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!
The previous post in this blog was Running Disney With Gadgets.
The next post in this blog is Musings From A Newly-Dubbed MouseFest Veteran.