A journalist’s American Idol audition story: If you believe, you can achieve a music dream

The Courier, 3rd September, 2004

American idol

When judges for "American Idol" said my voice was OK but not quite strong enough to become a singing star, my fate was the same as about 5,000 aspiring singers who tried out in New Orleans for a spot on the popular TV show.

But the judges who made the final evaluations of my performance were the show’s executive producers. And with TV cameras filming as I sang Joey McIntyre's inspirational ballad, "Stay the Same," the setting was far different than walking across the Louisiana Superdome's artificial turf to one of 11 booths for preliminary auditions.

I had made it to the second round: one of about 200 people to do so.

Most of my family and friends were astounded that I advanced to within one round of meeting famous judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. I was a also a bit surprised since the first two auditions marked the first time I performed in public, but I was not shocked.

I have loved music for most of my 23 1/2 years, and my 400-plus CD collection of a variety of music genres would attest to that. Though I have never had formal music training and couldn't define a note if someone asked me to, I always try to match my voice to the blaring stereo in my car and in my room when no one else is home. For years, I believed I could sing well but never found the courage to perform in front of people to gain a true evaluation of my ability.

But as I started sharing my voice with a couple friends a year ago, they were impressed and encouraged me to sing more. I had always believed my passion for music would lead me to be a record producer or some other position in the music business when my days as a journalist and creative writer would be winding down. Those would be the days after I had written hundreds of articles about musicians and CD reviews. More and more, though, I believed my voice was actually decent enough to try out for "American Idol" and maybe advance a round or two.

Though I will not be the next "American Idol" and my the dream of performing before the celebrity judges was dashed Wednesday, the audition experience was a fun one that I will never forget. Though I am still embarrassed to sing in front of many people I know, I believe I'll be more confident and maybe try it a few times. I have even considered taking formal vocal lessons and possibly pursuing Christian music as a secondary hobby to writing.

Though memorable, the audition process was anything but smooth. I and a couple friends arrived at the Superdome later than most around 10 p.m. Monday night. We camped inside the dome but were unable rest as singers continually practiced songs that echoed throughout the facility. Some sang outside with friends, and others even performed for police officers supervising the area.

By the time the auditions started at about 8:30 Tuesday morning after camera crews filmed several crowd scenes for the show in January, we moved to our seats in Section 117. In the 12th section out of 14 filled with those auditioning, we waited almost eight hours before our performances. I had gone more than 30 hours without sleep, excluding a few 10-minute naps. We were surviving only on adrenaline and excitement.

When it came time for our audition, my friend Michelle Chehardy of Houma and I had lined up in a group of four and were directed to booth No. 2 to perform for a judge. While I was slightly nervous, I managed to calm enough to sing "Stay the Same" and gain the judge‘s approval. To be sure if he should advance me or not, he asked me to sing portions of the "Star Spangled Banner" and Mercy Me's "I Can Only Imagine" before handing me the orange paper few received.

I was overcome with excitement for my accomplishment but also disappointment as I watched the judge eliminate Michelle from the competition after singing Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life." Michelle had been singing all of her life, received training and recently finished in the Top 20 at the Hometown Stars singing competition in Houma. Yet, I was the one who advanced. Go figure.

Half of the second-round contestants auditioned Tuesday, and the rest of us met early Wednesday at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown New Orleans. After waiting for a few hours and being interviewed by audition personnel, I finally stepped into the closed audition room with Fox's executive producers and gave my best effort. I stuck with "Stay the Same," the song that took me to the second round:

"Don’t you ever wish you were someone else / You were meant to be the way you are exactly / Don’t you every say you don’t like the way you are / When you learn to love yourself you’re better off by far / And I hope you always stay the same because there’s nothing about you I would change."

Though somewhat pleased with the performance, the producers decided that I was not good enough for "American Idol." Though I was not overwhelmed with anger and frustration as others who did not make the cut were, I did feel some disappointment for not advancing. Music isn't where my best talents lie, but I knew then that music is a bigger part of my life than I thought.

But communicating with people through the written word will always be my true love. And maybe I didn't make it to Hollywood this year on "American Idol," but I'm sure I'll have many chances to see the recording and filming studios in person many times in my life. I may even have the opportunity to stand on the same stage as the "Idols" finalists.

Of course, I would probably be recording the scenes and experiences on my notepad before typing the story and sending it to a newspaper or magazine.