Hi everyone. As you know, Iíve been a fan of American Idol since season 5, the Elliott Yamin season. I still say he got ripped off, but I guess I have to let it go. I am sitting here with Robin Lennox, a former American Idol hopeful who has granted me a few minutes from her busy schedule to talk about her experience with auditioning for the show and shed some first hand light on the goings on behind the scenes.
Commander: Hello, Robin. First of all, thank you for taking the time out for this interview. Itís quite a feather in my cap. So, on that note, letís get to it. Tell me, which season did you try out for?
Robin: I auditioned for seasons 4, 5 and 6.
Commander: Oh, wow. Three seasons.
Robin: I will never forget it because initially the age cut off for AI was 26. One night, I was sitting home with my father, watching Entertainment Tonight, and AI made the announcement that they were increasing the age limit to 28. I was so excited and said "Thatís it..I am there!". I started researching the audition venues and saw that Washington DC was in 3 weeks. I had a really great boss who knew of my musical history and said Ďyou have to go for ití.
Commander: Where were the auditions held?
Robin: Season 4 was in DC at the convention center. Season 5, I was originally supposed to go to the FedEx Center in Memphis but those auditions were canceled because that became the relief center for Hurricane Katrina refugees. I then went to Chicago and it was held at Soldier Field. And I also went to Greensboro, NC for another audition. For Season 6, I went to San Antonio at the Alamo Dome and then to the Meadowlands in NJ.
Commander: Thatís a lot of traveling. Give me an example of what the scene is like at one of these auditions.
Robin: The DC audition was absolute chaos. It was as people in the industry call a "cattle call". I was a novice at the process and I sure paid the price! My father, who came with me as my support, and I got our bracelets 2 days before the audition and there were people already lining up inside and sleeping in the building. My dad and I stayed at a hotel only 0.4 miles away from the convention center. So the next day, before the audition, we saw the sights of DC.
Commander: That must have been a blast. Iíve never been. Sorry, please, continue. You were saying it was chaos.
Robin: The bathrooms ran out of supplies, the concession stands ran out of food. They were totally unprepared for the size of the crowds. Fights broke out and people were escorted out of the building. I met people from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Massachusetts, NY, Florida.. DC was the only venue for the Northeast that year so it was packed.
Commander: They make it all seem like one big happy party on television. Thank goodness for the editors, or no one would want to get involved, Iím sure. Okay, so, how long did it take before you got to finally audition?
Robin: The morning of the audition, I got in line at 4:45am and the lines were INSANE! After everyone got situated, my father and I were in the basement waiting for our turn. I did not get to audition until 10:45pm that night. I was exhausted, my feet hurt and it was to the point that I wasnít even nervous because the process wiped me out.
Commander: That is a long day! What song did you audition with?
Robin: For season 4, in DC, I sang Regina Belle "If I Could". It was a pop song with a little bit of R&B. I picked the middle of the first verse and was told that I would only sing about 15-30 seconds. However, they liked my voice that I sang from the first verse all the way through to the end. I didnít figure that and I became really nervous through the song because there was a key change so I needed to do that acappella. Amazingly enough, with as tired as I was, I was able to pull it off. The judge did like me but wasnít sure if my image would be "likeable". Also, I was a 100lbs heavier than I am now so I really donít know if that did play an image. I still wonder to this day.
Commander: Doesnít seem right, but I guess they have their own ideas of what an ĎAmerican Idolí should be. If Iím correct in my thinking that I remember hearing or reading somewhere that itís a whole different process, that you donít initially audition for Simon, Paula and Randy.
Robin: Yes, a lot different than portrayed.
Commander: Did you get to meet any of the judges, or Ryan Seacrest?
Robin: No, I never got to meet them. Ryan would come up and down the lines but I never met him.
Commander: Oh, too bad, I could get some real juicy stories Iíll bet. Describe the audition process.
Robin: In the audition room, there are 15 tables set up. There is a judge and an assistant at the table. There are 5 auditioners at each table and they continue to line them up behind you. So there are about 10 lines behind your row. You do the mathÖsince there are 15 tables and 5 auditioners at each table, you, in essence, have 15 people singing at the same time. It is really hard to drown out the sound. Someone to your left may be really good while the person to your left could be bad so trying to balance that out while you are singing is difficult. With the DC set up, it was a room and not the stadium like they show now so there was no echo. In the other venues, the reverb was great.
Commander: No wonder some of what we see on TV is so terrible. The judges canít really hear them.
Robin: If you make it through the first round, you then audition in front of the executive producers. However, it is not the same day. They make you come back a couple of different times. Then if you make it past the execs, then you come back AGAIN to audition for Simon, Paula and Randy. It really is tedious and you need to be able to have the time to devote to the auditioning process.
Commander: How far did you get?
