LOS ANGELES – I've been singing since I was 4 and performing in bands since 15. Nothing, however, could prepare me for auditioning for TV's hit competition "American Idol."
It was a chilly morning in August.
I slept through my alarm, set to 3:30 a.m. A friend's call half an hour later woke me out of my nervous sleep. After quickly shimmying into a bright red vintage dress, I rushed over to the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena for the Los Angeles area audition (airing on Fox on Jan. 31 at 9 p.m.).
Bleary-eyed and shivering in the pre-dawn darkness, I took a place in line along with 10,000 other aspiring contestants — from teenagers to those like me in their late 20s.
People brought their mothers, fathers, best friends and aunts. One read "Idol" judge Simon Cowell's "I Don't Mean to Be Rude, But..." Some piled on makeup. Others rehearsed their songs — loudly or whispering. Most everyone yelped and screamed at the Fox cameras twirling past.
I came alone (it was too early for everyone I knew) and murmured lyrics under my breath. Friends called to keep me company. My feet started to hurt.
I'm a blues-singing garage rocker at heart, not someone prone to trying out for a commercial endeavor such as "Idol." Yet prodding from friends and family prompted me to give it a chance. Even my bandmates said, "Hey, why not? Go for it."
The song I chose to audition, "Rock Steady" by Aretha Franklin, was a favorite — soulful, sassy. Not as ubiquitous as "Respect," but still bold. I felt committed. I had already been wearing my "Idol" audition wristband for two days.
Once inside the stadium, after hours of waiting for the gates to open and then that mad dash inside, I found my seat, surrounded by a mix of saucy trash-talkers and shy couples.
Mostly, the tension was palpable — somewhere between wide-eyed hope and crushing anonymity. But there was also something else in the air: a joyful love of music. It felt easy to get caught up in that rush, regardless of the odds.
Questions looped through the crowd.
"No they're not."
"I heard they are!"
It turns out they weren't — by a long shot.
The cool morning air had already turned wickedly hot. Across from where we sat, way on the other side of the stadium, were a dozen tented booths, side by side. Behind that ... exits.
Once we settled in, a jubilant emcee roared us to our feet to sing the L.A. audition's retro theme song — "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees. Well, the chorus of it, at least, over and over.
We waved to the swooping camera, we yelled "I'm the next 'American Idol'!" and we waited.
Row by row, we lined up to audition in front of one of those 12 booths, four participants to a booth.
Sure enough — no Simon, no Randy, no Paula.
By the time I got to that line, I was jittery yet pumped, repeating the feisty intro to "Rock Steady": "Rock steady baby! That's what I feel now. Let's call this song exactly what it is."
An "Idol" staffer ushered me over to a booth along with three others in line. I had noticed earlier that a woman dressed as a homecoming queen (a nod to the chorus of "Daydream Believer") got the coveted golden ticket allowing her to move to the next round. Could she sing? Who knows. Few others followed in her footsteps.
At the judging table in front of us sat two 20-something producers. One was a young woman with sunglasses so large, she could have been napping behind them. The other was a young man with his head propped up in his hands. He said nothing and looked bored.
Suddenly Simon seemed not so rude after all.
Each of us would be given roughly 15 seconds of our chosen song to perform. No questions, no names.
Two of the singers next to me were great, even passionate. Another one, not so much.
Then I stepped forward and sang, belting out the tune with all I had. It's Aretha, after all.
I was louder than the rest, working my vibrato, stretching my arms out. The bored guy perked up a little, but still said nothing. This was the moment I had waited six hours for.
After less than 20 seconds, it was over.
Afterward, the young woman with the sunglasses turned to all of us, thanked us for auditioning, and said we would not be needed for the show. There was no banter between judges. No comments to us about our performances — snarky or otherwise. Not even a little canned applause.
Instead, we were instructed to go, our wristbands were cut, and we walked out of the stadium.
As I turned to leave the booth, the girl who cut my wristband exclaimed, "Rock steady, baby!"
I smiled at her, containing my exhaustion as I went to my car.
Days later, my band Naughty Bird performed at a local club and I felt a deep sense of relief — to sing our own songs in that cramped, dark place, on our own terms, to loud applause.