June 4, 2023
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Inside Idol

Editor’s note: In the following story, Skowronek takes an inside look at what it’s like to audition for “American Idol.”

I woke up to a text message Sept. 16 in my Los Angeles apartment from my editor at HollywoodLife.com that said, “Can you sing?”

Skowronek practices Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” before her audition. She said she wasn’t nervous, because she was there for the experience, not to win. Photo Illustration by Rebecca McCabe

I laughed, completely forgoing any reply.

But when I got into the office that morning, she asked again, “Can you sing?” Realizing that I probably should have responded, I tried to lighten the mood.

“No, but I can dance,” I said.

“Well, we need you to audition for ‘American Idol’ next week,” she said.

They wanted someone to witness firsthand just how hectic “Idol” auditions are and make a video about it. So at 5 a.m. Sept. 22, I arrived at the Forum, a concert hall in Inglewood, Calif., where the Lakers used to play. I was surrounded by camera lights and gospel-like singers belting out Alicia Keys and Beyoncé ballads.

As I tried to warm up my voice — huddled around hundreds of strangers in what felt like a pigpen — I couldn’t get over the number of people around me who could sing. I tried to make myself invisible. I didn’t want anyone to look at me to sing the next verse of the song they were singing. This was no joke. Tons of silly, crazy people who can’t sing get on TV, but where were these people?
I felt like the joke because I can’t sing. Luckily, I’m confident enough to look like I know what I’m doing. All I wanted to do was catch the eye of one producer who thought I was decent enough to move along to the next round.

From hearsay between friends of friends, I heard that producers would line the singers up, take a quick look at them and ask a select few to sing. Some came out of the audition without ever opening their mouths.

Others said they were placed in a group of four or five contestants and told to sing at the same time. Then a producer would pick whatever voice he or she thought was best.
With this in mind, I was focused on getting a VIP pass through the first round. But, so was everyone around me.

Dasha, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, was humming three different Christina Aguilera songs and debated with me, for the four hours we were waiting outside, which one she should sing.

A 16-year-old boy from San Diego, who sounded like John Mayer, played songs like “Here Comes the Sun” on his acoustic guitar. He had the whole herd jamming, which made me realize how passionate these singers were about music. I almost felt disrespectful for being there just to write a story.

But before I could think twice about sneaking out of the stadium, I was drawn in by a surprising announcement. The producer in charge brought us down to the main floor of the stadium in front of a huge stage. The lights went down and the smog machines turned on. To our surprise Ryan Seacrest popped out, announcing the official judges for this season — Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.

“Sing like you do when no one is looking,” Tyler yelled into the microphone.

All 3,000 contestants rose to their feet as camera men twirled about getting shots of everyone screaming over the celebrities. It was like being at a concert but more intimate because we knew none of this happened in the other audition cities.

Once the crew set up the judging tables on the stadium floor, I knew it was go time. But we were in for another surprise.

The head producer told us auditions would be a little different. Because Los Angeles was a last-minute addition to the “Idol” tour — only announced a week prior — he said auditions would need to move at a faster pace. Instead of having multiple rounds, there would only be one. On top of that, everyone would get the chance to sing, but no one would be singing in front of the actual “Idol” judges.

My whole mission was destroyed. I didn’t need to sing with everyone else. I didn’t have anything to prove. All I wanted to do was get picked out of the long line of contestants you always see on TV and escorted to the next round. But that wasn’t going to happen here.

Like farm animals, they ushered us down to the floor in sections. I was fortunate to be sitting in the third of eight sections with about 250 other contestants, so not only was I going to go earlier, but I would have the chance to watch people audition before me. I was excited to get the day over with — I was running on only three hours of sleep. And no one, as nervous as they were, wanted to stay there much longer.

In groups of four, they placed contestants in front of producers. One at a time, they would step forward, sing their snippet a cappella then step back. The judges would then call up who they wanted to cut and have them exit the stadium. Whoever they wanted to keep got a “golden ticket,” which put them on the show.

As I waited for my turn, I watched about 15 contestants receive a golden ticket. Surprisingly, every time someone succeeded, everyone in the stands cheered. It was almost like we became a family.

At this point, I was disappointed with the auditions and would have rather stayed in the stands cheering on the winners than actually auditioning.

But it was my turn.

As I walked down the stadium steps to the main floor of the large amphitheater, I couldn’t help but feel ridiculous. Here are lines of contestants flooding to the floor, who can belt with the best of them, so nervous they want to vomit, and here’s me, taking in all the details so I can write about them later. And while everyone was staring up into the rafters, trying to focus on their song one last time, I was staring at them, watching their lips move, forehead sweating and hands shaking.

I realized I wasn’t exactly nervous like the others. But I was embarrassed. Stepping up to sing what I had been practicing for the past 48 hours — “Criminal” by Fiona Apple — was like pulling off a Band-Aid.

The judges didn’t really pay attention to me as I sang. One was playing on his Blackberry and the other was fiddling with paper. So I tried to dance a little to get their attention but neither really cared. I was fortunate enough to hit one note in the chorus, which got me a head bob by Blackberry man, but soon after that I got the hand, also known as the “stop-singing-you’re-hurting-my-ears” signal.
I laughed. What other time in your life can you say you got the hand?

However, I knew the experience was all over. The 16-year-old girl next to me was on the verge of tears when they called all four of us up to the table, but I couldn’t stop smiling. I already knew my fate.
“There were a few good voices in this group,” one judge said, not looking at me. “But this year’s “American Idol” is really competitive, so that’s going to be a no.”

Eight hours later, and I am not the next American Idol.

To see the video Skowronek made for her internship, go to http://www.hollywoodlife.com/2010/09/23/how-to-audition-for-american-idol-tips-song-lists.