Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adventures in AI & ATL (Part 4)

**FYI: This post is REALLY long. The most stuff happened on the last day, and I didn't want to leave out any of it! So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy :) **

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Audition day!! You would think that the American Idol producers would want us to get our sleep as to be prepared for the big audition…yeah right. We were on the road at 4am heading to the GA Dome. Ugh. We were looking forward to parking at the lot in front of the GA Dome, but when we got there it was closed! WHAT?!?! There’s a huge event happening here and they’ve CLOSED the parking lot?!?! So, we drove around the same block about 42 times (partly because we didn’t know what we were doing and partly because it was 4:30am and making sense of anything was a little difficult!) and finally parked in a nearby lot. We loaded up our backpacks and all our stuff and prepared for the trek to the end of the line. You might know that as we passed by the GA Dome lot on foot, they opened for business (they didn’t open until 5am). And it was also at that moment that I realized I have forgotten my camera in the car. L Too bad, so sad, we had to keep walking. We reached the contestant entrance to find a really long line again, so we began walking toward the end of the line. And we walked. And we walked. And every time we turned a corner, we let out a sigh as the line just kept going and going and going. Of course, this would be the day that I chose to wear my very cute, but so not comfortable, espadrille wedge heels.

We ended up in a contraption that very closely resembled a cattle stall. Herding cattle…yep, that’s pretty much what happened for the next 2 hours. We moved a little, stood for a while. Listened to the crazy stuff people would say around us like “Only the people in our section will get to go inside” which is totally not even close to the truth. We moved a little more, stood for a little longer, and watched the girl in front of us take pictures of herself and her portfolio with her cell phone, then proceeded to “warm up” while flipping through her portfolio and head shots and take more pictures of herself (This would be C Marie…better known as the “411, The Show” girl who sang “Love Is A Battlefield”.). We moved a little more and heard more people sing and listened to people’s take on the show. Maybe I’m just crazy, but I don’t think I’d spend all that time and energy auditioning for a show that I had never seen and knew only false information about. Anyway, I digress. They opened the doors and 30 minutes later, we were inside the Dome looking for our seats…seriously…I gotta get outta those shoes! We were seated by some really nice guys who were in line right near us on Tuesday and were ready to go! There were about 15 or so of the lower sections filled with people. Tickets were given out in the order in which the contestants would be allowed to audition. We were in the 4th section and hoped this would mean we weren’t there all day long. We were given instruction when we registered regarding the crowd shots: Everyone must participate. Know the crowd song, which was none other than “Oops, I Did It Again” by Britney Spears. Awesome. (In 9 seasons, American Idol has held auditions in ATL 5 times. If the song that best relates to that fact has the word “oops” in it, maybe they should rethink that possibility before season 10!)

Before we could settle into our seats, “Oops, I Did It Again” was on blaring through the Dome speakers. It played approximately 10 times before we started “rehearsing” for the shoot. Finally, a producer came out onto the field to lead us in the rehearsal of “Oops, I Did It Again”. He reminded us that we had to keep a consistent speed, that everyone needed to sing and that it was best if the people at home could actually understand what we were singing. And then we began singing the chorus as a group of 8,000 people…and we sang it again…and again…and again…and, well, you get the picture. We began to wonder if it really was American Idol or if it was just an experiment to see who would have a mental breakdown first. Just when we thought we had rehearsed enough, Mr. Producer decided he’d like the guys to add in a little harmony. So, we practiced that about 10 times.

And then came the “Woo”s. Oh, the “Woo”s. You see, at American Idol auditions, everything ends in a “Woo”. A “Woo” requires hands in the air and screams at the top of your lungs (even if you are about to participate in the biggest audition of your life and all).

Then, we practiced singing The Song and ending it with a “Woo”. Oh, that wasn’t good enough? Let’s try it one more time…and then one more time to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. By this point, we’re all exhausted, on the verge of being hoarse and ready punch Britney Spears right in the face. Thankfully, though, the longer we sang, the more we were able to determine the talent of those around us. Surprisingly, there were several talented folks around us, the most talented being the guy sitting beside us.

