When my son Jeff heard the American Idol auditions were coming to Pittsburgh, there was no question of whether or not he was going to try out -- he's been talking about doing so since he turned 16. Because he's under 18, he had to be accompanied by a parent at all times, and I would never have missed being with him for such an exciting day.
Here is how it all went:
Wednesday, July 13 at 3:30 p.m. - You have to register before attending auditions, and registration is scheduled for the 48 hours before auditions start. We had heard that thousands lined up first thing in the morning, but you could just walk up to a table if you went after that. True. We had our tickets and wristbands without even having to stand in line.
Friday, July 15 at 4 a.m. - We have been instructed to be there by 5 a.m., so we're up and ready to go. I can't believe I agreed to this and can't seem to get enough caffeine into my system to convince my body that it's morning.
Jeff, meanwhile, is playing his guitar and singing and having a grand time. Because my husband has approximately a million Marriott points, we have booked a room 5 minutes from Heinz Field, so at least we don't have to drive in from Gibsonia. It was a good idea. Walking to Heinz Field, we see there are already traffic jams and the sidewalks are filled with people walking to the stadium.
5 a.m. - We are queued up with thousands of other people outside Heinz Field. And the waiting begins …
6 a.m. - It's starting to get light -- and interesting. News crews begin to arrive now that it's light enough to film. An American Idol helicopter starts to circle overhead, getting shots of the crowd.
6:45 a.m. - An American Idol cameraperson comes up to Jeff and asks if she can film him playing his guitar and singing. While he sings, "I'm Yours," she films him, lining up other kids behind him to sing along. I had tears in my eyes, but also the presence of mind to get it on film. When it's over, Jeff gets a huge round of applause and everyone assures him he'll definitely make it through. Several cute girls declare their love. Jeff starts taking numbers.
7 a.m. - We are herded over to the steps in front of Heinz Field for what are called "jib shots." These are shots of people yelling things such as, "Welcome to Pittsburgh!" and "I'm the next American Idol!" while a gigantic camera films us. We are there for nearly two hours. By the time we're done, we don't feel very welcoming. In fact, we want to drown the producer leading us in the chants.
9 a.m. - We finally get into the stadium and to our assigned seat. There are around 10,000 or so people. The stadium air is heavy with hope so thick you can almost see it.
But it's time for more jib shots -- same chants, same annoying producer, but in the stadium this time. We are nearly comatose already, and auditions have not started.
10:30 a.m. - Auditions finally start. We do the math and realize it's going to be a loooooong day.
From 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. - In these long hours of waiting for our section to be called, it has been brutally hot, we have spent a small fortune on water, several of the concession stands have run out of food and the girl sitting in front of us recognized my son as Jean Valjean from Les Miserables [the spring musical at Pine-Richland High School]. More declarations of love. By this time, Jeff's body temperature was about 120 degrees so he didn't even care.
It was exciting, though, to watch the auditions progress. It was also pretty discouraging as people we were sure would make it weren't even given a second look. Our hopes are not quite as high as they had been in the beginning as the absolute randomness of the process sinks in. Jeff at one point says if he had known it would be like this, he would not have tried out at all. But he's there, and he's going to see it through.
One fun thing: throughout the day the kids who were waiting to audition would just stand up and burst spontaneously into song. Most of them were incredible singers. Everyone around them would applaud and encourage them and assure them they were definitely going to make it through. Probably none of them did.
3:30 p.m. - Our section is finally called to line up, which means we have another hour or so. Jeff goes into the queue for the audition tents. I go into the holding pen for parents. I am about to wet my pants, I am so nervous. The prospect of actually doing something has energized Jeff, and he is as cool as if it were about 60 degrees rather than 90.
4:30 p.m. - And it's all over. He had his 10 seconds in front of the producer and they listened and said, "Thank you -- next!"
Jeff is not surprised at all. Rather, he's surprised the one other boy in his group did not make it because, as Jeff told me, he was the whole package -- incredible talent, a great song, the perfect look. Jeff is all that as well, in my not-so-unbiased opinion, but you can't overcome randomness, not even with talent and good looks.
There is no disappointment at all in the ending of Jeff's quest for overnight fame. We're just glad it's over and we can shower, get some real food and go see the new Harry Potter movie, which was wonderful. And air-conditioned.
Now that's a winning combination.