Sarah's Memphis Audition Recap

I apologize in advance for the length of this, but I did spend over 13 hours at the FedEx Forum on Sunday, so I have a lot to tell. For those of you who just want to know whether or not I made it, here’s the skinny: I didn’t. After I sang, the judge commented that I had a “sweet” voice. Since I was the first to sing, she listened to everyone else, then conferred with her sidekick staff member, then said basically, that it sucks that we had to audition so late in the day, because she had put through a lot of outstanding people earlier in the day, and had we auditioned earlier, we probably would have made it. So that’s that. :)

So, I guess I will just start at the beginning. Since I had to work all day Friday, I didn’t get to leave until later, and didn’t get to line up with the Friday morning crowd. After work, I went home to finish packing the last few things and log on for a few minutes to check in with everybody, send out a myspace bulletin, and return a few emails. I left my apartment a few minutes before 7.

As I’m driving, I’m thinking about the trip and my “plan of action” as well as my song choices. Finally, my mind turns to what I will actually need when I get to the Forum to get my armband. I remember that when I auditioned for season 4, you had to have 2 forms of ID and they looked at them – carefully – to make sure you were within the age limits. Remember this. So I pull out my wallet to make sure my social security card is in there along with my driver’s license, and lo and behold, it’s not. Eeeek! I freak out, call my parents to get them to log on to the AI main page to see how many forms of ID the auditioners needed to have. It said 2. So I turn my car around (after I’m already 30 minutes down the road) and go home to get my social security card and/or passport, because after all the planning and anticipation, I’m not about to get all the way to Memphis and then not be able to audition because I don’t have the proper identification. So after I waste an hour, I’m finally back on the road to Memphis, planning on getting there by about 11 pm.

I pull into a parking lot about 2 blocks from the Forum (after having to follow a detour and freaking out because I don’t know my way around downtown Memphis THAT well) at about 10:45 (yes, I made it in under 3 hours, please don’t tell my mom). I pay $10 to park – not too bad!! – then walk to the Forum. There are a few people milling around outside of the Forum, but security won’t let you stand around for long periods of time, so most of them made their way over to Beale Street, it seemed (it’s only a block away). There were hordes of people everywhere.

Anyway, so I head on up to the main entrance of the Forum, and as I walk inside, I see no line. There are a few people at each table (probably about 6 registration tables, I didn’t count), and one that has no line. So I walk up to it, and ask the guy if he can register me. He says yes, but to let him go get an armband and ticket because he doesn’t have any. So as I wait, I get out my passport and drivers license. He comes back with a white armband, a ticket, and the “papers” (rules, instructions, etc). He puts the armband on my right arm practically as tight as it will go, then proceeds to tell me that it’s not waterproof. I’m thinking uh, what?? What am I supposed to do? Not shower for 2 days? Anyway, then he gives me the papers and my ticket and tells me that my place in line is determined by my seat on the ticket, and to come back between 5-6 Sunday morning, all the while not even asking to see my ID. I even specifically ask him if he wants to see it, and he says no. So I pretty much wasted an hour of my time, since he never really looked at my ID anyway. 

I want to see who’s camping before I leave the Forum for the night. So I walk off and start to look around, but the tables and metal barricades have the stairs up to the inside of the arena completely blocked. I’m confused. So I walk outside, trying to read my sheets as I walk, and notice that it says that there is NO camping at any venue this year. Interesting. Good thing I’d set my place to stay in stone the night before, or else I’d be frantically searching for a hotel.

So, I leave the Forum and call the friend I’m staying with to let her know I’m on my way to her house. She just moved in a few weeks ago, and I’m one of her first guests, outside of her family. Much fun. This is a friend from college so we sit up for about an hour after I get there just catching up. Since there is no camping at the Forum, and I don’t want to just hang out by myself the next day, I volunteer to go with her to help some of her friends move. So that was my day Saturday. Saturday night, I went to Target to get the last few things I needed – batteries, more cough drops, and a big purse that I could carry more stuff in – mainly to sneak in food, since you can’t bring in outside food or drinks. I also put my camera, cd player, cd’s, a book, journal, cough drops, umbrella, extra pair of shoes, and make-up bag in there. Yeah, it’s a big bag. And it was chock FULL of stuff. 

So we stop by Corky’s for BBQ (YUM!) and go back to her house to watch a movie. I’m practically falling asleep during the movie, but after it ends, I get up, make the transfer of stuff from one bag to the new one, and then set out my clothes for the next day. I finally crawl into bed at about 12, set my alarm for 2, and get ready to take a nap.

