Posted: 10:00 am Thursday, January 23rd, 2014
By Rodney Ho
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.
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:
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.
Here was my brief talk with Keith Urban:
And Harry Connick Jr.:
About the Author
I'm the media writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and ajc.com. I've been following radio since 2001, TV since 2005. I cover everything from the local radio and TV news scene to shows shot in Atlanta ("The Walking Dead," "Real Housewives of Atlanta") to networks based here (CNN, TBS, Up, Weather Channel) to celebrities who visit town.