FINALLY, it’s time to break out the cameras for a little filming action!! Wait, but that means we have to sing The Song again…and again…and again…and don’t forget to end it with a “Woo”. I’m really not exaggerating when I say that we sang The Song AT LEAST 40 times. And that number’s probably too low. The camera zoomed in and out, we smiled and tried to look cute for the camera while still singing at the top of our lungs and participating fully in the “Woo”s. Then, at last, we sang The Song one last time. *sigh*

No rest for the weary, though, or the vocal chords either for that matter. It’s time to get some shots of the crowd saying things as one collective group. Again…speak slowly and clearly, don’t speed up, and, in case you forgot, end it with a “Woo”. We started with this phrase: “Welcome to Atlanta! We’re hotter than ever! Woo!”. And in case you missed it first time, we repeated it about 10 times, and that was all before we started actually filming. Then we repeated it about 10 more times for the camera, and sometimes we repeat it, and end with a really long “Woo” so they could make sure to pick the moments where people are looking like the biggest idiots to put on national television. Then, I think they made us just say “Welcome to Atlanta (Woo)” a few times just for fun.

Now, on to the next phrase: “I’m the next American Idol! No, I’m the next American Idol (Woo)”. We can only assume they needed us saying both phrases for some neat-o editing purposes or something. Otherwise, we just looked like a bunch of idiots who couldn’t make up their minds. Well, actually, that’s probably true whether that clip was used for editing or not. We said this phrase about 5 times before the shooting began. They filmed it about 10 times before they decided it would be better if we just said “I’m the next American Idol (Woo)”, so we did that a few times.

Then, because it seemed like a good idea, I guess, they filmed us screaming and jumping up and down and waving and acting crazy. And amidst the craziness, a guy dressed in some sort of bikini wearing Sumo looking costume came down our aisle, stood near the railing and jumped up and down over and over while the camera zoomed in and out on him. We’re pretty sure he was planted on the scene by the AI crew, but really, it’s Atlanta so who knows.

When we were all to point of losing our voices from all the screaming and absolutely exhausted from being up so early and being forced to jump about and act a fool for an hour it was FINALLY time to get the scoop on what was about to go down. Mr. Producer explained it all to us: Only contestants are allowed on the field. Guests will wait in their seats. A section of contestants will be called at a time to enter the field. Have your release form signed and ready (more on that in a minute), have your wrist band on (pink bands only allowed on the field), no food or drinks allowed on the field and bring all your things with you as you will not return to your seat. Once you get onto the field, you walk to the 50 yard line, begin to cross the field, then about half way up, you will be divided into groups of 4 contestants. You can choose your group or just leave it to chance. There are about 12 “booths” (really just some tables and chairs divided by some hanging pieces of fabric) spread across the far side of the field. When your group is called, you will proceed to the next available table. There will be a producer or two at each table. When it’s your group’s turn, one contestant at a time will approach the table, sing for the producer(s), then return to your group line. After all contestants have auditioned, the judge(s) will deliberate, call you to the table (either in groups or one by one) and reveal your fate. If you make it to the next round, you will be given a yellow piece of paper, and will enter the back of the dome to finalize all the details for the next round of auditions. If you don’t make it, as you exit the field, a security guard will cut off your wrist band (gasp!) and you’ll exit at the opposite end of the field. Your guests can meet you at so-and-so entrance. If you make it, you’ll return to Atlanta in August to audition for the second round. (Auditions usually don’t happen until August anyway, but this year they switched it up a little. Because of this, there was the drama happening with Paula’s possible exit from the show and therefore the main judges were not present for the first round. )

So, to recap: No, you don’t get to sing for Simon, Paula, Randy and Kara for the first round. No, you don’t get to keep your prized wrist band. No, we didn’t get to see Ryan Seacrest. No, the first round they show on TV isn’t actually the “first round”

Before I move on, let me just explain this release form. The form basically says, in a little more eloquently phrased legal jargon of course, that you give American Idol full rights to any and all footage of you that they film over the course of your American Idol experience. I can deal with that. I came to audition for a TELEVISION show, after all. And then came my favorite part of the form…the part when they let you know that by signing your name at the bottom, you give them permission to portray you in any light they feel like portraying you in. At first, I thought Geez, American Idol, I can’t believe you would be so heartless that you would WANT to portray those poor people in the light that you do season after season. And then it hit me: All those poor people GAVE THEM PERMISSION TO DO IT!!!. I’m sure that none of them WANTED to be portrayed like that, but once they were, there was nothing they could do about it. Chalk it up to 15 minutes of fame and move on, I guess!

Now, back to the auditions…the first section was called to enter the field. The auditions began and it was then that we realized just how few and far between those yellow pieces of paper were. It was at least 15 minutes before the first one was given. We watched as the shunned were escorted to the “Loser’s Tunnel” and as the accepted were escorted backstage through the “Winner’s Exit”. Our seats were only 6 rows from the field, so we were able to scope out the competition as they went to line up. There were some, um, interesting outfits and ensembles and some fascinating hair dos. There was a girl in a wedding gown and even one dressed up like a guitar. People told me going into this that I should concoct some crazy outfit or scheme to get me noticed. Does that kind of thing work? Sometimes, yes. But most of the time, it just comes off as desperate. I decided that if my natural talent alone wasn’t enough to attract them, then I wasn’t interested.

