A little more than two weeks ago, the latest lineup of “American Idol” finalists rolled into Knoxville for a concert at Thompson-Boling Arena.
On Friday, the audition bus parked on Gay Street next to the Krutch Park Extension and gave singers dreaming of becoming the next “American Idol” a first shot at music industry success.
Fans of the Fox network show know the drill for auditions. Masses of hopefuls from around the country descend upon an audition city and try to impress the producers and celebrity judges with their vocal chops.
Many hopefuls mug for the camera and for host Ryan Seacrest to demonstrate their personality, if not their talent.
The “AI” bus auditions aren’t like that, judging by Knoxville’s version.
For starters, Seacrest was not in the building — or park, in this case. Neither were the judges.
Only one judge has been confirmed for the 2014 contest: Keith Urban.
Senior producers Brian Robinson and Hope Wilson were running things. Meeting the press for an early-morning briefing, Robinson was low-key and affable, emphasizing the point of the bus is “We’re coming to you.”
He said the “Idol” chiefs were “working feverishly back in Los Angeles” to line up the other three judges, who will survey those who’ve passed the test in the seven audition cities and five bus-tour sites to decide who’s “going to Hollywood.”
Instead of sharing stress with masses in a stadium, the would-be singing stars stood in a line that snaked through Krutch Park to Market Street and around the corner of Union Avenue back toward Gay Street. Most singers had friends or family with them.
There was no sense of cutthroat competition. When one broke into song — to warm up or to show off — others joined in harmony, and all cheered for each other at the end.
Briston Maroney, 15, a sophomore at Knoxville Catholic High School, was skipping world history and possibly Algebra II to take part in the auditions, but he wasn’t prepared to apologize to his teachers.
“I would, but it wouldn’t be completely sincere right now,” he said.
A member of a band called Subtle Clutch, he’s a fan of Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, and he takes his music seriously.
Madasia Middlebrook, 25, who works at the Sertoma Center and attends Pellissippi State Community College, went to the Atlanta auditions on July 26 — her birthday — but didn’t make it. She planned to pull out the stops in her hometown.
“I know I have a talent,” she said. “If I don’t make it (on ‘Idol’), I’m going to get an opportunity. Somebody is going to see me.”
The auditions started around 8:30 a.m. Wilson and Robinson sat at separate tables, each shaded by a canopy.
In groups of four, the singers were brought to face them. Most sang with no accompaniment other than the shifting of truck gears or the sputter of motorcycles passing behind them.
The process went quickly, smoothly and sadly. Group after group was dismissed, no one making it through.
Almost half an hour went by before someone finally heard good news. The lucky crooner was Cameron Dickerson, a 24-year-old from Oak Ridge who starts work Monday at McAlister’s.
“That was a truly epic feeling,” Dickerson said. “Last time I tried out for ‘American Idol,’ I was one in about 200 people that made it through in about 14,000 auditions. This was in Nashville a couple of years back.”
The next success story was Maroney.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “I’m really flattered that they would choose me.”
It was 9:30 before the first female contestant got a pass.
Kristina Ray, a 26-year-old mother of four from Spartanburg, S.C., stunned listeners with her operatic performance and sophisticated appearance.
“I tried out for ‘Idol’ four years ago in Orlando,” said Ray. “I was 100 pounds heavier, and I (had) very low self-esteem, and I didn’t think I was going to make it, and I sure as heck didn’t. This time I promised myself if I ever lost my weight then I would definitely come back, and I did, and look, it paid off!”
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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