With kicky boots and a gallon of hair products, Austin hopefuls make like Kelly Clarkson
Lights, cameras, and buffalo wings were a few things I faced in my first public appearance as a "celebrity" judge, one of four asked by local Fox affiliate KTBC to judge the Austin version of American Idol in October. In case you haven't noticed, Austin is serious American Idol territory. That was clear from the wall-to-wall fans who came to watch five local hopefuls face off at the Hard Rock Cafe two weeks ago. The finalists were selected from earlier contests held by radio stations Beat 104.3, 101X, KASE 101, Mega 93.3, and KISS-FM to compete in a final smackdown at the Hard Rock.
Actually, it was a tame event. There were no trash-talking Tamikas or screechy renditions of "Genie in a Bottle." The truth is, we had it easy. By the time the finalists got to us, the scary singers had been weeded out. Darn it. I mean, that's part of what makes American Idol fun: the aggressive, marginally talented who just want a shot, dammit! No, what we saw were talented young people who came and sang their hearts out -- first a cappella, then with music and, in some cases, costume changes. My favorites were Sheri O'Brien (the Beat 104.3) and the night's winner, Dana Clark (KISS-FM). O'Brien's "Chain of Fools" and Clark's "I'm Every Woman" (along with her oh-so-stylish boots) tore down the house!
As the night's winner, Clark was guaranteed an audition on Nov. 6. That was the day American Idol producers came to Austin -- the only Texas location and one of only seven cities selected nationwide -- in search of contestants for season two of the wildly popular talent show.
While the Hard Rock event was great fun, the auditions for actual American Idol reps was another animal entirely. First, there was the camping-out aspect. Hopefuls descended on the audition site, the DoubleTree Hotel, as early as the previous morning from all parts of the state and beyond with sleeping bags and pillows. Ah, to be twentysomething with the determination to sleep outside on the cold, wet ground under a cloud of I-35 exhaust, all for a fleeting shot at glory. By the time I arrived to check out the scene the afternoon of the auditions, those who weren't asleep were looking remarkably alert. Adrenaline will do that. So will layers of make-up, breast poppin' blouses, leather, barely there skirts, piercings, kicky boots, and hair products. Gallons of hair products.
I sidled up to a pack of five hopefuls from Houston, Austin, Garland, and New Mexico to follow their Idol adventure. They'd all shown up at 3pm the previous day to camp out and snatch an early audition slot. Their audition took place 27 hours later. I watched the pack file in, expectant and bright-eyed, ready to give it their all -- and watched them file out 12 minutes later, deflated and dog-tired. None had been called back. Their all wasn't good enough. At least not that day.
"Hey, I'm still going to make music," said a suddenly exhausted-looking young man named D.J., one of the pack of five. Moments before, he was bouncing around, unable to contain his energy.
Would he do it again?
"No," he said emphatically. "It was hell. Then again, I made some real friends here," he said of his pack, all of whom had either slunk off or were milling around, glassy eyed.
I asked where he was going to crash, but there was no time for that. He and a friend had to drive back to Houston for an evening play rehearsal. Which just goes to show: The show must go on, whether you're a part of it or not.
Austin contestant Dana Clark advanced to the final round last weekend, meaning the next stop is Los Angeles. For more on American Idol, see "TV Eye" and "Dancing About Architecture"."