July 26

'American Idol' auditions come to Gwinnett Arena July 26


By: Rodney Ho

Published: July 26, 2013

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 toCurtis Finch of all people), some have not seen it in years, waxing nostalgic about Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwoodand 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.

Christian Greene of Loganville, a Krispy Kreme manager, didn't make it but said the producers at least showed some modest interest, letting him sing his full 30 seconds of the Pokeman theme before conversing for a few seconds and rejecting him. He did find all the waiting tedious. He was also annoyed they asked them to appear at 5 a.m., when taping didn't start until closer to 8 a.m. Then he had to wait until 3 p.m. to get through. He said the seats at the Arena were half filled and at least one quarter of the people were parents or friends. So he think that there were more like 2,000 to 2,500 people who tried out based on his visuals."It was like a high chool football crowd," he said.

He said there were 10 tables for producers but they weren't all being used at the same time. He did note that anyone with a guitar was set aside for one special table. Typically, "Idol" will reject 9 out of 10 people outright - or more. To him, that sounded about right.

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