One ‘American Idol’ Auditioner’s Story: So Close, Yet So Far

By Megan Warner

RuPaulI love working for MTV News because I love music. And as a singer, I knew “American Idol” could be an awesome opportunity, though I wasn’t sure about the reality-show scene. But my curiosity won in the end — what was trying out really like? I had to go see what it was all about, so off I went to try out for season eight at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

(Our very own “American Idol” expert, Jim Cantiello, was also curious about the tryouts. Check out his “Idol” audition story here!)


What was most surprising — and cool — about auditions was how supportive and friendly everyone was. While there was a healthy dose of competition going around, everyone knew the odds were against them, so they enjoyed the event like some sort of karaoke festival. It was cool to see so many different people who loved to sing and play music all making the most of being stuck in one spot together. An “American Idol” village (of thousands, mind you) had materialized by about 7 a.m.

Out in the corridors by the concession stands were tons of people milling around, singing in groups, playing guitar in the stairwell or warming up in every possible space. The most popular tactic was facing a wall or corner to sing, and I even found one girl behind the bathroom door who luckily did not get crushed when I opened it. But everyone was still enjoying one another’s company, talking about previous auditions and chatting about the latest Jordin Sparks news. (Side note: I missed Sparks’ appearance when I was in the bathroom, but I made it back in time for Ryan Seacrest’s stand-ups, which were less than riveting. Oh well.)
The crowd outside American Idol auditions
While watching people proceed in groups down to the stadium floor to sing at the judge tables, you couldn’t help but notice that barely anyone got a green ticket and exited on the “winners” side. Most of the ones who did get through were exceptionally interesting — super-hippie, super-diva, super-odd (super-odd being the key one here). I watched many perfectly good singers get rejected while it seemed like the weirdest ones always made it through (hand puppeteers, a girl with a TV head, and a giant cookie, to name a few). Even when I finally approached one of the judge tables at about 2:30 p.m. (after seven hours of waiting), there was a guy in the group ahead of me that sang so excruciatingly horribly that he got through to the next round. A small part of me almost decided to jump ship at the last second and sing as weirdly and badly as I could to see what would happen.

But finally it was my turn. I was the second one to step forward in a line of four people. The girl before me sang something nice but was given the hand (that was how they cut you off) after about 15 seconds. So I was thinking, “Sweet, get ready for the hand to your face,” when I approached the judges. I recognized the man in front of me as one of the main producers running things that day. Great. I sang “Killing Me Softly,” and when I got to the end, I noticed I had not been cut off. I swear my heartbeat stopped for a few seconds. Then they asked me to sing another song, which totally took me by surprise. “Fast? Slow?” I asked. “How about an upbeat one,” the man answered. Needless to say I was rattled, and didn’t sing with the same confidence even when I sang it twice for them. I didn’t get the hand, but when I stopped singing, the judges moved on to the next person. I was thinking, “Hey, I just sang three times, so maybe they’ll still let me go to the next round.”

When they called all four of us up to the judging table, the male judge paused and said, “It’s gonna be a ‘no’ this time, guys, for all of you, but there were some good voices here and you should work on it and come back next year.” (He was looking right at me, which was encouraging and also embarrassing, considering three other people were standing by my side following his gaze.) So maybe he was just being nice, or maybe he thinks I really have a shot next year. It seems like too far away to think about, and would mean a lot more hours of waiting on asphalt, but depending where I’m at next August, I just might have to give it a whirl again — but next time with a folding chair, packed food and better mental preparation for the exciting, annoying, inspiring and lengthy process that is auditioning for “American Idol.”

P.S. I did manage to get some quality face time on camera by climbing up on a lamppost base during an outside crowd shot. Will they use me in the NY episode of season eight? Here’s hoping.