It will be months before we learn whether any of the thousands of people who showed up for the “American Idol” auditions in Charlotte on Tuesday are truly extraordinary singers.
But one thing is certain: They all can scream like nobody’s business.
The plaza on the Trade Street side of Time Warner Cable Arena became a gigantic open-air TV studio, as the popular Fox reality series filmed take after take of auditioners cheering at the top of their lungs en masse for swooping cameras, boom microphones, and – eventually – host Ryan Seacrest.
When the show’s 12th season airs beginning in January 2013, one episode will be dedicated to the Charlotte auditions; it will open with a crowd shot, and will feature several others as they go into and come out of commercial breaks. On Tuesday, hopefuls were asked to be at the arena by 5 a.m. so producers could get these shots, even if their actual audition wasn’t to take place till after noon.
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Almost everyone was prompt. After all, these people came for a chance to be on TV.
And so there they were, 2,500 of them obeying the guy with the stepladder and the megaphone – supervising producer Patrick Lynn – who plied the throng with promises like “We’re about 15 minutes out from having Ryan Seacrest” and “It’s almost time to go inside.” (At least 2,500 more wrapped around the Fifth Street side of the arena, but were mainly oblivious to the activity on the plaza.)
It was a unique peek behind the “Idol” curtain: On TV, the crowd shots air for seconds and are integrated seamlessly into the show. To get them, though, Lynn has to move auditioners and their guests around like chess pieces, as he did for two hours Tuesday morning.
“Everybody face this way,” he commanded from his perch on the ladder, not long after sunrise. “You guys that are coming down the stairs, stand on every other step and fan out a little bit. ... There’s a big hole in front of the hot dog vendor. You see the hot dog vendor there? You guys that are in the back maybe back up a little bit; you guys that are on the stairs just kind of take about two steps forward.
“I will give you the cue when you’re supposed to cheer … so just hold your voices. I don’t want you guys blowing out your voices out here.”
At 6:46 a.m., he ordered the first cheer: “WELCOME TO CHARLOTTE!!!!!!,” followed by 20 seconds of fist-pumping and woo-woo-ing. At 6:50, he recruited a young woman wearing bright orange and yellow to say the same phrase. A massive camera on a jib mount was brought in tight, she said the line, the jib pulled up, up and away, and the crowd went crazy again.
A few minutes later, Lynn had a different young woman insert the word “back” between “welcome” and “to,” and they rolled more tape.
Over the next hour, auditioners got shuffled around, filled in more holes, were told to face this way and that, shouted catchphrases like “The race is on in Charlotte!” and “I’m ready Ryan!” again and again. They tried another “Welcome back to Charlotte!” And just when it seemed like the crowd was getting tired of sitting, begging and rolling over, word came in: Seacrest had arrived.
The host appeared with a small entourage, beaming brightly while wearing a bit of an odd ensemble for late June in Charlotte – blue jeans and a long-sleeve collared shirt under a dark blue sweater.
He vanished into the crowd for a few shots, joined by Season 10 “American Idol” champ Scotty McCreery of Garner, then hopped onto a scissor lift, grabbed his own megaphone, and led a few more cheers 20 feet off the ground as beach balls supplied by Fox were batted around the plaza.
Back on the ground, Seacrest shook several hands, slapped several fives, and even posed with a few fans and signed a few autographs.
“I love this part. It is such a great feeling to go around the country and see the enthusiasm and the passion and meet people who watched the show a few months ago that are now going to be a part of the show,” he said. “We haven’t heard them sing yet, but they seem enthusiastic.”
If nothing else, there was certainly plenty of enthusiasm for Seacrest, who has hosted the show for all 11 seasons.
“He’s gorgeous,” said Shannon Gentry, who drove her stepdaughter, Victoria Scott, up from Columbia, S.C., for the auditions. “I felt like I was gonna go weak in the knees when he shook my hand.”
Scott, 17, got Seacrest to sign a beach ball – which she promptly deflated and shoved into her bag to keep safe.
Emily Horn, a pretty 19-year-old sophomore at Eastern Kentucky University, was invited by a producer to stand behind Seacrest during his shots on the ground, and “was so excited.”
But she tried to contain her excitement as best she could, especially as Lynn continued to ask for take after take: “Well, I cheered a little bit at first, and then I would kind of do the fake (shout) and pump the fist. … It was a good warmup for 6 a.m., though, to scream a little bit.”