Apparently, the cell phone alarm was not enough to wake me up this day, because I slept for an extra hour. I finally woke up a little after 3, and immediately got up to get ready. Everything finished, I finally leave my friend’s house at about 4:15. I could have waited to put on makeup and stuff, but previous experience told me that they would be filming that morning, so I should go ahead and get completely ready before I left the house, and just take my makeup for touch ups. Traffic was not bad at all, and I ended up parking in the “Parking can be fun” garage on Union Ave., several blocks from the Forum. Let me tell ya - $6 for parking for 12 hours is not a bad deal at ALL, even if you have to walk a few blocks.

When I finally reach the Forum, there is a HUGE line already and it is only 5. So I follow everyone else who is just getting there and walk… and walk… and walk… until we FINALLY reach the back of the line, on the backside of the Forum. Once I got into that line, I stood there for 3 hours until we finally made it up to the front of the Forum. The first people I met were two girls who are native Memphians who both also had auditioned in Orlando for Season 4, like me. Craziness. Then I met a girl and her parents from New Jersey. She was asking us about the process, etc, since the three of us had auditioned before. It was fun to impart “wisdom.” Heh. Then Hilary, the girl from season 3 of Nashville Star, and her boyfriend joined us. They had traveled down from Indiana on the spur of the moment to audition for AI. She said if she didn’t make this, she was going to Nashville in October to audition for Nashville Star again, and encouraged me to do so as well. We’ll see. I’m not a big country music fan, so I’m not sure how I’d do it. She said she wasn’t either, but that before, she went in and sang country and some blues and Southern rock and made it to the top 15… so, we’ll see. 

Anyway, cameras would periodically come by, taking crowd shots, but I was in the middle of the line, so I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic. Plus I wanted to save my voice, so I didn’t scream. Anyway, the line finally moved a little, and I called MJ since it was about 9 EST so I could update her on what was going on so far. After the line moved that little bit, we were stuck next to a group of people who decided to do an oldies sing-a-long. Fun. 

Right after I got off the phone with MJ, the line started steadily moving and we finally got to the front of the Forum. We stepped up off the road, onto the steps, and the guy literally cut off the line in front of the guy who was RIGHT behind me and said “This is all we can fit for now.” We were ushered over to the left side (right side from the camera) of the steps right in front and were told to stand there. The film crew was out there, including Simon Lythgoe, Nigel’s son, and AI crew members, as well as the local Fox broadcasters. There was a camera on a HUGE lever looking thing (I know nothing about this stuff, lol, so bear with me here). After just a few minutes of getting settled, we were told that we were filming the crowd shot for the beginning of the Memphis audition episode, so we needed to be ready to scream and be loud. Okay. Got it. We were also told that our armbands were white in honor of the KING, Elvis Presley. 

The first phrase we recorded was “Memphis Rocks!” The production crew assembled a group of auditioners to be right in the face of the camera at the beginning of the shot. I was just to the left of those auditioners (to the right from the camera angle). The next phrase was “American Idol Season 6 starts NOW!” Whether that means that Memphis will be the opening city for the season or not, I don’t know. We’ll see in January. The next phrase we recorded was “I’m the next American Idol!” while pointing to ourselves. Fun. I always make fun of that crowd shot during the year, because obviously only ONE person is the next American Idol, not thousands. But did I participate in the shot? Um, yes. Did I think it was cheesy, but fun? Um, yes. The last phrase we filmed outside was “Welcome to Memphis!” Pretty self-explanatory there. Anyway, during the course of filming all of that, the camera was in my face or directed in my general area several times. So, depending on editing and all that, I could very well be on TV in the beginning crowd shots for the Memphis audition episode. So look for me!

After we finished filming the opening shots, we started moving inside. It was a slow process since they had to check our bags and scan our tickets, but I probably made it inside in about 45 minutes. I started up the escalator to find my seat, and also to find a ladies’ room. Smart me didn’t stop on the first floor where the lines were really backed up, but went on up to the second level where I walked right in. Gotta love it! Anyway, so I found my seat in the Club level (middle section of the arena) and after I’d been seated for about 5 minutes, a vocal coach comes out and starts to teach us the words to the group song: “Memphis” by Chuck Berry. Don’t ask me to sing it for you now, because I don’t remember it. Hah. I was convinced that the song was going to be “Walking in Memphis”. But, I was wrong! Anyway, by the time we’d worked on that for about 30-45 minutes, most of the auditioners were finally in and settled, so we started filming the crowd singing the song. We sang the first verse once, then sang the second verse over and over again, so don’t be surprised if the second verse is the only verse you hear, if they show that part of the filming. After taping that, we did several takes of the auditioners saying, “Randy, you ain’t nuttin’ but a hound dawg” and “You ain’t nuttin’ but a hound, dawg.” Much fun. 

