As we got off the bus at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I could feel the fatigue settling into my body. This was going to be a long day, I could feel it. We had been running around Disney World since Monday night and I was tired, a little grumpy and in need of a lot of caffeine. As we entered the gate to Hollywood Studios, Stephanie saw a Cast Member dressed in a blue pantsuit handing out little white placards as she stood next to a sign that read “American Idol Experience; Auditions today.”
“Doug, you have to do this,” Stephanie said.
“Yeah, Dad, you gotta do it,” Josh agreed.
“Doug, you would be so awesome at this,” Angie stated exuberantly.
“I don’t know guys. I don’t think so… not today.”
“Come on, Doug, you’ll have fun,” Stephanie responded.
“No Steph, not today.”
“Daaaaad,” Josh said coyly as he grabbed my hand.
“Dad,” he said again with a twinkle in his eye. “You can’t say ‘no’ in Disney World!”
I stared at him as his grin grew across his face and reached from ear to ear. His eyes lit up as he knew he had caught me in one of those “Aha, Gotcha!” moments because I had used the same line on him the previous day when he wouldn’t ride Space Mountain. I stared at him with a blank expression because I knew those words were going to come back to haunt me at some point on this trip. And as I stood there staring at him trying to figure a way out of my predicament, Josh raised his eyebrows, tilted his head to side, raised his hands and shoulders and asked again, “So Dad, are you going to do it?”
Knowing I had been beat at my own game, I smiled at him and said, “Sure, why not?”
Stephanie, Angie, Josh and Chloe all got excited as I walked over to the Cast Member who was handing out the placards. She originally handed me a card with an audition time of 10:00-10:15am.
“We have a ten o’clock character breakfast; do you have any audition times after that?”
“I sure do,” she said as she handed me a plastic card with 11:30-11:45am printed on it. “Good Luck!”
“Thank you, but I won’t be there long” I said as I took the card from her. As I turned to walk into the park with my family, I said, “You know they are going to send me home after my thirty second a cappella song.”
After the character breakfast, we headed over to the American Idol Experience auditions. We were a half an hour early for my audition and I was hoping the Cast Members wouldn’t make me wait. Luckily, they said I could audition early and as I got ready to head into the building, I was informed that only one person could join me inside the studio. Both of my children declined to go in with me, so Stephanie decided to stay outside with the kids while I went into to sing my a cappella song. Angie drew the short straw and joined me as I headed into the building.
As we stepped inside the front door, a Cast member explained the rules to me. When the rules had been explained and our questions answered, Angie and I were greeted by a Ryan Seacrest video that welcomed us to the American Idol Experience. Afterward, we were escorted to an audition room just across the hall from the Red Room.
“I’m getting nervous,” Angie said as we waited by the door. “And I’m not even the one singing.”
I didn’t reply. I wasn’t nervous, which was an odd feeling for me. Years ago when I had my bands, I was always rigid when I got ready for auditions. I always thought that I was one break away from a door to a whole new world being opened up for me. But I wasn’t feeling that way this time because I wasn’t what they were looking for at American Idol. I felt that at thirty-nine years old, out of shape and thirteen years removed from my last band, even as an attraction, there was better talent to be found. I had a gut feeling that I would be heading back into the park in about five minutes so I made small talk with one of the Cast Members while I waited for my audition to begin. A couple of minutes later, the door opened and I was invited into the room.
Our casting agent, Ray, introduced himself to me and Angie. He then proceeded to tell me a little bit about the process as Angie sat down in a chair in the corner of the room. Ray asked for my name, where I was from and what song I was going to sing. I told him that my family had decided I was going to sing “Sittin’ on the Dock of The Bay” since it was the song I sang to my three year old at night when I put her to bed. He chuckled a little at my explanation and told me I could begin whenever I was ready.
I started with the chorus of the song, sang one verse and finished with the chorus again and then I stood there for a moment while Ray sat up at his computer keyboard and started typing. He made some small talk and then asked me again about the story behind the song choice. This time Angie told him the longer version of the story about how I would sing the song to Chloe when I put her to sleep at night while Stephanie listened through the monitor. When Angie finished telling him the story, Ray asked if I would sing another song for him.
Now I was beginning to get a little nervous. Why did he want me to sing a second song? Did I screw up the first one? I wasn’t sure why he wanted me to sing another song but I figured, why not? It was my chance to have a little fun at the audition. I chose to sing “Walkin’ in Memphis” and as I started to sing the song, a very bad thing happened; I lost the tune in my head. I shakily sang the first couple of lines of the song a little out of pitch until I found the harmony again. When I finished singing, I apologized for the rough start and made reference to the fact that singing a cappella is my true weakness vocally.
Ray laughed at my apology, made small talk for a few moments and then asked if I would go to the Red Room so that I could audition for a Producer. I was in shock. Ray was supposed to say “Thank you for your time; don’t call us, we’ll call you,” but he didn’t. He was actually asking me to move forward in the process and inside, I was psyched!
I tried to squash my emotions as I moved forward but I was proud of myself. I had decided at the gate of Hollywood Studios that I either wanted to get sent home early or if I advanced, I just didn’t want to make a fool of myself. As I opened the door to cross the hall into the Red Room, I realized I was now going to have to go with the latter part of my plan; not make a fool of myself.
