‘American Idol’: A First-Hand Account Of The New Jersey Auditions

Jim CantielloYesterday, MTV News’ “Idol” expert Jim Cantiello announced his intention to audition for the show’s eighth season. Now he’s blogging the big day, starting with his arrival at Jersey’s Izod Center.

8:50 a.m.: Welcome to my “Idol” audition blog. I just took my seat in the Izod Center. I’ve been up since 3 a.m. There’s a dude teaching all bajillion of us auditioners how to sing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in unison. He said it was the best it’s ever sounded in “Idol” audition history. I’m so pumped, even though I think he was lying!!!

8:59 a.m.: A dude with a tuxedo and a rose just came into our section. He’s totally going to propose. Really, buddy? Oops, gotta go. They’re having the entire stadium sing Benatar for the cameras.

9:03 a.m.: Sheesh. We just sang the chorus of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” about 90 times. How am I supposed to audition if my voice is shot from singing oldies all morning???


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9:11 a.m.: All the concession stands are open. I sort of want a hot dog, but it’s only 9:11 in the morning. I’ll see if I can hold off ’til at least 10.

9:20: So far, this has been a blast. This audition has been a two-day process. I had to pick up a bracelet yesterday, and today is the actual audition. Apparently the time to camp out in line is bracelet day. The earlier you get a bracelet, the better spot in line you get on audition day. I was lazy and didn’t get my bracelet until 7 a.m. yesterday, so it appears I’ll be sitting here for a loooooong time.

9:21 a.m.: Is it hot dog time yet?

9:32 a.m.: OMG. This warm-up dude just had us say, “We love New York!” even though we’re in New Jersey. Needless to say, the Bon Jovi fans in my section were enraged.


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9:35 a.m.: I’m in section 243. They’re starting with 101. Awesome.

9:41 a.m.: I narrowed my songs down to three. A co-worker who auditioned in the past told me to pick obscure tunes that the producers haven’t heard a thousand times before, so I’m going to sing “One Man Guy” by Loudon Wainwright III, an old folk tune recently covered by his son Rufus. My two backups are “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie and “Summer, Highland Falls” by my fellow Strong Islander Billy Joel. The warm-up dude left, things are shockingly quiet in the stadium and I’m suddenly very, very nervous.


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9:45 a.m.: I met some awesome people in line this morning. A kid named Evan Craft is totally going to make it on the show. He has a great backstory, he’s a fresh-faced teenager, and he used to be in a band with Jonathan Lipnicki. What more can producers want?? Oh, and he can sing really well too. Mark my words: Evan Craft is going to be on the eighth season of “American Idol.”

9:47 a.m.: Ahhhhhhh! Jordin Sparks is here. I’m shrieking like a 12-year-old at a JoBro concert. JORDIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

9:49 a.m.: Meanwhile, Blake Lewis is outside the arena picking up garbage. Aw, I’m just kidding. (He’s actually back home in Spokane … picking up trash. Snap!)

9:55 a.m.: A producer is telling us how this is going to work. First, we sing for 30 seconds to one of 12 stations of producers on the stadium floor. If I make it through (correction: WHEN I make it through), I’ll get a green ticket and go backstage, where I’ll sing for two other producers in a quiet room. If (when) I make it through that, I’ll get a golden ticket and go to a separate audition, which I suspect involves Simon, Paula and Randy.

10:00 a.m.: Aw, a dude just proposed to his baby mama on the stadium floor. It was much cuter than it should have been. He called her his “backbone.” I’m kind of tearing up. She said yes. Yay!!!!!!

10:01 a.m.: Um, now we’re singing “Happy Birthday” to a girl named Jessica. Sort of anticlimactic after we just saw a proposal, don’t ya think?

Jim Cantiello

10:03 a.m.: The audition stations are being brought out! Ack, this is really happening!!

10:10 a.m.: I am 99 percent sure that Baby Blue from Pretty Ricky is sitting in front of me. I would take a pic, but I’m not allowed. I’d get kicked out and I didn’t wake up at 3 a.m. just so I could get booted for taking a photo of a spectacular flattop haircut.

10:14 a.m.: I am shocked at how great everyone sounded in line this morning. Even the couple of crazies who dressed up had pipes to back it up. I tried to find just one delusional psychopath but couldn’t, although I met a plethora of batsh — stage parents who made Dina Lohan look like June Cleaver.

10:18 a.m.: There was one kid in line who went out of his way to talk to every press outlet that showed up this morning. He even had an article about him posted on a big sign. How the hell do you get an article written about your audition before you’ve even auditioned?! Forget singing — that kid should be a publicist.

