I spent Friday morning at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., for the "American Idol" season 13 auditions. An estimated 5,000 people showed up for the July 26 auditions, according to a spokeswoman with the show.
Here's my roundup of the experience, complete with lots of exciting elements. Pants on the ground! Impromptu group songs! Repeat auditioners! Real talent! I won't tease you and say I got an update on the judges' panel.
Was the experience enough to restore my faith in the show's 13th season? Keep reading...
Let's start with a quick primer on how this phase of the competition works.
I arrived at the venue shortly after 6 a.m. I was told people started lining up around 5 a.m. When I covered the Atlanta auditions in 2009, they were held at the Georgia Dome. This venue had a different vibe.
There wasn't exactly a line wrapped around the building in the early morning hours -- more like a giant cluster of people near the front. It's also worth noting that in 2009, I reported that the Atlanta audition crowd appeared to include 10,000 people.
At risk of stating the obvious, this phase does NOT include the show's "official" judges, but host Ryan Seacrest was present. Contestants didn't enter the venue until around 9:30 a.m. So if they arrived at 6 a.m., how did they spend three and a half hours outside?
Well, much of that time was spent recording those massive crowd promo shots you see on "Idol" commercials.
Basically, the crowd collectively shouted certain phrases and cheered. They also shot some outdoor footage of the crowd dancing to "Hey Ya!" by OutKast. Here's an inside look at the process:
"Idol" host Ryan Seacrest arrived a little after 8:30 a.m. and immediately started filming promos with the crowd. The photo attached to this article features Seacrest holding a megaphone and interacting with the crowd. I got a very, very brief interview with Seacrest. Actually, it was more like a "walk and talk." We weren't allowed to ask any questions about the judges' panel, so don't expect any juicy gossip.
As usual, the waiting process allowed for lots of people-watching. I always enjoy the impromptu group performances that surface during the downtime at "Idol" auditions. Here's an example. I love how it's interrupted by a Fox helicopter.
I was allowed to interview as many contestants as I'd like prior to when they actually went in the venue. After that, the singers who made the cut couldn't perform for the media. Also, I wasn't allowed inside the audition venue. I didn't hang around after the hopefuls went inside because the process usually takes some time and I had to get back to Columbus.
I was pretty confident that I'd wrapped up all my interviews for the day when I encountered the "Pants on the Ground" guy while walking to my car. You might remember that General Larry Platt gave us the life-changing hit, "Pants on the Ground," a few years ago. He performed the song during an Atlanta audition episode that aired in January 2010.
And he was back Friday. With a funky belt buckle. Just watch my video.
Speaking of repeat auditioners, I thought I spotted season 12 hopeful Micah Johnson as he was entering the venue. A quick check of his Facebook page confirmed I was right. Yes, Micah did audition again this season. Around 5:30 p.m. Friday, Micah posted this message on Facebook: "BIG SMILEY FACE, God is Awesome Thats all i can say."
A few things about the crowd: I spotted some eclectic accessories, but I didn't see any head-to-toe outrageous costumes. You probably heard that in season 13, for the first time ever, hopefuls can play an instrument during the first "cattle call" round of auditions. BUT they must first sing a cappella. I saw plenty of people with instruments at the Atlanta-area venue. And this is purely based on observation, but it seemed like women outnumbered men.
Early in the day, I met Emily Dobbins and William Long, siblings from Buena Vista, Ga., who were auditioning for the show. In terms of our coverage area, they were the most "local" singers I interviewed Friday. They were kind enough to chat with me about their "Idol" experience. Later, I checked in with Emily and William and learned they didn't advance to the next phase of "Idol." I'm still rooting for them -- mainly because very few people are brave enough to call a random reporter at 5 a.m. (Thanks, guys!)
So, how was the talent level in Atlanta? You decide. Before everybody went inside the venue, I recorded some random singers' performances. Here's a sampling of what I got. I don't know how any of these people fared during the audition process.
Let's kick things off with Don Nick Luciano, 27, of Atlanta. He's the guy with the guitar. Levi Dickerson, 24, of Dallas, Texas, joins him on the song. Watch the people in the background during this one.
Here's Vanity Marsh, 28, of Florida.
Tyler Whiteley, 18, of North Carolina.
Here's Elisha Hicks, 16, of Tennessee.
Freddy Yaniz, 21, of Florida.
The Blake sisters from Tennessee. Abigail Blake, 17, sings first...followed by Jessica Blake, 20.
Jordan Royal, 15, of Indiana.