Posted: 10:00 am Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

‘Idol’ Atlanta auditions preview for Jan. 23 episode 

By Rodney Ho

Producer Patrick Lynn revved up the 'American Idol" crowd in July, 2013 at Gwinnett Arena. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Producer Patrick Lynn revved up the ‘American Idol” crowd in July, 2013 at Gwinnett Arena. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

I attended both the opening round Gwinnett Arena auditions last July and the W Hotel judges’ round in November. The auditions will air tonight at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Here is what I wrote from each event at the time they happened:

As a Fox 5 helicopter roared above, about 5,000 “American Idol” hopefuls huddled outside the Gwinnett Arena Friday morning, thinking that they can be the key to the revival of a flagging, aging TV show.

The 5,000 number is a bit more than half as many as Atlanta drew four years ago at the Georgia Dome, the last time “Idol” came to Atlanta. That dropoff is reflective of the fall in TV viewership since 2009.

At least the weather was pristine, cool and pleasant until the sun rose up and gave the crowd a modicum of warmth before it was shepherded inside at about 9 a.m.

Many arrived overnight but camping out was pointless since anyone who registered was guaranteed a seat. Technically, you could have shown up at 9 a.m. and strolled right in but most contestants showed up hours earlier for all those scenes you see on the show where you see them singing together or mugging for the cameras. Based on a small sampling of people I spoke to, a majority had travelled from outside of Georgia, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida and South Carolina. That is typical of what I’ve seen before.

And while you might get the impression from “Idol” that many of these people can’t sing, that isn’t true. Most are decent singers. Most, however, lack that X factor, which is what producers are seeking. Interestingly, they are allowing people to use guitars if they choose (but they still have to sing a capella first). Several folks who had read the rules brought guitars.

Ryan Seacrest taking direction during the Atlanta early audition round. He did all his takes a single time. Why? He's Ryan Seacrest!

Ryan Seacrest taking direction during the Atlanta early audition round. He did all his takes a single time. Why? He’s Ryan Seacrest!

While a few people said they have watched the show recently (I found a Seneca S.C. teen Trey Stephens who was partial to Curtis Finch of all people), some have not seen it in years, waxing nostalgic about Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks.

The one person who raved about this season’s winner, Zacchaeus Garrett from Pulaski Tenn., couldn’t remember her name. (It’s been a whopping two months since season 12 concluded. Then again, I’d be hardpressed to name many of the top 10 right now.)

Patrick Lynn, the supervising producer for every audition city since day one in 2002 (that’s more than 80 times), stood on a scissor lift 20 feet above the crowd with a megaphone and guided the crowd for more than 20 minutes on various cheers and comments you may hear in January such as “This is my journey!” and “This is our dream!” followed by whoops and cheers.

At one point, they had everyone dancing to Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” (It’s Atlanta, y’all!).

Host Ryan Seacrest drove in from his parent’s home in Dunwoody about 30 minutes late. But he saved some time by quickly doing his promos in the crowd without a need for second takes. (He is Ryan Seacrest). “The South has always been a hotbed of talent Can they deliver again?” he asks at one point.

Then he strolled over to the press. He first spoke with Fox News, then affiliates from Birmingham and Macon. (Chattonooga and Augusta Fox affiliates, who have shown up at past auditions, passed this time around.) He also gabbed and goofed with Sonic, a local jock who is on top 40 station Power 96.1, the same station which plays the syndicated afternoon show of Seacrest from noon to 3 p.m.

I wanted at least two minutes with Seacrest, who I’ve known since I wrote a profile of him in late June of 2002, just a couple of weeks after “Idol’ debuted. But production was falling behind schedule and producers were barking in the publicist’s ear to move him along. So she gave me the “wrap” signal 40 seconds in and we had to end this interview below after a mere 75 seconds.

He got to see his mom Connie but he got in too late for dinner and he consumed a protein shake for breakfast. (No bacon and eggs for this svelte Hollywood figure!) . He wouldn’t reveal names but said a new judges’ panel is close at hand. And voila! My time was up.

Here was my way-too-quick one on one with Ryan Seacrest:

Jennifer Lopez is interviewed by the Atlanta media at the W Hotel during "Idol" auditions in late October. Harry Connick Jrs is on the right and that's the back of Keith Urban's head on the left. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Jennifer Lopez is interviewed by the Atlanta media at the W Hotel during “Idol” auditions in late October. Harry Connick Jrs is on the right and that’s the back of Keith Urban’s head on the left. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Three months later, Seacrest was back with the new trio of judges at the W Hotel in Midtown for the portion you’ll see quite a bit on TV:

“American Idol” came into town Monday through Wednesday at the W Hotel in Midtown for more rounds of the 13th season.

This is the show’s sixth visit to town since it debuted in 2002 and the second time they’ve done it at the W, where about 80 contestants competed for a chance to go to Hollywood before the revamped judges panel of Harry Connick Jr. (new), Jennifer Lopez (returning from seasons 10 and 11) and Keith Urban (the lone survivor from last year.)

