American Idol

Before the blog post today, let me guide you to a website created by my publisher:

More about that another time, but you can currently find my bio by hovering over the word “Fiction” and clicking my name.


I tried out for American Idol (and is it any wonder that this particular bit of reality-showdom has an acronym that could also mean artificial intelligence?) while we were at Disney. It was a total lark, and I didn’t get past round one, and there are no photos for evidence, but I actually learned some fun stuff in the process. For one thing, I had no idea that Disney owned American Idol, though Walt’s company owns the rest of the planet not bought up by the Sam Walton family, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’m sure this is an upshot of my refusal to have a working television in the house. We can play DVDs, but don’t have so much as an HD converter for our 14 year old set, let alone cable or satellite. I can’t stand commercials and am not willing to sit through them for the slight amount of programming I would actually enjoy. Scott is neither here nor there on the topic, and we both like saving the money, too. So I really know nothing about Idol. I know that former judge Simon Cowell was rumored to be the king of sarcasm, that Steven Tyler’s got his bow-chicka-wow-wow on this season,  and that the Pants on the Ground try-out went viral (even I viewed that one on You Tube), but that’s about it.

So when we went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios the Sunday before Memorial Day, I didn’t even know trying out for the show was an option. However, we quickly found out that much of the park was not age appropriate for the kids. This didn’t prevent Sam from enjoying it all enormously. He adored the shows, the videos, and the rides equally, and since it was his actual birthday, he spent much of the day pointing to his “Disney Birthday” name badge and saying “I’m actually four now” in his most grown-up voice.

In contrast, Caroline spent most of the morning cowering in terror. We tried to take her on the Narnia ride, which was nothing more than a couple of non-interactive videos. She screamed so badly before the first screen even lit up that Scott had to take her for a hike. Then, we tried to go on a ride that was essentially a romp through a bunch of famous movies. She made it approximately to the flash of a scene of Sigourney Weaver running hell-for-leather through the bowels of the Nostromo before I had to get her out of the room. Fast. (Sam, in contrast, now wants to see Alien, thanks to that moment.)

Back outside, it was unbelievably hot, and the ride we’d just abandoned was some thirty minutes long, as, like much of the Hollywood Studios fare, it was really more of a movie. Movies overwhelm Caroline in the best of circumstances, and theme parks do, too, so the combination was really a no-go for her. But I wanted to do something indoors while we waited out the half-time-highlights version of “a complete history of film”.  As we wandered, we passed the actual studio where All My Children is taped (wonder what they’ll put there after the show is cancelled?) and a variety of other really grown-up things.

And then we came to the American Idol building. “Auditions today” said the sign. There was no line whatsoever. The air conditioning beckoned. I asked, “How does this work?”

The gatekeepers explained, “First you sing thirty seconds a capella, any song you can think of. Then, if you make it to round two, you karaoke one of these songs”. He handed me a card with a  bunch of unfamiliar titles on it.

I recognized two of them and thought I would be able to fake them if it came to it and said, “Come on Caroline.” She wasn’t allowed to audition per se, but they did let her pretend to try out. We first entered a hall where they played a short clip of the show’s host (whose name I do not know) welcoming us. Then, we were quickly ushered into a room with a Disney employee who was to hear our thirty seconds of a capella singing.

Caroline went first and sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. 

Which was good, because my mind had suddenly gone blank. I wasn’t nervous. I had no expectations, largely wanted to get in out of the heat for a few minutes, and didn’t feel at all uncomfortable with the laughing woman who was chirping, “That’s wonderful! You sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star while standing on a star!” to Caroline.

While she carefully and laboriously wrote out my daughter’s name on a badge, I stared at the list in my hand (which didn’t even pertain to this round) and struggled to remember thirty seconds of any song. The woman seemed prepared for this, as she had an entire spiel explaining that only 10 or 15 percent of the contestants moved on to round two, but that everyone’s contributions were welcome. Blah-blah-blah, OK whatever, I couldn’t even remember what came after “up above the world so high” in “Twinkle Twinkle” right about then.

She said, “Whenever you’re ready, you can start.”

And I finally remembered something I knew by heart. I sing all the time, and I know hundreds of songs by heart. I get my kids and myself through the day by singing. Are they getting demanding and while I’m feeling frustrated? A nice round of Beast of Burden will diffuse us all. Who doesn’t feel better for bellowing “Pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty girl” a few times? Right-wingers at the door selling God-on-a-stick? A nice chorus of “Obvious, Child” will set my mood to rights.  Insomnia? “Sweet Dreams”.  Grumpy with my Spouse? “Somethin’ So Strong”. But I couldn’t have thought of any of these  songs’ titles right then, let alone remembered thirty seconds of one.

It was another familiar favorite that finally popped into my head. “Okay,” I said, “This is Pure Prairie League’s’ Amie’”.

I actually sang the song’s final chorus and the first strains of “Falling In And Out of Love With You”.  It’s the perfect song audition, really, when one has only thirty seconds to share. Amie’s chorus is fast paced, but the song shifts into slow gear as it heads into “Fallin’ In And Out of Love”, and it allows a singer to exhibit a fairly broad vocal range, as well. And the word “you” can be drawn out to fill out those annoying last five seconds.

As I said, I didn’t make it past this round, so I never got to sing the karaoke tunes on my list. But the Disney staffer actually felt like I carried a decent tune. (I tend to think of my voice as being somewhat off key, so this was a pleasant surprise.) She told me my voice did need to be stronger, but I knew that. I only figured out where my diaphragm is very recently, and in spite of several theater courses in college, I still haven’t really learned how to speak or sing from it.

So in spite of my complete lack of Idol knowledge, the experience was a positive one, and it was a great way to beat the Orlando heat at the end of May.


For the love of Mike, TALK to me! (Concrit welcome on fiction)

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