Disney’s ‘American Idol Experience’ Almost Beats The Real Thing

Jim CantielloI had the craziest dream a few weeks ago, while I was stumbling around Disney World. I imagined I had stepped into “American Idol.” Not just any “Idol,” but the “Idol” I fell in love with years ago.

Turns out, I wasn’t dreaming at all. I was merely taking part in the brand-new attraction called “The American Idol Experience” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which has theme-park guests performing on a pitch-perfect replica of the “Idol” stage. Even the judges’ Coke cups are there!

So how was a theme-park attraction based on a TV show more fulfilling than the actual TV show on which it’s based? Let me count the ways.

1) The original “Idol” was all about finding a talented singer from Everyday USA and turning him or her into a superstar. For the past several seasons, record-label rejects and judges’ favorites have clogged the casts and clouded Randy, Paula and Simon’s judgment.

The “Idol Experience” selects from park visitors and props them onstage. You can’t get any more Everyday USA than that! A girl who just waited behind you in line for Tower of Terror is now in the spotlight giving it all she’s got. They let anyone audition — even your grandparents can give it a go. Being the ham that I am, obviously I had to try, and predictably, my “Idol Experience” went as well as my real “American Idol” audition did. At least this time I didn’t have to camp out for two days, and I wasn’t stuck in a stadium for 15 hours. (In my defense, I had no voice left thanks to screeching on all the rides.)

Jim Cantiello

2) There was no Kara DioGuardi bursting into song or fumbling with basic number skills. They obviously modeled the stage show after the “classic ‘Idol’ ” lineup.

Since Paula, Randy and Simon are too busy these days, Disney cast three actors to play “types” similar to the original judges. The role of Randy Jackson was played by a sassy Asian woman in leather who spoke in Justin Timberlake’s “G” accent. Paula was played by a woozy bejeweled blond lady (who actually made some “drinking” jokes!). And Simon was played by a cranky middle-aged American dude who looked like a frowning David Leisure.

Here’s where it gets totally nuts. These “fake” judges actually give honest, well-spoken, HELPFUL constructive criticism to each performer. Every critique began with a gentle parody of each character on the show (Randy said “dawg” and “homie,” Paula hiccupped and clapped like a seal, and Simon had a mean quip prepared), but then they transitioned into some useful advice.

Imagine that!

3) The prize is amazing! Every day, they crown a new Disney Idol, who is granted a magical Dream Ticket. The ticket allows the winner to make a reservation (and cut the lines) for a real “Idol” audition this summer, provided they’re eligible for the competition. Compare that to the real “Idol,” where you win a complicated record deal and have little to no creative freedom until your second or third album … if your career lasts that long. Sure, the Disney Dream Ticket is still a crapshoot — it’s one thing to be voted best singer at a theme park, and quite another to be talented enough to land a spot on the “Idol” TV show — but at least if you win the “Idol Experience,” you won’t be forced to release a sappy inspirational ballad as your first single.

Jim Cantiello

4) All killer, no filler! The entire show runs about 20 minutes. There are three singers, who each perform for about 90 seconds. And then the audience votes instantly. An “Idol” with no time-wasting? Your mind’s blown, right?

Sure, it’s not the real “Idol” (although did I mention they even had a Coke Real Moment built into the show?). And, granted, you’ll only get to see Ryan Seacrest on videotape (as well as Davids Archuleta and Cook, Jordin Sparks and Carrie Underwood, the latter acting like a producer had a gun to her head off camera!). And, OK, the most famous person you’ll have sitting in the audience won’t be Gordon Ramsay or Teri Hatcher, but rather Joey, a 6-year-old birthday boy.

But take my word on this one. “The Idol Experience” does not disappoint. The show brilliantly operates as both a parody and a legitimate offshoot at the same time. So, if you love “Idol” and wish you could see it live, or hate “Idol” and think it’s a big joke — the Disney “Idol Experience” will appeal to everyone.

Except maybe Kara DioGuardi fans, if those even exist.

Jim Cantiello