I did not attend any classes on the first day of school. Instead, I went to American Airlines Arena to become the next American Idol. I took it seriously, being the designated driver for the two nights prior to rest up my voice. The Tuesday night before classes, I walked around my floor, singing to friends and strangers, figuring out what song sounded best for my voice and, with their help, I chose “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind. The next day, after having everyone in the three-quarters-full arena sing Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” scream various phrases like, “I’m the next American Idol,” and just generally cheer for television theatrics, the audition process was finally underway. Participants sang one at a time in groups of four, to one of the ten groups of two producers. “American Idol” hopefuls would either receive a golden paper or be sent to get their wristband cut and leave through what they called the “non-winners exit.” By this time, it was noon and, unfortunately for me, it would be another five hours of waiting before my audition due to the time I registered, not the time I received that day. I napped, talked with other participants and practiced a little in my head. While waiting, I saw about one out of every 50 advance. Out of those, four out of five were not serious singers at all. To my shock, I saw the likes of people dressed up as Flavor Flav, Superman and a lobster advance, and I realized that ‘American Idol’ is more about publicity than talent.
Finally, at 5 p.m., the staff got to my section. I had an idea to incorporate the judges’ names into the song, and started thinking of ways I could do it, less than five minutes before I auditioned. In the next line over, an extremely talented redhead was belting out “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. She was phenomenal. She was cut. I was the last to go out of my group and my mind raced with the possibilities. I thought about changing the words to give myself a better edge, and I started to sing. Halfway through the song, right after the first line of the chorus, I realized I hadn’t incorporated Simon in as I had wanted to. This train of thought carried my mind away from the song and, all of a sudden, I did not know the next line. I looked at the judges, pleading with my eyes that they forgive my temporary fault. They had us all line back up and said to all of us, “Sorry, but we’re gonna pass on you. Try again next year.” As two of the girls in my group grew furious as they exited, I was quiet. I passed the “exit camera,” looked into it and simply said, “I forgot the words,” as if that excused everything. One of the girls said she had overheard the producers talking and that they said to only take bad people who made fools of themselves, not to take any more people with actual talent because they had already taken too many. This seemed like a petty excuse to me at first, until I remembered the amazingly talented redhead. It made sense, and still does, that I could have been cut for that reason. So when you watch American Idol next January, keep in mind that it is a show based more on entertainment than talent, and that many terrific singers that easily could have gone to Hollywood were cut. Would I have made it if I registered earlier? I don’t know, but I’d be willing to find out, because the audition wasn’t about the waiting, but about the potential to go on and sing more. I’m not bitter, because I realized that being cut does not mean I was bad. If you don’t believe me, stop me anytime, anywhere, and I’ll gladly give you a short performance.
Michael Bonassar may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.