July 28

Thousands audition for 'American Idol'


By: Meghan Kotowski 

Published: July 28, 2013

DULUTH — Jake Kelly took off two days of work as a youth counselor to prepare for the “American Idol” auditions at the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Friday.

“My company is standing by me. I sing at the events and functions at work,” the Atlanta resident said. “My life passion is music and kids. I want to see the next generation grow into something greater than ourselves. I feel like this would give me a platform to preach to the whole world.”

He showed up in Duluth around 4:45 a.m. to wait to get inside. Since Kelly was there so early, he was able to get a glimpse of Ryan Seacrest, who was on site to pump up the crowd. Seacrest has been host of “American Idol” since 2002.

“Seacrest is the man,” Kelly said.

Originally, Kelly wasn’t going to attend the auditions because he was going to move after completing grad school from Clark Atlanta University. But he decided to delay the relocation until he came out for his chance at stardom.

“I heard there were auditions in Atlanta and I was uberly excited,” Kelly said. “I was actually about to move back to Detroit since I graduated. I’m going to see where this takes me. I feel like I have a great chance.”

He was prepared to sing Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” for the producers.

“It’s my passion — I love to sing,” he said. “Even if I don’t make it, who cares? I get to sing in front of a crowd of people and it’s going to be my time to shine. I’m going to sing like it’s the last opportunity I have to sing.”

Kelly was joined by thousands of other hopefuls who traveled from around metro Atlanta and across the Southeast to the Arena on Friday. The parking lots were packed with licenses plates from Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi — plus all states in between.

More than 3,200 people registered on Thursday, while many others walked up for registration on Friday.

Before lunch, winners began to trickle out of the Arena’s West Entrance one at a time. One of the first to make it through Round 1 was Zach Day, a summer camp counselor from Stearns, Ky.

“I’m very excited. I’m just caught off guard,” he said with his guitar in hand. “I auditioned before and didn’t make it. I wasn’t planning on coming until the last minute.”

Day and his buddy drove down from Kentucky on Thursday night and didn’t make it to Atlanta until 3 a.m.

“I had to leave camp for a day, which is really sad because the kids leave (Friday),” he said. “I didn’t get to say my goodbyes. I wasn’t sure if I was going to leave or not until last night, when I just drove down.”

Lucky he did because he’s moving on to Round 2 after singing Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and performing Ellie Goulding’s “Lights.”

According to Day, contestants auditioned on a stark stage in front of the other attendees. After such a nerve-wracking process, all he wanted to do was to call his mom.

About 10 minutes later, Kayla Woodson of Waggaman, La. emerged from the “winners” door. She traveled to Duluth with her family for the audition.

“I’ve tried out twice before this,” she said. She didn’t make it through Round 1 the first time, then made it to Round 2 the second time.

“Hopefully, third time’s a charm,” Woodson said with a laugh. “This time I’m going to bring it again.”

The young singer is going to college in Nashville at Belmont University, but is home for the summer. She didn’t need to take off work for the trip, but had to leave her band behind.

“I’ve been singing since I was 4,” she said. “Back at home, I have a band. I’ve been in bands since I was 10. We do fairs, festivals, weddings, parties, opries — anything basically.”

Woodson is ready for the possibility to take her music career to the next level.

“I’m so excited to go on to the next round. I’m ready to go,” she said. “It’s great that so many people come out and try to live their dreams.”

Those who are moving on to Round 2 will audition again in front of more producers next month in Atlanta. The time, date and location are to be announced.

For more information about the next season of “American Idol,” visit www.americanidol.com.