‘“American Idol’” Takes on Greensboro, Season 5
I walk into the downtown Marriott on Thursday, Oct. to a female’s screams erupting from a conference room on the second floor. My nerves are calmed when I notice the dark-suited security guards don’t even blink an eye at the commotion from above.
In the lobby an odd combination of media geeks, contestant cast-offs and impossibly important businessmen are milling about. It sounds like the action is upstairs, so I decide to take my chances by going up there. I’m instructed to go through a metal detector by a security guard that I could probably outrun even in my flimsy clogs.
Alex Gillespie, the public relations rep for ‘“American Idol,’” tells me to wait downstairs until the press conference with the other members of the Idol press corps. She leads me toward the stairs, yet I suspiciously spy a group of FOX TV news crews on the upstairs level. I decide to blend in. I take refuge behind an ivory-wallpapered pillar that I probably couldn’t get my arms around if I tried. I figure as long as I keep that pillar between me and Gillespie then I can stick around and get a feel for the Idol drama.
The Idol TV crew follows out an apparently happy contestant, a girl who’s uncontrollably crying and from the sound of things, waving one of the coveted yellow papers that gives them a pass to the next round ‘— and to Hollywood.
This is my first time at an Idol audition, and some of the other Idol press corps have been camped out longer than the budding Idols. Stewart Pittman, a cameraman from FOX 8 in Greensboro, says he’s worked since the auditions began on Saturday ‘— during the morning show feeding a spot to the station every 10 minutes and then less frequent spots in the afternoon and evenings. The on-air personalities size up the contestants that emerge from the doors of the conference room. Everyone vies for an exit interview with contestants to send back to the station for the evening news.
Blair Goldstein and her cameraman from a FOX affiliate in Roanoke,Va., are there for the day, but their station has been tracking one contestant throughout the competition. Since I’m not really supposed to be in the area, I eavesdrop on an interview Blair does. The rejected Greensboro contestant says she won’t give up on her singing dreams because she wasn’t picked and that ‘“Simon was rude.’”
Well, no surprises there.
Once again I find myself being shooed down the stairs to the lobby by Gillespie. This lady, with her blond locks and a suit that would rival Heather Locklear in ‘“Melrose Place,’” rules the Idol event with an iron fist.
Idol camera crews videotape one winning contestant making his way down the stairs and through the lobby to the revolving doors, all the while screaming, ‘“I’m going to Hollywood.’”
I’m witnessing a turning point: a once-in-a-lifetime chance just evolved into reality right before my eyes. And also I might be in the camera shot ‘— look for a brown haired woman, blue and white striped shirt sitting in a red chair near the doors.
I find out during my press corps mingling that the contestants that have been picked past the first round in the competition are not allowed to talk to the media. When the person came down the stairs followed by a camera crew, a radio station followed him through the outside doors with Gillespie flying down the steps yelling, ‘“You can’t talk to the winners.’” I haven’t seen someone in high heels move that fast in a long time.
A cameraman from a Jackson, Miss., FOX station tells me that after the first round the potential idols had to sign a paper and then ‘“they own them.’” I ask one male contestant if I could ask him a few questions and he said, ‘“Are you with FOX?’”
‘“No,’” and that is the quickest interview I’ve ever conducted.
Twenty minutes after the scheduled press conference was set to begin, we hear we can go upstairs again. In the conference hall, two ‘“American Idol’” backdrops are set up ‘— one side for the contestants with the fake wood laminate laid out like a wedding reception dance floor where contestants dreams are either crushed or encouraged.
The other side of the space holds an ‘“AI’” backdrop behind the judges. Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell sit at a glass-topped table with signature red Coke glasses perched in front of them. Simon looks pissed, Paula rolls her eyes and Randy is sort of the hype man, interjecting insults at Simon and backing up Paula’s arguments. It all seems like the scene had been staged, but possibly they’ve done this press thing enough that it’s second nature.
The Idol press corps is informed that it’s Simon’s birthday. He says he’s 55. Some of the reporters sing ‘“Happy Birthday.’” Simon informs them that it was ‘“awful’” and he’s glad they weren’t trying out for ‘“Idol.’” I’m glad I didn’t try to sing along.
All the judges agree that the contestants at the Greensboro auditions were some of the best they’ve seen for the fifth season. Simon says it reminded him of the crop from the first season ‘— that there ‘“was a naivety about them.’”
‘“Even if you get one gem,’” Paula says, it’s been a good day.
The normally heartless judges shy away from saying which former ‘“Idol’” they’d rank the best, but they do say that High Point native Fantasia Barrino, ‘“Idol’” winner from Season 3, would be their pick as a dinner companion. My cynical side wonders if they would answer the inquiry the same if they were asked that same question in another city.
The show’s host, Ryan Seacrest, sneaks in from the back of the room to a chorus of insults from Simon. The two bicker like a married couple ‘— maybe they’re angry over who used all the pomade. At one point Simon calls Ryan ‘“a puppy.’”
And Ryan comes back with: ‘“I might pee on your leg.’”
And with that, let Season 5 of ‘“American Idol’” begin.
To comment on this story, e-mail Lauren Cartwright at lauren@yesweekly.