American Idol, Kentucky style
More than 10,000 American Idol hopefuls flocked to Louisville for preliminary auditions for the show’s eighth season on July 21, 2008. As they waited to enter Freedom Hall for auditions, we quizzed contestants about Kentucky’s state song, while also witnessing the controlled chaos that is “the Idol Line.” Video by Emily Spence | Staff
In their hearts, they know they’re Idols — By Jenna Youngs | Staff
LOUISVILLE — It was about 6:30 a.m. and the Monday morning sun was just starting to rise over the horizon…
American Idol hopeful Craig Allen Carter, 28, had been in line for hours, but he showed no sign of exhaustion. Dressed in a neon orange shirt, he waved a lime green sign over a barricade for cameras to see as they passed by.
”Be Smarter. Pick Carter.“
This is the last year Carter can audition for the Fox talent show because the competition’s age cutoff is 28. So for this man from Possum Trot, a small Western Kentucky town — with less than 100 people and only one traffic light, Carter says — auditions in Louisville are a lucky break in his search for fame.
”I’m from a small town, but have big dreams,“ he said.
American Idol producers were in Louisville from Saturday to Monday auditioning singers for the eighth season of the long-running most popular television show in America.
Producer Patrick Lynn said Louisville, one of eight cities where the show is having auditions, was selected because it was a place Idol had never visited and the potential for a wide variety of musical talent, including country and rock artists, seemed obvious.
”It’s a straight shot from Nashville and Atlanta,“ he said. ”The turnout is beyond our expectations.“
One production assistant estimated about 10,000 people showed up and described the sea of screaming people as controlled chaos.
Monday’s tryouts, in which singers sang in front of Idol’s producers, was the first step in the show’s audition process. If they did well, auditioners were asked to return for an invitation-only audition in front of the show’s judges — Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson — in September at Churchill Downs.
At 5 a.m. Monday, three hours before auditions were to begin, the line of people — 20 wide and thousands deep — wrapped around the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center and only continued to grow.
About 3,000 people back from the front of the line, Carter cheered for cameras and sang a number of songs when prompted, including My Old Kentucky Home, which he says he sang in choir growing up. He said he enjoys mainly singing Buddy Holly tunes, but planned to wow the judges with Last Kiss, a 1960s song made popular again by Pearl Jam in the late 1990s.
Carter said he hopes Idol’s appearance in Louisville will prove to the nation that Kentuckians aren’t ”hicks.“ ”As far as I know my parents aren’t related,“ he said. ”I have all my teeth and they’re real. I’m real excited to show America what Kentucky is about.“
Farther back, Mike Ross, 23, stood with his acoustic guitar. Ross, from Eaton, Ohio, spent Sunday night in the parking lot outside Freedom Hall awaiting his chance for an audition. He said late Sunday night that the audition is an opportunity for real feedback about his talent. ”I’d rather hear “No’ than nothing at all,“ he said. ”I never thought I was good enough, but I’ve been playing for a few years. I gotta take a risk.“
At 7:20 a.m. Monday, the first group of hopefuls was allowed to enter Freedom Hall, after Lynn, the Idol producer, led them in cheers for a promotional video. By 8:30, all potential future American Idols were inside the arena.
But after hours and hours of waiting, it took just less than two hours for the first of them to exit Freedom Hall with news they’d been rejected.
Tears of rejection
Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, crowds of people awaiting their audition slot and those who had not been picked mingled outside and talked about how tough the producers seem to be this year. At 12:30, a young woman in purple shorts and gold shoes sobbed into the arms of a few companions who tried to console her.
Among those rejected by producers was Amanda Geisel, 18, who sang Good Enough by the band Evanescence. She said she watched most of those who auditioned before her and was surprised by how few were selected to move into a ”winner’s room“ within the hall. ”I heard a lot of talented people sing, but not very many at all got selected,“ she said.
Idol producers said auditions would be fierce this year but wouldn’t say how many people were invited to the second round. Geisel estimated that 40 to 50 had been chosen out of a couple thousand as of 1 p.m.
Those who did get the coveted invitation to return in September were nowhere to be seen. They were sequestered inside, auditioners said.
“American Stupid Idol’?
Although he still had a few hours until he faced producers who would decide his American Idol fate, first-time auditioner Kimarland Finnell, 22, of Cincinnati expressed frustration with the selection process. He said he had heard people he thought were talented and who he thought should have been passed through to the second round be rejected in lieu of people who he thought were only there for ”attention.“
”It’s unbelievable how much talent they’re letting go,“ he said. ”It’s like, “How good do you have to be to be the American Idol?’ They picked this guy in a turtle suit with white hair over people with real talent. This isn’t America’s Stupid Idol.“
After leaving Freedom Hall, Josh Wheeker, 19, of Dayton, Ohio, said the producers ”said they were tight on slips this year.“ He sang You’ll Never Walk Alone, but was not picked to continue.
By a fountain outside Freedom Hall, Mike Ross wandered around with his guitar and tried to stay positive.
”I’m pretty pumped,“ he said. ”I didn’t get any sleep, but the atmosphere is second to none. It’s like Woodstock without the drugs. If you sing with your heart and soul, you should be fine. I’ll be singing like it’s my last time ever.“
At 4 p.m. Idol publicity assistant Alex Gillespie said auditions were running smoothly and should wrap by early evening.
Just before 8 p.m., Ross sang for the judges sans guitar, and like so many others before him was cut loose.
”It’s not a big deal,“ he said. ”You can’t have one person tell you whether you’re good or not and just quit. I’m not too worried about it. Most big-time artists wouldn’t pass those auditions because they’re not pure singers. That’s just the facts of life.“
Carter got the same news. Undeterred, he said he plans to audition in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 8. He said he had a great experience, but it just wasn’t his day.
”It is not just about how good you sing, but having the right producer to hear you,“ he said. ”Basically being in the right place at the right time.“5,126 views