While we waited in the stands, we could faintly hear the contestants belting out their selections and then the crowd would explode when another yellow piece of paper was thrust into the air. While we waited, the lovely folks at AT&T mingled in the crowd with some giveaways. They called out American Idol trivia questions and the person with the correct answer won a free ring tone. This wasn’t really wasn’t all that attractive to me since I’m a Verizon user. However, finally getting a chance to show off my extensive American Idol trivia knowledge was a game I could get on board for. No need to let all that knowledge go to waste!!

When watching previous seasons, I’d always wondered how they knew exactly who to get individual shots of in the crowd. With that many people auditioning, there was no way, they could take the time to get shots of every single person “waiting for their turn”. Turns out, they don’t shoot that footage until you’ve already made it to the next round…sneaky American idol.

Then, THREE HOURS later, our section was called! Brooke wished me luck and I was off for the field. It would have been really nice to have a familiar face right by my side, but mostly, I was glad to have the next 45 minutes waiting in line to myself. I was able to calm myself and really prepare myself for what was about to happen. I was able to soak it all in.

As we neared the middle of the field, the groups of 4 began to form. I ended up with 3 other girls. There were rumors about how ending up with certain people or genders in your group would give you a better shot. I doubt any of that is true. All I know is that I ended up in a group of 3 other girls. That was the hand I was dealt. Nothing I can do about it now except do my best and not worry about anyone else. At this point, no one in line was singing, so I wasn’t able to determine if anyone else in my group was any good or not. The girl to my left turned to me and said “What are you singing?” and I replied (for about the 50th time that day) with “’Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess. What about you?” I’m not even kidding when I tell you that she looked at me with the most carefree look on her face and said “Oh, I don’t really know yet.” Newsflash, sister…your audition is in less than 5 minutes!! Get it together!

As we waited and got closer to the audition booths, we could hear what was happening at the neighboring tables. As I heard some REALLY amazing singers audition and then watched as they exited through the “Loser’s Tunnel” my confidence took a big fat nose dive. By no means do I think I’m the most amazing singer in the world. I know I’m not. I’ve also matured enough to be able to say when someone is better than me. Those people were better than me. And they were sent packing. I had to do some serious self-encouragement for the next few minutes and not automatically think the worst was ahead.

Everyone in the group ahead of us was rejected…the butterflies intensified. But wait, what’s happening? The 2 male judges at my table are leaving. A woman is taking their place. And then I heard someone behind me say “I’ve heard that the lunchtime judges are there just to get people through the line and aren’t allowed to let people through.” I look at the clock. It’s lunchtime. Great.

She called us forward and nodded to me to step forward. Here we go! I don’t think she could have looked less excited to be there at that moment in time. Ok, let’s cheer this girl up! I told her what I’d be singing and she told me to start when I was ready. Deep breath. You can do this. I focused on what key I needed to start in and sang my heart out. I felt that audition was heartfelt, on pitch and really showed off who I am as a singer. I finished, she smiled and told me to step back in line. Whew, that was easier than I expected. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I had just used up my one shot at American Idol (the cutoff age is 28…I’m 28) that it was really hard for me to focus on listening to the other girls in my group. Girl Without A Song Picked Out must have chosen something really boring because she didn’t move and I couldn’t hear a single bit of her audition. The next girl was pretty good. She had a really stylish look. The last girl was a little, um, overdramatic with her physical interpretation of the song. She might have wanted to focus a little more on practicing her vocals and a little less on creating a seductive routine to accompany it.

And now, the moment of truth. We all stepped forward to the table. She looked at each of us and then began with what sounded like a statement she was told to memorize. It went something like this “First of all, I really want to thank each of you for coming out to audition. Without you all, this show wouldn’t be possible, so thank you. We appreciate you all spending your time and energy on American Idol. There were a couple of really nice voices in this group. However, none of you quite meet the standards that we’re looking for in Season 9. Again, thank you all for coming out.” By that point, I was off to the wrist band cutter and just like that it was all over.

I had told myself and other that I didn’t want to be the girl who was sobbing when she didn’t make it. I knew going into this that it was pretty much a crap shoot. American Idol does NOT define who I am. American Idol does NOT define my worth as a person or a performer. Those were the things that I wanted to remember when I took the infamous Walk of Shame.

