My American Idol Experience Unfiltered: Pt. 3, The Live Show
We’re drawing near the end of my Idol experience. Today I will go into my brief experience on the Live Show (when the voting takes place). My usual disclaimer: this is a full account of my experience on American Idol…if you don’t want to know what goes into the production or how many hair/makeup people JLo has, stop reading here.
After making it past Hollywood Week and Vegas, I was in the Top 40. Something I learned during Hollywood Week is that there’s an entire world of American Idol blogs, news sources, gossip sites and underground Idol betting rings. In fact, a couple of them have been posting these very Facebook posts. I tend to be somewhat of a people pleaser, and so the thought of these sites analyzing my singing, my character, my past, etc. scared the crap out of me. For several weeks, none of them knew I was in the Top 40 because I hadn’t encountered any TMZ folks during my time in LA. And then one of the other Top 40 contestants who had been identified posted some pictures on Facebook of me with other contestants hanging out in LA. And so began the media storm.
We were told not to respond to any media requests…no exceptions. I started getting emails from TMZ, phone calls from the Fort Worth and Omaha newspapers, even my friends were getting TMZ calls and emails. Everyone wanted to dig up whatever they could on Idol contestants. And I did the one thing we were encouraged not to do: I Googled myself. There were fans, and there were people making up all kinds of nasty rumors and posting my Facebook pictures on Forums. It was crazy. And still, I couldn’t even talk about Idol!
Two weeks passed before I flew back out to LA for the final round before the Live Show contestants were picked. They called the round ‘Sing For Your Life’ (scary thought, right?). I got to sing a song I wrote called ‘The Last Song’, and Interscope picked another song for me to sing…’Break Even’ by The Script. Idol producers decided each round whether or not we’d be allowed to play an instrument while we sing, and fortunately this was a round that granted us that opportunity. During that trip to LA, we met with 19 Entertainment, the Management Agency that oversees contestants while on the show and manages careers of some contestants after the show. When I met with the President for 19, I asked him if I’d be able to write my own songs if I was signed after Idol. He basically told me that they’d listen to my original material, but they’d definitely make me write with others and possibly record songs I hadn’t written. During that meeting, David Cook stopped by the office, which I thought was pretty cool since he was one of my favorites from Idol.
The ‘Sing For Your Life’ round went really well for me. The judges loved my original song, and I thought my performance of ‘Break Even’ went over really well too. One funny thing that happened was waiting 10 minutes for the ‘Red Coke Cups’ to be brought to the judges’ table before I could perform my song. Also, that’s when I counted JLo’s hair and makeup team…there were 5 of them. Also, before I performed my song, Exec. Producer Nigel came over and told me that the judges loved me. It was a nice gesture and helped calm my nerves.
We flew back home after ‘Sing For Your Life’ and then once again flew out to LA a month later for the ‘Green Mile’. The Green Mile is the episode where each contestant walks several hundred feet to a stage with the judges to find out if he/she made the Live Show (Top 24). It was an emotional day because a lot of friends ended up going home. My walk down the Green Mile was about to happen when they broke for lunch. I couldn’t eat because I was so nervous. After the hour and a half lunch break, I walked all the way down the 300 foot Green Mile only to be told to turn around and start over because of technical difficulties…ugh. After all of that, the judges told me that I had made the Live Show! One thing that meant a lot was when Steven Tyler hugged me and told me that he loves what I do. It was a small gesture, but it meant so much coming from him.
At this point, we stayed in LA since the Live Show was about 2 weeks away. I posted a photo of the email I got, telling me to pack for up to 3 months. We stayed in a nice hotel near Hollywood, and couldn’t leave the hotel without telling the bodyguards in the lobby where we were going and when we’d be back. From this point on, our typical schedule looked like this:
- Picked up in the morning by Idol production in various Ford vehicles
- Taken to the TV Studios where the Live Show was to be filmed
- Stayed in our holding room at the studio all day and attend a rehearsal or two
- Left the studio at sunset and return to the hotel
Some days held outings for interviews/press photo shoots. There was also the day that I felt most like a celebrity. I was given a stylist, a few hundred bucks and a bodyguard for the day and told to find my outfit for the first Live Show. Of course, immediately when someone is seen with a bodyguard in LA, everyone wants to figure out who’s being guarded. I was getting approached everywhere we went…it felt pretty cool to be recognized. I bought a pair of Diesel jeans, limited Converse shoes and some crazy button down shirt that I haven’t worn since Idol. The people at the Diesel store knew the stylist and gave me the clothes half off since I was going to wear them on Idol.
