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December 2008 Archives

December 15, 2008

Passholders' American Idol Experience Tour

by Debra Martin Koma
AllEars® Senior Editor


At the outset, I have to say one thing: I am very excited to announce that I was the very first non-Disney cast member to set foot in the brand new American Idol Experience that is nearly set to debut in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Yes, when Disney held its special Annual Passholder tour for the new attraction on Sunday, I was the very first person in the very first (10 a.m.) tour to set foot in the place. It was pretty exciting. For me, at least.

So, what did I learn on the tour? Well, lots of things. Most importantly, I guess, is that the new attraction is scheduled to open on February 14, 2009! Whatever the new attraction may be like, I'm always thrilled when something new opens.

What else can I tell you? Well, I'm sorry that I wasn't allowed to take photos on the tour, so I'll try to relate as much as I can remember.


Since they couldn't really let us see the actual show that guests will experience come next February, they walked us through both backstage and in front of the stage.

When you enter the backstage area, you'll first encounter the auditioning booths... two as soon as you enter, another two further down the corridor. The whole area is very sleek and contemporary, done in royal blue carpeting, light wood, glass block and chrome. Though it wasn't there yet, the area will also eventually have a plasma screen TV, which will show an introductory video featuring American Idol's host, Ryan Seacrest.

But wait... Maybe I should back up a bit. For those of you who want to try out to be a performer at the American Idol Experience, you'll be able to pre-register online on Disney's site, before you come down to Walt Disney World, or you can just simply turn up to audition on the spot. (You'll have to be at least 14, though.) Those who audition will sing, a cappella, for a casting director in one of the four soundproof rooms. They'll be allowed to bring one guest with them throughout the whole process.

If selected during the audition process, the contestant will next spend some time in the producer's lounge, where they will be given an iPod holding 113 songs. They'll have up to 20 minutes to listen to the tunes on the iPod to decide which one they would like to sing at the next step in the process -- in front of the producer.

The producer's room is slightly large than the basic auditioning booth. There the contestant will sing with accompaniment and will learn whether they are passing on to the next phase -- to perform in front of an audience. There will be three to five contestants selected for each show.

Once the contestants are selected they will be given a special "vote for me!" lanyard to wear as they walk around the park for the remainder of the day, until they are tapped to perform. Contestants will receive a phone call about an hour before they are due to perform for the American Idol Experience -- that gives them time to talk with the stage coach, vocal coach, and hair and makeup people.
As the tour guide told us, everyone will truly be set up for success.

On the audience side, though, no special skills are necessary. As you're waiting in the outdoor queue, a crew will be filming you -- excerpts will then be intercut into a video that will somehow be used during the show. (Justin Guarini, runner-up from the first season of American Idol, will be featured in this video.)


When you enter 1000-seat theater you'll find quite a sight. More sleek furnishings, blue carpeting and upholstery, but more than that -- the set is identical to the REAL American Idol show. Understandable, really, when you discover that it was designed by the same person who designed the set for the television show, Andy Walmsley.


This "smart theater", as the tour guides called it, is equipped with some impressive technology. For example, the LED lights that it uses save enough energy to power 60 houses each day. In addition, during the performances, the contestants will wear a transmitter that will enable the lighting to follow them automatically -- no worrying about stepping out of the spotlight.

After the contestants perform, they will be evaluated by three judges, who will be patterned after the familiar format used on the American Idol television show. One judge will be the hip, cool judge, one will be nurturing, and one will be the "tell it like it is" judge -- you know, like Simon Cowell. However, as our tour guide reminded us, it IS Disney World, so this judge won't be quite so nasty. And, just like on the television show, while the judges have their say, it is the audience's vote that counts. Members of the audience cast their vote using the keypads embedded in their armrests.

There will be seven preliminary shows per day, each running about 20-25 minutes. The eighth and last show of the day will be the grand finale, which will last about 45 minutes. During the finale, the seven winners from the day's earlier shows will perform, vying for the big prize -- a Dream Ticket that gives them the chance to go before a producer of the actual American Idol show. As one of our tour guides described it, it's like a FASTPASS to AI -- it doesn't guarantee you'll be on the show, but it gets you past the auditioning process and directly to a producer.

Other participants who don't win the Dream Ticket will receive special commemorative souvenirs, too, but it sounds like the experience alone will be a fantastic memory to take home.

Our tour guides concluded by telling us that a Passholder Preview is coming soon -- no date given, though. If you're interested in going, be sure you're registered on Disney's passholder site, as the announcement will be coming by email.

Overall, I'm anxious to see this new show -- I'm probably one of about 10 people in the World who has never watched American Idol on television, but still, I think seeing the new live "Experience" will be interesting -- but only from the audience! There is no way I would ever audition for something like that myself!


December 26, 2008

Musings From A Newly-Dubbed MouseFest Veteran

Musings From A Newly-Dubbed MouseFest Veteran

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

[cue fanfare]

I'd like to make an announcement. I am now a MouseFest veteran. After three years, I finally feel like I have to chops to give myself this title. Am I allowed to give myself this title? I'm not really sure. There may, in fact, be some sort of a MouseFest Committee that approves these sorts of things, but in lieu of presenting my case to such a committee, I will leave it up to you, dear reader. I will make my case as I describe my trip and allow you to decide if I've moved from newbie to veteran status.

