More than 8,000 singers flocked to AT&T Park yesterday with enough ambition and dedication to wait up to nine hours in order to give a 30-second audition for American Idol. To manage their excitement, contestants gave public performances, sought last-minute encouragement via cellphone, and made friends with other musicians waiting in line. Their chances of making it, according to one contestant who kept a tally, were about one in 75. Even with these odds, many struggled to hold onto their nerves, waiting anxiously to see if their dreams of stardom might be fulfilled.
In front of O'Neills Irish Pub at about 2 p.m. Thursday, a group of singers harmonized to T-Pain's radio hit "Apple Bottom Jeans." The apparent leader of the group, Carols Rivera, said this would be his third time auditioning for Fox's hit reality show. His last effort got him in front of judges Simon, Randy, Kara, and guest judge Miley Cyrus, but he didn't get any farther. "They told me, 'You're too nervous. You think you're ready, but you're not. Come back next year.'"
On Willie Mays Plaza, Thursday, four teens slept under fleece blankets, shielding their eyes from the sun with baseball caps. Their watchdog, 16-year-old Maria Jimenez, said the group of friends came from Newark to support another friend who was inside auditioning. Riding BART into the city at 4 a.m. -- necessary to get a good spot in line -- left them feeling a bit sleepy.Several contestants paced up and down the sidewalks, clutching to their cellphones while soaking up final words of encouragement. Those who had been through the audition broke news of the verdict to finger-crossed supporters at home. We spoke with the hopefuls and the disappointed to find just what goes on at auditions for one of the most popular reality TV shows in history.
John Macapinlac, 19, said he only auditions so that he can stand in line. At his second time auditioning in S.F., Macapinlac baited TV cameras by playing "high school hits" by Top 40 stars like Usher and T-Pain on his guitar, which inspired those around him to sing along. Macapinlac came with his friend Philip Villanueva, who luckily passed his audition. The two are in a local group called Hellamedleys. "We do shows together, which is why we're comfortable singing with people in line," Macapinlac explained.
After the wait, contestants crowded into the ballpark as if approaching Judgment Day, awaiting their fate in seats on the lower deck. "Tension really builds up" when waiting inside, said contestant Jennie Nguyen, 19. "The audition is like a rollercoaster. You wait in a long line and then go for a ten-second ride." Nguyen said her audition was "devastating and embarrassing" -- only because she never planned to audition. With no prior singing history, she only came to support her friends, but they forced her last minute to do the free audition, too.
On the field, ten pitched tents filled with producers auditioned groups of four at a time. Each contestant had 30 seconds to perform. Several people we spoke with expressed furious disappointment at the judging process. "There's a specific individual they're looking for," said one contestant who went by the nickname Skittles. "Before you start singing, you know whether you're going through." Though she was rejected, Skittles -- who wore a purple mohawk and green eyeshadow -- said a camera crew approached her and told her she had "the American Idol look."
Skittles didn't get through, even though she saw other outlandishly dressed contestants (a belly dancer, a pirate, and a police officer) pass their initial auditions. We heard Skittles sing, and can testify that she has got it going on. But when her turn came, the judges played with their phones and passively leaned back in their chairs, she said.
Other contestants got a more informed rejection. Austin Stoddard, a 20-year-old with a pretty boy look, said he was told that his rejection had nothing to do with his appearance or talent. "They told me, 'You have a great voice, but we're looking for something more like Carrie Underwood,'" he laughed.
For more on the American Idol tryouts, see our videos of hopeful contestants performing earlier this week.
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