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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!


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.

Comments (22)

Deb Wills:

Great Review Debbie! I look forward to the Annual Passholder preview and the official opening!

Chris Thom:

I was just there on Sat and they must have been doing the same type of tour that you were on but it was for cast members only. I was separated from my friends at the time but they told me that they saw Carrie Underwood w/ Mickey and a TON of handlers in the area of the attraction that afternoon.

Since it will be indirectly linked to the show they probably have to top age restriction in addition to the bottom age. I know on the real show you have to be under age 28 I believe.


Thanks for the preview! Sounds better than I was anticipating.

Kristen :

I'm just curious what they will do if it's a particulary slow day at DHS and there is not enough talent to run the projected number of shows?? Also, do they really think that people will take so much time out of their day to see an amateur talent show?? Personally I can't be bothered - I think this concept is about 5 years too late.

This does sound interesting but I think Kristen brings up some excellent points. Perhaps they'll have less shows during slower periods so the grand finale might have 3-5 contestants.

My initial reaction was that last show might be quite crowded since most of us would rather take the time to see the best talent. But given the additional length of the show and the fact that it might run the same time as Fantasmic may cause that to not be the case.

It'll be interesting to see how this works out.



I agree with Kristen. A few years ago I would have stood in line a long time to be in the audience of this show. Now I have a hard time deciding if I will even watch Idol on TV each season. This concept is a few years to late. So many more things to do at the park than watch another amateur talent show - go to your local Karioki Bar!

thanks so much for writing this up! im going in march and im for sure auditioning - i hope to make it as far as the finale!


I am so excited about this!! I really hope it opens on time. We'll be there the third week of March, and I'd totally audition!! We auditioned for the real American Idol, and it was a BLAST!!

Debra, great review, I was also with you in that first group and it was exciting being the first non-cast members to be able to tour the building.

One thing I think is an important part is that the Dream Ticket is transferable so if the winner is a little too old for AI they can give it to someone who is eligible. Also the Dream Ticket is good for any future auditions, so those who are 14 can hold on to it for a few years and when they become eligible if AI is still going on can then use the Dream Ticket.

Also during the cast previews (assuming there will be those) and passholder previews winners from those show are not eligible for the Dream Ticket as it is an unfair selection of participants, but they will be receiving special shwag for participating.

Let me say though the first time you walk into the theater your jaw will drop, the stage is impressive, has the back "LCD" screen, flat screen monitors around the stage, etc. I myself am excited for the previews.


I think this will revolutionize the way people audition for the show. They always show stories about how auditioners scrounge money or travel near and far and endure crazy living situations just to audition... and now they can audition as many times as they want, avoid those crammed days of waiting in cramped lines, avoid sleeping in parking lots in the rain, and potentially fastpass to a producer? C'mon, this was brilliant of Disney because I am sure it will no doubt also bring in extra money from those auditioners buying tickets/annual passes to the parks just to do audition! With the millions (yes, PLURAL - an average of 36 million) of AI viewers and fans, even if HALF of us (guilty party here) go to Disney over the course of one year's time, that amounts to 49,315 AI fans PER DAY who would likely be interested in seeing the "amateur" shows. I don't think they will lack for enough people wanting to sit in the audience.


It very easily could be a dolled up version of karaoke..However, Im just dying to try it! VOTE FOR ME!!

Stephen D:

I really enjoyed your review! I wanted to point out however that there is bit of an error regarding the Dream Ticket.

The Dream Ticket that is won by the Guest at the Finale Show does NOT Guarantee them anything when they get to the regional American Idol Audition. It is the "Ultimate Fastpass"...meaning it allows them to go to the FRONT OF THE LINE at that Audition. Once in line, they go through the process just like everyone else...they just don't have to wait in line for hours...which is fantastic. So whether they get past the screener and go on to a producer? that is all up to them :)


I love American Idol! Those pictures are awesome!


I think there should be an alternate prize if you're over 28. who cares if the pass is transferrable, I would rather be able to choose a fastpass or something I could use in WDW...

Thanks, a very informative site here, i will definately be back.



I'm surprised that they think many people purchasing a park ticket would take so much time out of their day to take part in this? American Idol is old news. Maybe it is just where I am in my life (I was starting high school when AI first aired, and I'm now more than half-way through college... oh, and I'm a music major) but I tend to think of AI as a washed=up, over-done tv show. It was an interesting concept in its first season. After that, I just stopped caring. It sounds like a lot of time to participate in, like someone else said, glamorized karaoke that I think after about a year, Disney will be scrounging around to figure out how to get more talented performers to keep the audience level high enough to justify the attraction. I don't plan on seeing it, let alone participating, while I'm there next year. I give it maybe two years... maybe.