The press scrum included Extra, OMG Insider and various Fox affiliates from North Carolina, Albany and Atlanta, of course. A seemingly endless array of crew members scurried about in green “Idol” T-shirts with the number 13 on the sleeve and cities they have visited on the back. Atlanta is the seventh and final city for the judges, though the show never airs auditions in chronological order.

Seacrest came by, a pro as always, doing flawless promos for Power 96.1 after doing his West Coast show from Clear Channel Atlanta headquarters in the morning. The judges said all the right things, espousing how much chemistry they have and how the focus will be on the contestants, an issue that dogged the show all last season.

We were not allowed inside the judges’ sanctum but I was able to peek at a monitor and see they had a fake backdrop of Centennial Olympic Park and the downtown/Midtown skyline.

The cameras were everywhere at the W Hotel in Midtown in late October, 2013 for "Idol" auditions, season 13.

The cameras were everywhere at the W Hotel in Midtown in late October, 2013 for “Idol” auditions, season 13.

Here was my brief talk with Keith Urban:

And Harry Connick Jr.:

19 comments
someonesdad
someonesdad

Ai is better this year than ever before.  They're not wasting as much time on the weirdos and terrible singers.

MercedesS
MercedesS

Looks like I'll have to see a recored Idol again, later.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

I am off tomorow and Monday, Yeah!  Missed the 2nd half last night (another sick after dinner episode), so didn't know most of those you guys mentioned. I though that JLo was gonna jump the desk and drop her drawers over the cute fella from GA with the guitar (Oh, no Deirdre, I may have set our Jen off with that remark!). He just blushed and blushed. Will probably go pretty far - cute and seemingly fairly talented. Time will tell. I know I've picked lots of people in the first few shows that I thought were really good, only to be disappointed later on with their performances! Didn't miss the mark at all with Michael Johns, however.

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

I just set up my fireplace for a nice warm fire while I'm watching Idol and Greg Kinnear's new show tonight.  That and a nice glass of wine should make this frigid evening a little bit better.

MercedesS
MercedesS

Of course I should have checked which thread was freshest... posted some comments on the wrong one about my impressions from last night.

At any rate, I am very happy with the new Old Idol!

JTesla
JTesla

Rodney, love the "repurposing". Might as well get as much milage as you can out of your first hand experiences.

FarTrain
FarTrain

Agree wholeheartedly with RoHo on the chamber.   We need to start a movement, "Chuck the Chamber" !  It's creepy and appears to be more voyeuristic than anything.  They have to know there's cameras on them, and are not being themselves. 

FarTrain
FarTrain

Hey, I'm back, didja miss me?   I know Deirdre did, as she loves me dearly(can hear her groaning now). Sorry, I'm late, that round the world cruise took longer than I expected.  

RoHo I'm confused about something. They only showed 3 dots on GA last night and you say 4 from GA.  I only remember Jackson, Kennesaw, and Thomasville.  Where was the 4th one from?  I hear there's supposed to be one on tonight from Moultrie, which is near Thomasville, but they are not sure if he gets air time.  His name is Marcus Holloway, and honestly from what I saw (TV tape) he's not very good.  Don't know how he won a local competition!  

Just wondering too.  Why would someone from Thomasville GA (near FL line) go all the way to Detroit when they held auditions in Atlanta?  Strange!

RodneyHo
RodneyHo moderator

It's what I call "repurposing" past information! :)

JTesla
JTesla

One change I have enjoyed is the little bits of the judges speaking individually, waxing philosophically about whatever they were asked.

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

Thanks for the replay, Rodney.  It helps to hear the details before we watch the show tonight.

RodneyHo
RodneyHo moderator

@JTeslaYou know it! I have to feed this beast, even if it's regurgitated food. :)

RodneyHo
RodneyHo moderator

@FarTrainIt's just a dumb gimmick that generates faux "suspense." Unless they pelted the singers with rubber balls or coated them with pudding and feathers!

RodneyHo
RodneyHo moderator

@FarTrainThere's this dude who works at Delta who lives in Atlanta but I think they gave him credit for some other locale. Emmanuel Zudel or something like that. He tried out in SF by entering the room singing, then covered a Beyonce song.

JTesla
JTesla

@RodneyHo I'm starting to warm up to it, but it will always be a "dumb gimmick". Every season they stick camera's in the faces of those about to go in front of the judges with Ryan asking them how nervous they are. Now they get a little "alone" time. For that reason I can see at least a little benefit.

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

@FarTrain 

Sorry, not Marietta.  I believe the guy named Emmanuel who is a ramp guy for Delta, lives in Atlanta.

RodneyHo
RodneyHo moderator

@Rickster_@RodneyHo"Repurposing" is some sort of "Office Space" linguistic equivalent of "recycling." Somehow makes it sound more important.