my face turning red. It was embarrassing to mess up in front of him, but also Greg too. It was then that I made a decision. I was either going to step up my game right then and there or I was going to flame out.

I decided to turn my embarrassment into determination.

I figured that I needed to make the next song count and I wasn't going to leave anything behind in that audition room.

The opening chords for "Walking in Memphis" began to play and I gave, what for me, was the performance of a lifetime.

I forgot about looking at the screen with the lyrics and sang to the camera. I did everything that I've seen those American Idol contestants do. I closed me eyes during the soulful moments and raised my fist in the air during the powerful moments.

It was the best performance that I could give.

At the end of the song, the producer looked up and said "Good job! I can see you're getting more comfortable in here. Let's run through both songs again!"

So, encouraged that I hadn't been kicked out of the room, I sang the songs again and I performed with as much energy as I could.

Sure, it was cheesy. But I figured that if you're going to try something, you need to give it 100%. And that's what I did.

After I sang through both songs, the producer typed on his computer for a few minutes and then asked me to look at the video monitor begin him.

Imagine my surprise when it was Ryan Seacrest, again.

He said something about how many people audition for The American Idol Experience, but that they weren't able to take everyone.

For a second, I thought Seacrest was gently breaking up with me. I thought he was trying to soften the blow as they basically said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

I thought my American Idol Experience was ending right then and there.

But then, Ryan Seacrest turned that frown upside down and said that I had made it to the show!

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I was so happy, I started high-fiving anyone I could reach. I high-fived Greg, I high-fived the producer and I high-fived everyone I met outside of the audition rooms.

I was like a maniac. It left like I had won the lottery! The audition was one of the most nerve-wracking and scary experiences of my life, but somehow I had made it though. It felt good.

The producer informed me that I would be singing on the 2pm show of The American Idol Experience at the Superstar Television Theater. They said they would call me on my cell phone and tell me what song I would be singing, based on the results of the earlier show.

I was really hoping it would be "Walking in Memphis," because I felt that I had a better handle on that song.

When I left the audition room, we met up with Ryan, who had also passed his audition. He would be performing at the 12pm show, which left him only a few minutes before he had to return to get ready.

The producers handed me a lanyard with a yellow badge that said VOTE FOR ME. I was supposed to wear it as I walked around the park to encourage people to come to the show and watch me perform.

We said goodbye and good luck to Ryan, who headed to the stage to begin the prep for his show. Greg and I decided to walk around the park and even catch a quick ride on Star Tours.

It was funny that when people would see my American Idol Experience badge, they would shout out "Good Luck!" or "Break a Leg!" People seemed to be really supportive, even though I was a complete stranger. One lady even stopped me in the street to tell me how brave I was.

That's when it began to dawn on me. In just a few hours, I was going to have to step on stage in front of 1,000 people and sing.

When I decided to bring the whole "American Idol Experience" audition process on the podcast, I had only thought about it as far as the audition. I didn't really consider that if I made it, I would have to go through with the stage performance part.

Needless to say, I didn't enjoy Star Tours much. My mind wasn't on Endor... it was on The American Idol Experience stage.

What had I gotten myself into?

In Part 4, I'll tell you about everything that went on backstage during the lead-up to my show.

By the way, if you don't want to wait for Part 4, you can listen to the podcast episode where I tell the whole story!

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