John R. Zepeda III:

This sounds very time consuming and I agree that AI is an overhyped tv show on a decline and that is obvious in the restructuring of the show which puzzles me why Disney World would make an attraction out of the show. Most people like to watch the attention starved wannabes in the auditions to begin with so I think it would be funner to have the cast members pick people out of the audience to sing. If it's going to be bad karaoke as many have suggested than at least make it fun for those in attendance. It will add more to the dated concept if people know they will be picked random to have their 5 seconds than voting on a couple hopefuls. If people think they're really going to a part of the show then they'll be more interested. I think it's a dated concept but they could make it more appealing to the park go-ers than the AI prospects. I know I go to Disney World its all about my family and our vacation. Why would I care to vote on someone who dreams of becoming the Next American Idol? Good for them, chasing their dream but this seems like a waste of time? It'll be hot at first because it's the new thing but once people realize that they have no shot of singing on stage when they attend then it'll be as dead as the Drew Carey show that it replaced.


I agree it's a little late to ride the top of the wave of popularity, but the show is revamping itself this season w/4 judges instead of 3 and a final group of 36 instead of 24, and the 'wild card' will be in play, allowing a contestant in the final 36, to be brought back if voted out!

I'm 39 and have watched every season of AI and woul dlove to check this out. I was a cast member in Orlando back in 1989 and have always loved MGM/Hollywood studios so this woul dbe a great treat! I'll tell everyone I know to come!

Marilyn Brunelle:

I think that the top age should be at least 40. There a lot of great singers out there in their 30's that are still looking for a break to be a star.

Jennifer Gomes:

I agree that it does sound a bit time consuming. With that said, I still think it could be really fun!! Last I heard AI was still one of the top rated shows last year so I really do not think it is too late to get this attraction.

We are avid AI watchers too!! It is about the only thing on TV that is GOOD CLEAN FUN and is ok to watch as a family. Why not make it a WDW attraction, isn't that what WDW is all about?

I am very interested and excited to see how it goes!!!


I have to share with everyone that today I decided to go to the american idol experience. I went to the 4pm show and the 6pm show today. The show is fun! I as well had my doubts. I was surprised. But, my friends you will see how the array of different hosts and judges make all the difference in creating an amazing show or an average show. I find this so true in alot of the shows on disney property. The first show I saw today, the 4pm show was average as a whole. But, I decided before I make my final conclusion I would make it to another show the 6pm show and I am glad I did. It was great and now I am hooked to go back and see it again. I was impressed by the set and the real idol footage. Ryan Seacrest is great in the videos and the hosts do a good job with their timing with Ryan. The average 4pm shows host was not very strong. His name was Jarrod and he seemed like he was talking at the guests and not being human. The contestants were fun and the courage they had to get up there is really to be applauded. The judges were so different. We loved the Randy judge, Rainy, he was funny and looked like Randy Jackson. He really knew what he was talking about. The Paula judge, Lisa, was sarcastic and was missing the crazy and love factor that Paula Abdul has. The Simon, Simon was his name was right on the mark with his critiques but laughed at himself two of the times. I wish he would have let us laugh at him. The 6pm show was very different and much more FUN. The host was a guy named Sean. He was very young and nice to the guests. He even asked the one contestant, Len how to do his dance move. The Randy judge, Patty was a model like judge, although she was not fun she gave out alot of information that I suppose a seasoned performer would appreciate. The Paula judge, Angela was our favorite thus far. She was adorable, a quick wit and told the contestant Len that she loved his tiny socks and Richard Simmons like dancing. You could tell she knew her stuff but was loving and funny. Make sure when you go that you ask to see her and Rainy. The simon like judge, David was just the perfect amount of critique and fun. I loved the playfulness between him and Angela. It was so enjoyable. So, if you want your first experience to be stellar ask who the host and judges are. It is like day and night! Go see it and judge for yourself!


I was at the premier on 2-14-09 and saw Vanessa Prewett. WHAT A VOICE! She received 2 standing ovations yet didn't win. The audience clearly loved her, but somehow another won out. Was anyone else impressed by her, does she have any cds or videos out?

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