10:20 a.m.: At every station there’s a person who has the job of snipping the bracelets off the wrists of the “non-winners.” I’m going to call them “professional wrist-cutters” for the rest of the day.

10:23 a.m.: Whoa. A girl is auditioning right now, and her voice is filling the entire stadium. Without a microphone. Yikes, what have I gotten myself into?

Jim Cantiello

10:27 a.m.: D’oh! A guy in my section just returned with a hot dog. I have never longed for processed meat this much in my entire life. Just wait ’til lunch, Jim. Don’t give in to the hunger for beef parts. You can do it.

10:29 a.m.: Everyone just cheered for a guy who walked off with a green ticket, and then a producer reprimanded us for making too much noise. I guess this is gonna be like THAT all day.

10:47 a.m.: I left my seat and am now wondering around the hallways. An alarming number of people are facing the wall and singing. It looks like a scene out of “Kindergarten Time-Out: The Musical.”

10:49 a.m.: Jackpot! I found a Carvel ice cream stand. Nothing chases a frank like soft-serve ice cream and hot fudge.

10:57 a.m.: Dang, I wish I was allowed to bring a camera inside so I could capture the chaotic cacophony out here in the hallways. Imagine someone blasting the music of Celine Dion, Xtina, Alicia Keys and the “Dreamgirls” soundtrack ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

11:01 a.m.: I found the hippie contingent. They’re sitting outside section 114 jamming on a guitar and a bongo. I don’t think it’s an accident that they’re sitting adjacent to a Mrs. Fields cookie stand, if you catch my drift.

11:12 a.m.: Spotted: a girl wearing a homemade T-shirt that says, “This is my fourth year.” Should one really advertise that? That’s like sporting an “I wasn’t good enough for Dartmouth or Penn” sweatshirt.

11:20 a.m.: A group of 25 people just burst into an impromptu “Lean on Me.” I feel like I’m living in the Disney Channel or something.

11:25 a.m.: The impromptu group just encored with “I Will Survive.” Now I’m living in the Lifetime Network.

Jim Cantiello

11:28 a.m.: I am officially in the hot dog line. Jealous??? Fun fact: The concession stands are only selling Pepsi products. I guess that means they’re importing Cokes for Randy, Paula and Simon today.

11:47 a.m.: After today, I’m going to have nightmares where I’m being chased down an endless hallway by a pack of theater kids shouting Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” It’s unnatural.

11:52 a.m.: I’m back at my seat. And (SPOILER ALERT) proposal girl just made it through to the next round. My heart is sufficiently warm, although that could just be the $5 hot dog repeating on me.

12:07 p.m.: I think Christina Aguilera just auditioned. Wow … after two hours, they’re only done with four sections. If I’m doing the math correctly, my group will be auditioning around December 3. I knew I should have packed some winter clothes.

12:19 p.m.: Gulp. There are not that many green tix being handed out. The professional wrist-cutters are working hard. Since I’ve been back in the arena, I’ve only seen three people advance. The last girl to advance had a guitar. Are they letting people try out with instruments this year? MTV News investigates…

12:26 p.m.: A girl just screamed bloody murder. It sounded gruesome, but when she emerged from behind one of the black curtains, she was holding a green ticket. She should work on not sounding like she’s being stabbed before she makes it to Hollywood Week.

12:30 p.m.: A girl who sounded exactly like Whitney Houston just auditioned. And I’m talking “How Will I Know” Whitney from yesteryear. Not the “Kiss my ass!” Whitney of “Being Bobby Brown.” She is my new fave “Idol” contestant. I hope she makes it on the show. Go, fake Whitney!!!

12:36: I just had a thought. Security is pretty lax here right now. Nobody checked my ticket when I returned from the hot dog stand. What’s to stop me from jacking a seat in section 112? Sigh. If only I was a shady jerk with loose morals. Tim Kash must have it so easy. (Kidding, Tim! You know I love.)

12:39 p.m.: Ooh, I think a dude I interviewed in line just got through! He was decked out in an old-school rat-pack suit and said he was going to be the first retro crooner on the show with “Italian soul.” In your faces, John Stevens and David Radford!

Jim Cantiello

12:52 p.m.: This is fun — one girl shouting “I Will Always Love You” just got thunderous applause. Now all the other girls are trying to out-sing each other. It’s like an episode of “VH1 Divas” up in here!!!!!!!!

12:57 p.m.: Scandal! One of the (awesome) belting divas didn’t get through, and the entire stadium booed. This is just like a football game, only with more sequins and, strangely, less man-on-man contact.