The crew then began setting up the 12 tables and telling us how things would work: they would be starting with section 118 and going around the bottom level, then moving up to the middle level and going back around, then heading up to the top level. Only half of the top level was not filled, and the Forum supposedly seats about 20,000. It was estimated that there were about 16,000 people there – the biggest turnout yet this season, just as I expected. They would be lining us up at the tables in groups of 4, with the lines being about 4 or 5 rows deep. We would have anywhere from 5 – 30 seconds to sing, and the announcer reminded us that we would be standing literally 2 feet from the front of the table, so if we got up there and started belting in our loudest voice, the producer would most likely stop us before we ever even got into the song fully. So in other words, don’t blow everyone else out. The announcer also asked the auditioners waiting to please not clap as people made it through to the second round because it would throw everyone else off. Hah, yeah right! He also told us that after we had a chance to sing, the producer would give us their decision and that there was no changing their minds – the decision was final. So if we didn’t make it, proceed around the back of the table to have our wristbands cut off and then we would walk up this HUGE flight of stairs which we dubbed the “Walk of Shame” out into the front of arena. If we did make it, the producer would then explain to us what to do and give us our golden tickets and a number (the number that was on our wristbands - mine would have been 59273.) and they would walk under the Budweiser sign into that tunnel and would then have their picture taken and fill out some paperwork, etc.

Finally about 10 am, the auditions started. I was STARVING by this point, so since I knew I had a while to go before I auditioned, I got up to go get in line to grab something to eat. While standing in line for about an hour, I talked to people around me. One guy was from Atlanta and had already auditioned in Birmingham but didn’t make it through, so he decided to try Memphis as well. Another guy who didn’t even really like American Idol was there from somewhere in Illinois. A couple of girls who had recently moved to Memphis from Pennsylvania were there also. Then I met a girl from Kentucky who was also there by herself, so I ended up hanging out with for a couple of hours while we waited. Once I paid $9.50 for a hamburger and bottle of water, she and I walked back up to the very top level where we sat down to eat our food and just hang out. This is when the creepy guy from Ohio approached us. He pulled out his collection of Idol CD’s, and I kid you not. He had every one. Including the three (THREE!!) William Hung CD’s, plus John Stevens, Jasmine Trias, Carmen Rasmusen, and Pray for the Soul of Betty. He must have just liked Constantine, because he didn’t have Bo Bice with SugarMoney, or either of Taylor’s pre-AI cd’s or Absent Element. He asked us what we were singing, and then proceeded to tell us that he was singing “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins. After listening to his less than rousing rendition, I pretty much started to ignore him as I talked to my new friend from Kentucky, and he finally left us alone. While we were up there, a group of auditioners were standing in a circle singing and practicing for each other. Some were really good, some were so-so, some were not so good. None of them really had “the look,” but there was one girl in the group that was singing who I really hope made it. She was really good. Finally, after a while, I got up and headed back to my seat.

Once I got back, I found that the girl and her mom who were sitting next to me were keeping a tally of how many people had made it through and which tables they were coming from. At that point 24 people had made it through, and the tables letting the most people through were 3, 11, and 12. A couple tables had let NO one through in the first 2 hours. So, back to my seat, I settled in for the long haul, since only 3 sections had been emptied in 2 hours. As I was waiting, I talked to a few people on the phone, practiced my songs mentally, listened to some cd’s, and pretty much just watched the others as they were auditioning. About the time I came back to my seat, Nigel and Co. entered into the arena. He walked around with about 4 cameramen talking to different auditioners who were sitting in the bottom section first few rows. He took a few pictures, signed a few autographs, you know the usual for royalty such as himself. :) He hung out in the arena for a couple of hours, I assume until he was called away to start the second round auditions for the people who made it through early in the day. Of the two producers, Nigel is definitely more the “face.” I’m sure he and Ken both call the shots, but Nigel is more visible and vocal, for sure.

As the day wore on, more people started to make it through. At some point before Nigel left the arena, there was an auditioner at table 12 who had the whole line behind him dancing along while he was singing. However, the producer declined to pass him through to the next round, which ensued a LOT of boo’s from the crowd watching. The auditioner took his things and started to walk off, then caught a glimpse of Nigel. He stopped to plead his case, and Nigel personally walked up to another table, got a golden ticket and a sticker and put the guy through. The entire arena erupted, and all of the producers and auditioners on the floor turned to see what was going on. It was really cool. Too bad Nigel wasn’t there later on in the day for me. Also, check out picture 27 on the Memphis preview pictures on I think that guy made it through, and I’m pretty sure, because I remember the hair. I also think he was a twin because he and another guy of similar stature (I was too far away to really see facial features) made it through at the same time from the same table. Pretty cool stuff. As people auditioned, different judges would ask to hear a second song differently. Some would stop a singer, and immediately ask to hear a second song. Some would listen to the whole line, dismiss the auditioners they weren’t interested in, and ask others to stay and sing a second song. At that point, sometimes they would put the person through, sometimes they wouldn’t. A couple of times I saw a judge let an auditioner sing and sing and sing, then talk to them, then ask them to sing again, and then end up not putting them through. That frustrated me a little for the auditioners, and I’m VERY glad it didn’t happen that way with me.