I often get asked about picking songs…whether or not I actually got to pick my own songs. The answer is…yes. Ultimately it was my decision, but here’s how it worked for the live show. I walked into a rehearsal with the Executive Producers, Interscope Execs and an accompanist and sang a handful of songs that I had picked as potential songs. Then everyone would give their feedback on which they liked and didn’t like. Then they had me sing a bunch of other songs they thought might suit me. Ultimately, the Executive Producers said they liked ‘Streetcorner Symphony’ by Rob Thomas best, which was one that I brought in. Ultimately, it was my decision…but I didn’t want to go with something the Execs didn’t like. I chose Streetcorner Symphony. Also, this round was dictated as a No Instrument round.
As a side note, since all of us contestants were spending every waking hour together, this is when we got to be much closer friends. Truthfully there was never a feeling of rivalry. We were all in the same boat, and trash talking wasn’t going to put anybody ahead. For the most part, everybody hung out together and got along. There were certainly times when people disagreed or didn’t get along, but nothing out of the ordinary. There were a couple people that I didn’t hang around much…only because I felt they were a bit arrogant, but we got along fine.
It was also during the time leading up to the live show that we had to sign the final American Idol contract, and it was a beast. It was all of 120 pages. Basically this final Idol contract gave Idol rights to every aspect of our careers: management, recording, merchandise, booking, PR. It gave them the option to execute any or all of those elements for 8 months. Here’s the thing that was hard to swallow: Idol hired two lawyers on behalf of the contestants to review the contract. I had just graduated with a Business Degree and that screamed conflict of interest. The lawyers had 48 hours to review the contract and seek any changes before Idol herded us into a room and gave us pens to sign. If we left the room and refused to sign the contract, they told us that we would be removed from the competition. So we all signed.
The Live Show was upon us. Prior to the filming, there was a dress rehearsal. We ran the show top to bottom, except in between each performance, Executive Producers Nigel and Ken approached the judges and talked to them for a few minutes. Again, I don’t know what was said, but context clues would point to talking through how the judges would critique each performance.
On the day of my performance, I felt like a work of art because hair and makeup spent about an hour on my face. I was airbrushed with makeup and my hair would’ve done a Michael Jackson Pepsi Commercial if a spark came close enough. After our grooming, we were escorted to the stage and prepped for the performance. I was so nervous…more nervous than I was for my audition, because this was a performance that I knew would be aired, and I felt the weight of 20 million viewers (that was the average number of viewers per episode for our season at that point). Something else that was interesting was that we actually filmed the episode earlier in the day because it was a brand new sound stage and production was worried about technical difficulties…so it wasn’t really live.
Before my performance, I had a ‘Coke Moment’, which was when Ryan interviewed a contestant. I didn’t know that they would have boom microphone on me, so I thought I had to yell my reply to be heard on TV. It was embarrassing and hilarious to watch the episode because I’m yelling my response in Ryan’s face. Then it was performance time. I felt like I might pass out from nerves. But the performance went fine…not perfect, but fine. And then it was judge critique time. They all agreed that it wasn’t my strongest performance. The thing that was really frustrating was that they said they wished I had played the piano. But I couldn’t play the piano because we weren’t allowed to use instruments that round.
I’ve reluctantly included the video of my performance with this post. If I’m honest, I don’t like to watch it because I can hear the nervousness in my voice and I know what’s coming from the judges. I’ve relived that performance in my head about a thousand times. But as my grandmother would say, ‘I guess I’ll just have to get glad again’.
Tomorrow I’m driving to Chicago for a couple shows (check my website for more info), but after the weekend I’ll do one more post on getting cut from Idol and meeting Kidd Kraddick. And that will be the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed this open journal about my time on Idol. I’ve truly appreciated the kind words from those of you following along and reminiscing with me. I want you to know that I’m not trying to make any statements about the positives or negatives of Idol…just giving you a raw account of what happened and how I felt.