1:01 p.m.: Two girls with hula hoops got cut (good riddance!), and another guitarist made it to the next round. Still unclear if people are playing all these instruments or just carrying them around to prove that they’re “serious artists.”

1:14 p.m.: Ouch. The publicist kid (see 10:18 a.m.) just did the walk of shame. Sorry, kiddo. You know the old saying: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Unless you’re a cast member from “The Hills,” it’s very difficult to be famous without displaying an iota of talent.

1:28 p.m.: Correction: I just bumped into Publicist Boy in the men’s room. He was flipping out because he’s losing his voice. Maybe he shouldn’t be rehearsing in the bathroom. I get that the acoustics are great, but that stadium bathroom scent can’t be good for the pipes (or the spirit).

1:32 p.m.: We just got yelled at for making too much noise — exhibit ZZ that auditioning for “Idol” is exactly like being in detention. If only Molly Ringwald were here…

1:36: A preppy gentleman is rehearsing selections from Nirvana’s Nevermind in the hallway. Kurt Cobain would be rolling in his grave about this if he weren’t too busy rolling in his grave thanks to Tori Spelling’s recent music video.

1:47 p.m.: I’m back in my seat. The judges are on a break. A guy on a cell phone behind me just told his friend that once producers hand out 300 green tickets, they do “fake” auditions for the remaining hopefuls in the arena. I seriously hope that’s not true. What if Fantasia had been toward the end of the line?

1:51 p.m.: Ryan Seacrest is on the floor. Everyone is excited except me. I already spoke to him outside the venue this morning, and he gave me some tips for the audition. Oddly, one of them was “Watch out for sharks.”


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2:12 p.m.: OK. I changed locations. I found a part of the upper tier where nobody was sitting, and I now have a front-row view of the happenings. Granted, I can’t hear anything, but at least I can see everyone’s outfits.

2:14 p.m.: Overheard: “I don’t think white girls can do Afros. I just don’t think it’s possible.” Clearly, the girl who said this has never seen Marissa Ribisi in “Dazed and Confused.”

2:24 p.m.: A large-and-in-charge girl wearing leopard print just shrieked her way through “Over the Rainbow.” I think I’m in love.

2:31 p.m.: Spotted: a girl wearing a homemade TV-shaped helmet. The sides say, “American Idol,” and the screen is cut out, revealing her face. Curious to see if the producers put her through. Story developing…

2:33 p.m.: Question: Are tube tops still in fashion? Better question: Were they ever?

2:39 p.m. Gasp! Kevin Jonas is sitting in front of me! OK, not really. Everyone knows Kevin doesn’t sing.

2:43 p.m.: My new seat rules. I’m sitting behind the gay Randy, Paula and Simon (their words, not mine). They just finished debating whether “The Secret” is for real or not.

2:46 p.m.: TV Helmet Girl just got her wristband cut. It doesn’t seem like they’re letting that many crazies through today. Is this a new and improved “Idol”????

Jim Cantiello

3:07 p.m.: Lots of talented people aren’t making it past round one. The conspiracy theories are spreading like wildfire. A girl in teal, after being told “no,” flipped out and demanded to speak to a manager. She then performed for a bald producer who gave her another “no.” Lots of tears followed. The tension is insane!

3:12 p.m.: It’s official: I’ve been up for 12 hours. There’s no end in sight. (The producers are only halfway around the arena.) I don’t think I’m getting out of here alive. In the event that I don’t survive, my wife Jess gets everything.

3:20 p.m.: A blind gentleman just received a ticket. He looks like Bucky Covington … but, um, with a cane. He got a standing ovation. It was a much-needed spirit booster.

3:40 p.m.: Lots of confirmations coming your way. Confirmed: Instruments are NOT allowed this round. Confirmed: Publicist Boy has been officially cut. Confirmed: If you put up enough of a fight after a “no,” you get to go to a supervisor who looks like Tom Colicchio (but he very rarely lets people through). Finally, confirmed: I am so malnourished right now.

3:55 p.m.: I think I’ve figured out the “Idol” producer code. If they write on your wristband, that means you’re bad but you’re moving on to round two. If you just get a green ticket, you’re talented. I really hope they don’t write on my bracelet. Keep in mind this is all speculation on my part. I’m like 800 feet away and can’t really hear anything.

4:07 p.m.: A frat guy just stripped down to a Speedo. He got the loudest applause of the day … until he got a green ticket. Then all the “woooo”-ing turned into “booooo”-ing.

