Sunday, June 06, 2010

My American Idol Experience - Part 4

If you've read parts 1, 2 and 3 of my American Idol Experience saga, you know that we're just a few short paragraphs away from finding out what happened when I made it to the "big stage."

When I last left you, both my brother Ryan and I had made it through the detailed audition process. I was scheduled to perform at the 2 pm show and Ryan was scheduled for the show at noon.

One of the cool things about the Idol Experience is that they let the performer's family and friends come to watch the sound check and even give them VIP seating. So, Greg and I headed for the "Superstar Television Theater" at 11:30 so we could be seated and watch Ryan's rehearsal.

This was an excellent chance for me to see not only how the rehearsal worked, but also how a complete show looked from the audience's point of view.

We sat in the VIP section with the families and friends of the other performers. I was happy to see that everyone was friendly to each other and supportive of all three singers. I think everyone was just thrilled to see their loved-one doing something so unique and exciting.

Before too long, the sound check was over and the audience started to fill the theater. The show began and it hit me how close this show was going to be to the real thing.

The Idol music, the lighting, the cheering audience, the Seacrest-like host. It was all so real!

My brother did a great job during his show singing "Old Time Rock and Roll," a song that the producers hand picked for him.

As good as he did, there was an 18-year old from Florida who blew the roof off the place when she sang "Colors of the Wind."

Even though he didn't win, it was amazing to see people's reaction to him outside of the theater. Park guests were coming up to him, patting him on the back, shaking his hand and telling him what a great job he did. One little girl even came up and asked him for his autograph.

Thirty minutes earlier, none of those people had any idea who Ryan was. But after singing one song on that incredible stage, he was their "American Idol!"

After a very quick lunch, it was my turn. At 1pm, I showed up at the stage entrance to begin my American Idol Experience.

They brought me into the "green room" which was decorated in American Idol blue with a giant logo on the wall. Inside were comfortable couches, a water cooler, storage bins and a practice iPod for each contestant.

Before long, the other two contestants arrived. The first was a young girl in her 20s from Wisconsin. The second was a guy in his 30s who was a church pastor from Houston, Texas.

I was wondering what the other contestants would be like. Would they be nice? Would they be ultra-competitive?

It turns out, they were two of the nicest people you could ever meet. The young girl was really nervous and the church pastor was giddy just to be there.

The reason they had us arrive one-hour ahead of the show is so that each of us could spend time with a vocal coach and then have a professional stylist fix our hair and apply television makeup.

The other two contestants went first, so that left me a few minutes to pick up an iPod and go over my song, "Sway." As I was scrolling through the songs on the iPod, I could hear the sounds of the audience applauding a contestant in the 12:00pm show that was going on at the same time.

This is a good time to talk about the backstage crew and how excellent they were. There were several producers, a stage manager and an assistant who were helping to get us ready. Throughout the whole experience, they did everything possible to make us feel relaxed.

What I found incredible is that they kept us busy from the minute we arrived to the second the show started. I found this really helpful because I didn't have any time to get nervous. I was too busy focusing on everything that they had set out for me to do.

Eventually, it was time for me to have my 10-minutes with the hair and makeup artist.

Since I'm a guy, the artist said that there wasn't much that we needed to do. However, she did apply A LOT of makeup. I work in TV, so I know that you have to wear a lot of makeup when you go in front of the HD cameras.

Next it was time for me to have a one-on-one session with the vocal coach. I walked into the rehearsal room which was covered in mirrors. It also had a piano and the same karaoke system that I used in the 2nd audition room.

The vocal coach was excellent! He first had me sing the song so he could get a sense of what I could do vocally.

As I sang, he was standing a few feet away shouting things like "YEAH!" and "ALL RIGHT!"

I'm not sure if he was really impressed or just saying those things to give me some confidence. Honestly, it didn't matter, because it worked!

He gave me some pointers and advice on a different way to sing some of the lyrics. He also gave me some tips on how to hold the microphone so that it would give the best sound.

Next, he wanted to see how I "moved." This was the toughest part for me, because honestly, I'm no Ricky Martin.

But somehow I got over my embarrassment, because before I knew it, me and the vocal coach were dancing and singing together in that small, mirrored room.... and I was liking it.

The coach gave me some more tips and said that the biggest mistake people make is to "wander around the stage." He said that I should "move with a purpose" and "move with the lyrics." He also explained where the cameras would be and how I should play to them if they came near.

He said that he could tell I'd been on stage before, which made me feel like I could pull this whole thing off. He might say that to everyone who comes though, but damn it, it worked for my confidence.

Next it was time to move onto the "big stage" for the actual sound check and walk-through of the show.

I was blown away when I walked out there. The set is gigantic and multi-leveled. The theater is plush and state-of-the-art. As I wrote earlier, previous American Idol winners have performed on that very same stage and said that it was EXACTLY the same as the one in Hollywood.

The stage manager and her assistant walked us through the entire show and explained what would happen step by step. They showed us where we needed to stand, where we could move on the stage during our performance and where we would sit during our interviews.

They even fitted us with a wireless device so that the stage lights would follow us no matter where we walked. Awesome.

Then it was time for sound checks. The girl from Wisconsin went first and sang "No One" by Alicia Keys. She sounded great, but she sounded like she was holding back. Next up was the pastor from Houston. He sang "Go The Distance" from Hercules and did a fantastic job. Then, it was my turn.

The stage manager handed me the microphone, walked me out to center stage and pointed to a screen on the back wall of the theater. On the screen were the scrolling lyrics to "Sway," just as they had been in the audition and rehearsal rooms.

Now, because of my preparation on the podcast, I didn't need the screen. I had the lyrics memorized. So it was time to see if I was able to do the song on the Idol Experience stage.

The sound check was fun!

The audio system in the theater is incredible. It was great to get an opportunity to hear what the room sounded like before doing it for real. It was also fun to see my brothers in the VIP section laughing and cheering me on. I also noticed that the vocal coach was sitting in the audience too!

After the sound check, they took us to a comfortable holding area right off the stage. The vocal coach came back and gave each of us a few more pointers based on what we did during the sound check.

Before long, I could hear the audience start to file into the theater. We were less than 15-minutes away from the start of the show.

This was really happening.

In Part 5, you'll hear what happened when I took to the American Idol Experience stage!

By the way, if you don't want to wait for Part 5, you can listen to the podcast episode where I tell the whole story!

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