Robin: I never got past round 1. Well, I shouldnít say that. When I was in Greensboro I sang 2 songs. My first song was "Couldíve Been" by Tiffany. They asked me for another songÖsomething upbeat. That is when you know they like you and they are considering you. So I sang "Dancing in the Streets". The judge said she liked my versatility and that I was going to be put through. (I was 100lbs thinner this time!!) So needless to say I was thrilled! She was going on break and another judge was coming to sit in and that judge would fill out my "gold ticket" and tell me where to go. So she left and the next judge stepped in. This judge said we were all excused. I stepped forward and said to her that I was told I was going through and that she needed to fill out my ticket. She said to me "I am the judge of this table now and I am telling you that you can leave." I went to say something else and she said "Arguing with the judge will get you nowhere!". I was totally shocked. So I left. I really should have pressed the issue but I could not believe she acted like that. So in reality, I did get through round 1.
Commander: Thatís terrible. I can recall a similar story concerning Brian and his book. Heíd gotten a rejection once that read something to effect of ĎWe have no use for you or your bookí. I guess you just need to develop a thick skin whenever you pit yourself against someone who stands between you and realizing your dream. Still, that must have been devastating, to be that close.
Robin: Some people take it really hard not getting through. However, I have been in the entertainment field since I was 16 so you learn how to take rejection. I never walked out of there crying and cursing out the judges. It was just another audition and if it was meant to be then it was meant to be.
Commander: Thatís a great attitude. Did you make any friends that youíve kept in touch with? Did any of them make it further than you?
Robin: Actually no. I met a lot of people but no one that made it through. I have not kept in touch with anyone from the auditions. The DC people I met, we emailed for about a month afterward but that was it.
Commander: Any hard feelings? Are you still a fan?
Robin: I am still very loyal. I LOVE the show. I watch it and dvr it if I am going to be at work late.
Commander: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to audition?
Robin: I always tell people to make sure they have a huge repertoire of music so if the judges ask for another song choice, you have it right on hand. They do not like to wait because of the time crunch they are under. Also, if you can, audition more than once. You are exposed to so much that first time you go, you really canít enjoy the experience because you do not know what to expect. The second and third go around you definitely enjoy it more.
Commander: I guess if you go in and donít take it too seriously, even if it seems overwhelming you can manage to enjoy it.
Robin: Also, the audition process has gotten TONS better. The next attempts were held in stadiums so you got a bracelet and a seat ticket. They called up sections at a time. So sections 101 and 102 would go down and line up and so on and so forth. When I auditioned at the Meadowlands, I was section 120 and it only took about 2 hours to get up in front of the judges, even though there were over 15,000 people. Whereas DC took 16 hours because it was lines and not stadiums and there was over 10,000 people.
Commander: No wonder there was so much chaos and not enough provisions. Well, Robin, I think weíve come to the end of our interview. Thank you for this into what makes this show tick.
Robin: Thanks for the opportunity. I had a lot of fun.
Special Report Dateline 5/28/09
Well, as usual, now that American Idol is over, and all the defeated Adam Lambert warriors are licking their wounds, thereís a new controversy a-brewing. In the past, accusations of skewed voting have surfaced over the Clay Aiken/Ruben Studdard face off (which was before my time so I cannot comment on that) and the Chris Daughtry (Season 5) debacle where it was claimed the voting lines for him were somehow cross-circuited and rerouted to disperse to the other contestants. I have my own gripe about that season, but it has no relevance to this bit of breaking news.
Now itís being claimed that some local employees of AT&T, a sponsor of the show, not only handed out phones to revelers at two pre-finale parties held for Arkansan Kris Allen and offered pointers on how to text votes, but also briefed party guests how to "power-text" multiple votes at once. AT&T says it does not condone this practice and will make sure their employees understand their sponsorship of the show celebrates the concept of the showís competition, not individual contestants.
The producers are defending the contestís voting integrity and they chose to keep the procedure under wraps for the express purpose of anyone attempting to game the system, and Fox network is not leaning towards full disclosure.
Since Brian had been posting my blogs on Facebook, we saw a "friend" who was a fan of Adam Lambert had cast his vote nearly 50 times in the span of about Ĺ hour, the time it took to finalize my blog. In that amount of time, I was only able to get through about 1/10 of that amount.
And then thereís this figure, which could or could not be reflective from the outcome of the finale, Kris Allen has sold over 130,000 downloads on iTunes, where Adam Lambert has sold a mere 30,000 as of this writing.
Click to view - notice the download popularity on the extreme right of the row
So, all you Adam Lambertians...chill out! Itís probably more than likely his will be the biggest name to ever come out of American Idol, bigger even than Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. Thereís also talk of him possibly joining Queen as the new front man. What a feather in his cap, no?
And a final note, I have to say to Simon Cowell, how the F dare you not give this yearís winner a standing ovation along with the rest of the judges, even after all your accolades to both contestants on how each deserved to be standing before you. Did you get your feelings hurt? Are you that much of a bad sport that your little boy toy didnít win the coveted crown? Well, neither did your precious Luv Puppy last year or your coddled Katherine McPhee in season 5. So much for having to apologize to her for telling her she sang badly one night! Shame on you, Simon!