But I have to admit that those thoughts were far from my mind. I didn’t want to cry. I would like to tell you that I didn’t, but that’d be a big fat lie. I was on day 3 of exhaustion. I had just been rejected…told that I wasn’t good enough. The adrenaline that had been building up for the past 3 days needed to be released. So, I cried. I didn’t sob, and I was over it in a matter of minutes. I held it together as I walked past the security guards with sad eyes and even as I walked past the AI staff with cold eyes. And then I called Marty and couldn’t suppress it any longer. As always, he was my voice of reason. He reminded me of those things that I wanted to remember and know about myself and this experience. I took a deep breath and remembered something that was reason enough to smile: I just auditioned for American Idol!! Not many people I know have gotten then chance to say that! Was a still a little sad? Of course! No one LIKES to be told that they aren’t good enough. No one strives for rejection. So it hurt. It was painful. But when I’ve just finished one of the most memorable experiences of my life, so why not focus on that?

After I’d made my way through the maze that was the “Loser’s Tunnel” and climbed the stairs and walked almost all the way around the building (someone remind me why I chose those stupid shoes!!) I finally met up with Brooke so we could make the long trek back to the car. It seemed like a lifetime since we arrived at the GA Dome.

We headed back to Heather’s to crash (we weren’t making the trip home until the next day). We reminisced about all the things we were sure we’d want to remember about the experience and somewhere along the way, we got turned around. Lost in ATL…great. We were sure the signs were leading us to I-20, but we’ll just blame that on the DOT…or the lack of sleep. We drove around for a really long time and we would have stopped for directions except that we were in a part of town where you don’t unlock your doors, much less get out of your car! We finally reached Heather on the phone for some guidance as we passed back by the GA Dome. We’d gone in a full circle!! We finally made it back to I-20 and had a funny experience to laugh about and keep us awake.

It seemed like everyone I had ever met (and some that I haven’t spoken to in years) was anxious to hear of my American Idol fate. They were all sure that I would be reporting with “I’m going to Hollywood” so I really wasn’t looking forward to having to make phone calls and post messages on my blog and facebook with the opposite. Not because I was sad that I didn’t make it (well, maybe that had a little to do with it), but because I didn’t want the sympathy. Sure it was nice to hear the nice things that people had to say like “You’re OUR American Idol” or “They don’t know what they’re missing!” or “We’re proud of you!”. In all honesty, I think the reason I didn’t want to hear those things was because it only reminded me that I didn’t make it.

Maybe that’s why it’s taken me almost 7 months to finish this memoir. Maybe I didn’t want to think about. Oh, who am I kidding? The reason I haven't written it until now is because I haven't had any time to really devote to it. It’s not like I’ve had HOURS just to sit and write about this until now! At any rate, looking back, there were so many things that that whole experience taught me. Those lessons learned will stay with me for the rest of my life. And because I’m a list maker, here are the top 5 lessons I’ve learned during this experience:

5. Use a map when driving in inner city ATL.

4. Song choice is pretty important, but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if you sing something by Mariah Carey or your ABCs. If you’re good, it’ll show.

3. The comfort level of your shoes can really make or break your day!

2. Things are not always as they seem.

1. A reality show will not define my abilities, my character or my worth.

Thanks for walking through this experience with me! It really was an experience to remember!

Tomorrow, I'll be posting some thoughts on the show after watching last night's ATL auditions.


Anonymous said...

Wow. That was intense. And very informative, actually. It's like I was there! But I'm kinda glad I wasn't. This whole thing really is insane! I am really glad you wrote this though. I think it was probably good for you to get outta your system, and I was very glad to get to "hear" about it, the REAL ai. I will not say any of those things like "you're my american idol!" because that makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. I've always hated that kind of reaction and "support" when it comes to stuff like this, no matter how sincere. But I will say I'm glad you went and had the experience. And I'm so proud and thankful that you sang in my wedding. And most of all that you're my BFFL!!! Love you ;-)

Lori G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori G said...

Well, since I couldn't go with you, this was the next big thing. Your blog has helped me feel like I was there. I'm sorry the outcome wasn't different, but I'm glad you tried out. What an experience! One you'll never forget. Thanks for sharing with us all! (If they up the age and you get a chance to try again, I still think you should go with the "pants on the ground" song!)

Love you!!

Danielle said...

What a cool experience Sarai! I'm so glad you could remember it in such detail. I loved that! I always wondered what things must REALLY be like at these shows. :)