Fact #1: Arrived Early

In years past, I arrived at MouseFest on the day everything was getting started. Bad move. It was like getting sucked into a whirlwind and I never really caught my breath. This year, however, I decided to arrive a day before things actually got started.

Early Wednesday morning I met my AEN buddy Mike Scopa at the airport and headed off to Orlando very early. (Mike and I make up the New Hampshire Bureau of AllEars). This was a good chance to compare schedules, chat, and for me to hear about the 107 meets that Mike was hosting (okay, it may have been more like 8, but it was making me exhausted just hearing about all that was on that guy's plate!).

After we got to Orlando and checked into our respective resorts, we headed to Downtown Disney to meet Mike Newell (MouseWorld Radio and WDW Today podcast) and some other friends for a very relaxing, though noisy, lunch at a new restaurant that we all wanted to try, T-Rex.


Overall, I was underwhelmed by the restaurant, which template is largely based on The Rainforest Café: from the store on the outside to the podium where you check in, there are a lot of similarities. The theming has some interesting elements including a very large, animatronic octopus, an ice room, and a periodic meteor storm, but there are a few things other things that detract from the experience. As I mentioned, it was also very loud and not a good place to chat with friends, but also, it was pretty expensive (my salad was $13.99 and it was okay, but not worth that money).

Fact #2: Spent Time With Old Friends, Made New Friends

The first year I went to MouseFest, I knew almost no one. As with any new experience, it was sort of a risk to go there, but I did go and had a nice time. I met up with a few people and left with the notion that it would be a good idea to get more involved in the Disney community: listen to more podcasts, read more of the writers, and join some of the Disney online boards so that I could get to know a few more people who had the same passion for Disney that I did.

Year two of MouseFest I was lucky enough to know a lot more people before I got there, but I also spent time with some MouseFest veterans, who introduced me to even more new experiences.

For year three, I found that I was approaching my planning in a new way: with my friends in mind. We spent months making plans, emailing schedules, planning ADRs. This year I knew that, rather only than run from meet, I wanted to make spending time with friends a big part of my experience. So I did.

I met some old friends, including Masayo from Japan, and delighted when several people came up to her, knew her name, and asked to have their photos taken with her. Masayo's generosity, enthusiasm, and love of all things Disney are legendary.


I got to know some friends a bit better. One person who comes to mind is fellow AEN staffer Fred Block. I knew Fred a little bit from MouseFests past and from Magic Meets, but there I always see him race from place to place on a Segway. Fred and I are gadget lovers and got to have fun conversations about that, but on Monday we both participated in the recording of the WDW Today podcast Sip and Snack episode.


Basically, the idea is to choose one drink or snack as you travel around each of the countries at EPCOT. After spending several hours with Fred, I've decided that he is one of the most hysterically funny people I've ever met and I think he should have his own sitcom: The Fred Block Show. Watching him eat marzipan in Germany was just priceless (although I'm still not convinced that Fred actually knows what marzipan is even now).


I also got to meet some new friends, people who I will look for when I attend future MouseFests. Two people who quickly come to mind are Colin and Elisabeth from Georgia, who were spending their 5th anniversary at WDW and attending their first MouseFest. They brought so much enthusiasm to every meet that we went to that it was a pleasure to watch them enjoying themselves.


Through the kindness of Deb Wills, I was able to offer Colin and Elisabeth a "wish," tickets to attend an AllEars Illuminations dessert party. As we stood there and watched the show together, I found myself looking forward to meeting up with these friendly WDW fans again.

Fact #3: Took Time to Relax

I'm not going to pretend that I got all of that much sleep at MouseFest - that is one MF skill that I've yet to master. However, I did take time during the week to do some really relaxing and fun things, away from the regular meets and meetings that I attended. First, I took the time to look at the holiday decorations at the different resorts. One afternoon I spent some quiet time at the Yacht Club, looking that the toy train set with a Disney touch.

Although I wasn't staying at DVC resort during this trip, I did take about 30 minutes sitting by Storm-Along Bay at our home resort, Beach Club. It was wonderful, quiet, "me" time and I decided that sitting by this pool is is one of my "happy places" at WDW.


Finally, the most relaxing time of all during the week was courtesy of Deb Wills, who spoiled the AEN staff with a delicious dinner at the Gaylord Palms. While spending several hours chatting with friends was relaxing in itself, we were further spoiled with a visit to Ice. We live with lots of ice in the northeast, but never saw anything like this. I highly recommend this experience.


Fact #4: Tried New Things

I always try to do some new things when I'm at WDW. Even with all my trips, I've yet to experience everything there is to do. In addition to attending several new meets, I tried out a few other new things. During the Sip and Snack, an AEN colleague recommended that I try the green tea ice cream in China. Here's my reaction.

If you're unsure of what that face means, it means "not my cup of tea." (Pun intended). Thanks for that, Mr. Scopa.

It was also my first time trying the Illuminations Dessert party, a few other new restaurants, and it was my first time co-hosting an AEN meet at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, which was a lot of fun and a huge honor.


So, dear reader".I will leave the verdict to you. Am I now a MouseFest veteran? I think so.

Regardless of your vote, I hope to meet you there next year.

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About December 2008

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in December 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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