4:15 p.m.: Lame! A girl was just cut, despite singing while solving a Rubik’s Cube in under 30 seconds. That’s gotta be worth a green ticket, right? And another blind contestant moved on. Some people in the stands are saying really awful things about the visually impaired. Ick.

Jim Cantiello
4:25 p.m.: It’s hour 12 inside the arena, and I’m feeling so alone. I think I’ve lost about 15 pounds today and fear that I will become uncontrollably violent “on the outside” the next time I hear “Killing Me Softly.” I don’t know how Brooke White survived this, but if that ball of unstable mess made it through, so can I.

4:40 p.m.: Trying desperately to hold off until 5:30 p.m. before I scour the snack bar. There’s a vicious rumor spreading that there’s a chicken stand somewhere in the arena, but I suspect it’s just a cruel joke. Sort of like how, in high school, the seniors told the freshmen that there was a pool in the basement. Anyway, I think I might have a Mariah-like breakdown if I have to eat nachos for dinner.

4:42 p.m.: Ooh, maybe that bald producer really IS Tom Colicchio, and as a bonus for us last auditioners, he’ll whip up that amazing Craftbar fontina fondue I’m obsessed with. Am I dreaming?

4:56 p.m.: “And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?”

4:57 p.m.: “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

5:13 p.m.: A contestant who was just sent home is dressed like a chocolate chip cookie. Pardon me while I race down to the lobby so I can tackle him and chew off his sure-to-be-delicious arm.

5:45 p.m.: My friend Dominique who is sitting in front of me told me about the elusive chicken stand. I could cry I’m so happy.

6:10 p.m.: Oh. My. God. If you’re ever in the Izod Center, I highly recommend the chicken fingers. They are delectable. Word has spread, and everyone in my section is gnawing on fried-chicken parts. And raving about them.

Jim Cantiello
6:29 p.m.: The judge who’s turned down the most talented people today — judge number 13 — just left. The remaining auditioners are cheering that he’s leaving. These people are COLD.

6:45 p.m.: Hallelujah! The last section in the lower level moved onto the arena floor. That means the upper levels are next. I should be singing for producers in the next hour or so. I’m starting to get nervous again.

6:56 p.m.: Oh noes! Mean judge 13 is back. I just know I’m gonna get that guy. Story developing …

7:15 p.m.: Yay! An awesome girl I met on line named Asia just made it to the next round. Fun fact: I challenged her to a sing-off and I totally won. Does that mean I’ll make it through too? The plot thickens!

7:37 p.m.: Weeee! I’m getting ready to move on to the floor for my audition!!! Sweet niblets!!

7:44 p.m.: I’m in my group of four. With me is Liz, a really funky gal who reminds me of Lisa Garza from “The Next Food Network Star.” And then there’s Jay Star, a dude with a fedora. And lastly there’s Deserie, a diva in a beret. I’m so getting a green ticket.

7:47 p.m.: I’m about to sing for judge number 11. She seems nice … I hope she has a thing for skinny boys in Sufjan Stevens T-shirts, ’cause then I’m golden.

7:53 p.m.: I’m almost up. And I’m fuhLIPPING out. I forgot my lyrics. I’m gonna start the song too high. I’m gonna puke up my delicious chix fingers. I’ve got the cold sweats.

8:08 p.m.: And … it’s a no. She loved my look (the Sufjan tee worked!!!) but didn’t think my vocals were there. Oh well. I did pretty great for me, actually, considering I don’t have any training. She dug my song choice (“One Man Guy”) but stopped me and asked me what the song meant. “It’s about being a loner.” And she was like, “It was?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah. I suppose the first verse sounds like a gay love song, but the second and third verses flesh out the loner bit.” And she was like, “Oh. Did you write that?” And I said, “Nope. It’s an old Loudon Wainwright tune.” Sigh. Maybe I should have done the Death Cab song. There’s always next year …

8:57 p.m.: So there it is. After waiting for 15 hours, my audition was over in 60 seconds. Next thing I know, I’m face to face with a professional wrist-cutter who, with one quick snip, trimmed away my chances of being the next David Cook. We were ushered out of the building, and I was greeted by dozens of other rejects. All I heard was, “She told me I had no stage presence.” “He didn’t tell me nothing.” “This show is bull!” Funny thing, this show. The same people who were just competing against me are now, mere seconds later, offering a shoulder to cry on. So in the end, I came, I saw, I waited, I waited some more, and I didn’t quite conquer. But I have a deeper appreciation for all the contestants who will be on the show next year. And who knows? Maybe you’ll see me in some of the crowd shots!!! Thanks for taking the journey with me today. And check back here on Thursday for my video diary. Cantiello, out.