“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality — and then there are those who turn one into the other.”
I’ve always thought this quote perfectly matched the idea of “American Idol.” Not only is it on the first page of the Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul book, but I used it as the opening statement for the speech I gave about the show my junior year of high school. However, my fascination with this pop culture staple and phenomena goes back much further than that.
When I was a little girl, the only thing I wanted to do was sing. Every daydream centered around me being on stage or traveling the country on a tour bus. Every night, I would put on concerts for my family, whether they wanted to listen or not. I entered just about every talent show and auditioned for every play I possibly could.
And then, in 2002, “American Idol” premiered and made me believe that my dream of being a singer wasn’t so far off after all. While most teenagers can’t wait for their sixteenth birthday to drive a car, I was counting down the days until I could finally audition for this national talent show. Everyone who knew me and had grown up with me was also expecting that. I never did get to stand in a stadium filled with people, wondering whether I would make the judges cut, but I did give it a shot through the online auditions. Nothing ever came of it, but, hey, I gave it a shot, right?
More than that, I just really loved the show. I loved what it stood for and that it gave my family and I a chance to come together through conversation over dinner, voting for hours on end or even going to one of the tour stops. My mom and I were especially dedicated throughout the years; we went to the first American Idol tour show with our friends and waited outside of the buses for the contestants to come out, hoping to catch a glimpse of them or snag their autographs. I was just 10-years-old at the time and remember trying to stand on my tiptoes to see Kelly Clarkson and trying to hand my picture over the crowd for her to sign. There was another year when the tour even came through our town, since one of our own had made the top 10. I’m not sure why we didn’t go to the season four tour, considering Carrie Underwood is pretty much our favorite of all time. We returned to the tour scene in season 8. That season really helped me for many personal reasons. My grandma had gotten sick at the beginning of the year and was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Throughout the competition as Danny Gokey shared his story of loss and faith, it restored my own hope and faith in God, and how He always works things for our good, even when the circumstances were not great. Even if just for a couple hours each week, I was able to push the struggles aside and think happier things. Kris Allen and Danny Gokey were my two favorites, and I faithfully voted for the allotted time after the show ended, and I kept crossing my fingers that I would be able to go to one of the tour dates and meet them. I was able to tell Danny that he was one of my heroes and he gave me a hug. I was practically floating! The stories and the relatability of the contestants are just one of the reasons that the audience tuned in year after year. They found people just like the viewers.
We’d been waiting for years, and eventually got to go to our first live Idol taping back in 2011. It just so happened to be at the finale, which was down to Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery. I had been voting for Lauren Alaina all night, but in the end…Scotty pulled it off. I remember tearing up as soon as we walked into the Nokia Theater. One, it had been a HOT day and we’d waited a good six or so hours for tickets. We hurried to eat and made a pit stop at the restrooms, then got in line for the show. Our seats weren’t together that year, but we made it in and that was a huge feat. I hopped from aisle to aisle as I spotted celebrities, like Jeanette McCurdy (iCarly) or everyone’s “Idol” favorite, Sanjaya. I also got a chance to talk to Lauren Alaina’s mom and tell her how I was rooting for her and was so excited to be there. After the taping ended, the media circus (or circuit) was set up outside, and all of the “Idol” contestants came out for interviews and to mingle with the fans. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. We didn’t get to meet Scotty or Lauren, but it made the day SO worth it. I had chills from the time we got there until the time we left, because it was such a magical experience for me. It’s like the SuperBowl for football fans.
The following year, we were lucky enough to go to another finale taping for season 11, only this time it was on the evening before the next winner would be crowned. It might have been Phillip Phillips who won the title, but I was just crossing my fingers that I would be able to meet Colton Dixon, who was my very favorite. That day, we were able to line up and get tickets with no problem, which meant we had hours to kill before the actual taping began. Again, the media was in full force all day, so past “Idol” contestants were being interviewed off and on all day. My cousin and I were able to snap photos with them, including Diana DeGarmo, Ace Young, Didi Benami and so on. We also just happened to run into Scotty McCreery in ESPN Zone earlier in the day before all of the action started – He didn’t seem to be too thrilled, but he did take a picture with us. After the performances, we ducked out early to get a good spot for the interviews and to (hopefully) meet a few of that season’s contestants. We definitely hit the jackpot. We met Colton, Joshua, DeAndre, and just about everyone else.