Other people who made it through at different points during the day: a guy whose profile from the back looked like a carbon copy of Ace Young, a girl dressed as Wonder Woman, a girl dressed up as a beauty pageant contestant (tiara, evening gown and all), and lots of normal people. There were several guys in suits who made it through, or at least dress pants, a button down and a jacket. Interesting. For a few, it seemed obvious that they were making it through only for entertainment purposes (and I’m REALLY glad no one around me was like that or I would have been majorly pissed), but since I couldn’t hear most of the singers (except the Whitney/Mariah/Christina/Celine screechers), I couldn’t tell you which ones were which in most cases. A few examples of people who used gimmicks who didn’t make it through: Winnie the Pooh, a guy dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow (and I mean, even WALKED in the same manner that Johnny Depp walks in the movie), and more I’m sure that I can’t remember. There was also a bald headed girl in the group, and she said it was not a gimmick, her hair fell out when she was 17 and it never grew back. She didn’t make it through though. There was also a girl who sang the theme to “The Jefferson’s” which was cool, but I don’t think she made it through. I didn’t personally see any Elvis impersonators, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any there. I could have missed them.

As far as songs go, I heard “Change Is Gonna Come” a LOT. Surprisingly, I never heard “God Bless the Child.” I heard more than my fair share of “I Have Nothing,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Fallin’,” plus any number of rock classics. I heard “RESPECT” a good bit as well. A guy in the line ahead of me sang “Walking in Memphis” and our judge told him that he was the first guy all day that she’d had sing that song, and that she was surprised that more people hadn’t sung it. I heard “God Bless the Broken Road” a TON, as well as “Broken Wing.” Didn’t hear “Independence Day” too much.

Okay, so finally it is our section’s time to go down to the floor to audition at about 5ish. Once we get on the floor, they put us into long lines of two, and then sent 2 groups of partners to an audition line where we got in lines of 4. I ended up at table 5, with what turned out to be one of the “easier to please” judges. The judges did frequently switch tables after they would come back from a break, but overall tables 8 and 10 were being the most stingy on letting auditioners through. Simon Lythgoe was at table 10 for most of the day. By the time I got on the floor, 123 people (57 female, 66 male) had made it through, and a few more went through while I was standing there, mostly male, including 3 from my line.

There were about 3 lines before my audition line at my table, and before I knew it, my table was up. I was the first to audition from my line. I stepped up to the table, smiled at both the judge and the crew member and started into my song, Norah Jones’ version of “The Nearness of You.” I was a little nervous, and I ended up starting the song in a little higher key than I’d been practicing it. I’d wanted to sing it in a lower key to highlight the huskier side of my voice. I still sang it well, I just ended up having to transition from my chest voice into my head voice for a high note or two. When the judge stopped me, she said that I had a very “sweet” voice. I thanked her and since she didn’t ask me to sing another song, I stepped back into line. She listened to the others in my line, 3 more girls: one girl who sang Beyonce’s “Dangerously in Love”, one who sang an Erykah Badu song I’m not familiar with, and the last who sang “Come Rain or Come Shine.” She was asked to sing again, but I couldn’t hear her on that one, so I’m not sure what she chose. The last two were sisters. After we all finished singing, the judge conferred with her crew sidekick for a minute, looking at each of us. I was just PRAYING she would ask me to sing another song, because I’d decided on a bluesy/country song, “Break Down Here” by Julie Roberts, as my second song to show a different style and versatility. But, when she finished conferring with her counterpart, she looked at us and said that it sucked that we’d had to wait so long to audition because she’d put through some outstanding people earlier in the day, and had we shown up earlier, we probably would have made it. She went on to tell us to try out again, picking the BEST song for our voices.

After she told us we didn’t make it through, we walked behind the table, got our armbands cut, and walked up the huge staircase and out of the Forum. There were a few parents hanging around waiting for children, friends waiting for other friends, etc. But the place was pretty cleared out. I began the trek back to my car, calling my parents and MJ along the way. That night, I went out to eat at O’Charleys with a friend of mine. By about 9:30, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, so I bid her goodnight, then went back to the house where I was staying and fell into bed at about 10:30 and slept for a solid 12 hours. If I hadn’t been so tired on Monday, I might have gone downtown to the Peabody Hotel (where the 2nd and 3rd rounds were probably held), but since I slept so late and was still just bummin’, I didn’t. 

And that, in a nutshell, is my audition experience. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, and I will answer to the best of my ability. It was definitely a fun experience and I might do it again if auditions come close to wherever I am next fall, but I will definitely not go to another city this season. It’s just too emotionally and physically exhausting. But yeah, it was a lot of fun!