We were also at a Dodger game during the season, and they showed the remaining contestants on Diamond Vision, sitting in one of the suites. Because we had season passes at the time, we took a stroll to where they were sitting and saw them walk out. I asked for a picture, but unfortunately, the bodyguards told us they “didn’t have time.” I was so sad, but it all worked out in the end.
Because I was obsessed with that season, we also went to the tour that year and had an absolute blast! I dressed up in my best Colton-inspired gear and sang my heart out. I also got to meet several more of my favorites.
I think my favorite season would have to be season 12, simply for the fact that I felt like I was able to get to know the contestants from beginning to end. My mom and I went to the first ‘live’ taping of the season, and there was such a rush of energy in the studio that night. It was also pretty special because I met two new friends who were visiting from Texas and happened to stumble on the line for the taping. We also got to stand in the pit together and freak out about the judges because just a couple feet away from us. I’ll never forget turning around and waving to Keith Urban and him saying, “well, hi there!” It might not have been the hug I was hoping for, but, hey, he knows I exist now. THAT’S SOMETHING.
We were able to go to another season once it was narrowed down to the top 5 and Keith Urban signed my ticket!!!!! I was freaking out that I’d even gotten that close, let alone getting his autograph. We also went to the finale that year, and I was able to meet so many of the contestants that I’d talked to and gotten to know through Twitter. When Janelle came over to say hi, everyone thought we knew each other or had gone to high school together. Nope, that’s just the power of “American Idol,” baby. It has been so fun to get to see what they’ve been up to since they were given the golden ticket. At the finale, we spent a couple hours after the show waiting for the contestants and watching their interviews. We met some wonderful people around us and were able to bond over our love for “Idol” and that particular season. We freaked out with each selfie we took and each autograph we got and made conversation with each of the Idols, congratulating them and telling them what a great job they’d done.
Last year, we went to the finale when Nick Fradiani was crowned the next winner. This time, it was at Dolby Theater (formerly known as Kodak). We arrived early, but because Hollywood always saves room for its VIPs, it wasn’t looking like we were going to get in. I was freaking out! But, it all worked out and we got seats together. SO YAY! It was another rushed year where we ate and then it was almost time to get in line again, but it’s all part of the experience. We sat just about as high in the rafters as was able in that theater, and the performances made it run a little long, but we did get to see Steven Tyler, Fall Out Boy, The Jackson Five (or four?) and other musical talent in show biz, including Clark Beckham and Nick Fradiani who were about to “battle it out” for the title. In the end, it went to Nick and I could not have been more thrilled. The confetti fell to the stage and his family and friends embraced him – there’s nothing like that final moment to give you ‘goosies,’ let me tell you.
When it came on the scene, “American Idol” was the only one of its kind. We had never seen anything like it. It might have been done in the UK, but it was new for us in the United States. It was the trendsetter for all of the copy cats that have followed today, including “The Voice.” The idea that any average kid in Texas or Kentucky going to school or working at a movie theater could essentially become an overnight sensation was unheard of, but America loved it. Most of the country tuned in to watch those first few seasons to root for the underdog every week. These kids were plucked out of obscurity and thrust into the spotlight, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. It might not be something we talk about often, but we all crave those fifteen minutes of fame at some point or another. “Idol” helped us live out our fantasies, vicariously living through strangers who represent us.
Maybe that’s why it feels so hard to say goodbye to “American Idol.” Because I’m not only saying goodbye to one of my favorite TV shows, but I’m coming to terms with the ending of a dream that never happened for me. A dream that never will. And I often think about that little girl, the little girl I was — constantly hoping and praying for her moment in the limelight; a chance to shine. It was more than just a show. It was something that brought relationships together; families, friends, and even complete strangers. It was something that we all had in common, even if just for a little while. The music industry has been greatly impacted by the many talents, including Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry and so many others.
Wednesday and Thursday, we say goodbye to a show that has been in our lives for fifteen years; it’s been around for more than half of my life. But, like all good things…It must come to an end. Maybe another show will strike up and leave a lasting imprint on our heart like “Idol.” I’ve been crossing my fingers for a miracle to come through so I can attend one of the shows this week, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. So for now, I will reminisce on the incredible memories I had. I’m rooting for Trent to take the title and can’t wait to see how it all comes together…One last time.
That’s all for now,