I was congratulated by a few of the Cast Members in the hallway as I walked out of the audition room and then I was shown into the Red Room, where I was introduced to Michael. Michael handed me a form to fill out as well as the song list. He told me to choose two songs from the list to perform and when I had the songs chosen, I could practice them with the iPod. I hate to admit it but in my ignorance, I actually had to ask him to show me how to use an iPod because I had never used one before.
Michael graciously showed me how to use the equipment. I asked Michael about how long the next stage was going to take and when I found out that it would take about forty minutes to get into see the Producer, I sent Angie back into the park so that she and Stephanie could take the kids to some of the other attractions. After Angie left, I fill out the waiver forms, put on my American Idol Experience contestant number and perused the list of songs.
There were four other contestants in the Red Room with me as I ran through the songs on the iPod. I finally chose “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Walkin’ in Memphis.” I practiced both songs a little in the red room but I didn’t have the ability to belt out the lyrics, so I stopped singing in the Red Room. Instead, I listened to the truncated versions of the music so I could get the timing down. After I got well acquainted with the ninety second version of the songs, I told Michael I was ready.
“There are two people in front of you,” Michael said. “It will take a little while but as soon as we are ready, we’ll let you know.”
Michael took me into the hallway and I waited against the glass wall as the first of the two contestants before me went into the studio to see the Producer. A Cast Member came into the hallway and told me that Stephanie was waiting outside. I went out to meet her and told her that I was about to audition for the Producer and she could come in and watch if she wanted too. Angie agreed to watch the kids while Stephanie came back into the building with me.
We stood against the glass wall and waited for my turn to audition. A camera man came into the hallway and we were told by a Cast Member to clap for the contestant about to come out of the room. A few moments later, the door opened and a very excited young woman came out of the studio holding a yellow lanyard; her golden ticket! She had been invited to perform in one of the American Idol Experience Concerts later in the day and she was very excited about the opportunity. I was happy for her. She had been in the Red Room with me practicing her song over and over again until she got it right and I was glad that she had. I congratulated her as the camera crew and another Producer took her out the back door.
As she left the building, the woman standing in the hall with me went into the studio with her daughter while her husband waited in the hallway with me. We made small talk and I could tell he was nervous. He was hoping that his wife would have the same result as the woman who had just received the golden ticket. I think the conversation we were having was helping him pass the time while his wife auditioned.
Ten minutes later his wife came out of the studio without a golden ticket; her audition with the American Idol Experience had officially ended. I could see the disappointment in her eyes as she put on a brave face for her husband and her daughter. And for the first time all day, I started to contemplate how I was going to feel if the Producer released me from the room without a golden ticket. The audition process had just become real to me. I remembered the auditions I flubbed many years ago and all of the opportunities that never materialized in the past. I smiled at Stephanie as the Producer called me into the studio to audition and as I stepped through the door, I felt a few of those old nerves starting to creep back into my bones.
Once inside, I met the Producer. He told me where to stand, explained what was about to happen and then after he answered a few questions, he sat behind his desk and asked me to sing for him. The music started and I sang “Sweet Home Alabama.” Forty-five seconds into the audition, the Producer stopped the music. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach as I felt the Producer was about to send me away, but the imminent rejection wasn’t the part that hurt the most. I was irked because I was so bad that I wasn’t even allowed to finish the whole song. He cut me off in the middle of the song and as I stood there waiting for the axe, my heart started to race.
“That was good,” he said. “Now, we are going to start the song over and this time we are going to film it.”
“You want me to sing it again?” My heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t awful and even if it was, he was giving me a second chance to prove myself.
“Yes. And this time, loosen up a little. Have some fun with the song.”
I was starting to feel like a yo-yo; one second I think I am about to get the axe and then, in the blink of an eye, I am given another chance to prove myself. As I prepared to sing, I shook my head and shoulders as I loosened up. When the music started, I sang and this time I sang the song all the way through to the end. When I completed the song, I stood in the middle of the studio in silence while the Producer typed on his computer.
“So what are you doing for the rest of the day?”
“Nothing, really; we are planning on being in Hollywood Studios for the rest of the day. Why?”
“How would you like to perform in one of our shows?”
“Are you kidding me?!” I asked. “Really?!”
And that is when Ryan Seacrest popped up on the video television screen and invited me to participate in one of the Disney Showcases later in the day. I was as giddy as a school child on the inside. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was supposed to have been sent home thirty seconds into my a cappella audition but instead, I was being invited to sing on the American Idol Experience stage. I couldn’t believe my ears.
The Producer gave me a card with the time of my show and turned me over to the other Producer, Mark, and the camera crew. Over the course of the next thirty minutes, I was filmed, interviewed and given more information on how the rest of the day was going to play out. By the time I left the audition studios and met up with Angie, Stephanie, and my kids, it was 1:15pm. I had a small window of time to enjoy in the park with my family because I had to be back at the stage at 3:45pm for my 5:00pm show time.
As I walked around Disney’s Hollywood Studios wearing my “Golden Ticket,” I was on cloud nine. My children have always heard about my days in Crossfire and they have always wanted to come with me when I have performed karaoke with some of my friends, but they had never seen me perform live on a stage. Thanks to the American Idol Experience, two of my dreams were about to come true; I was going to perform for my kids and I had successfully navigated a musical audition process. I hadn’t stepped on the stage yet but I knew that no matter what had happened during the rest of the day, I had already won.
The next hour and a half in the theme park passed quickly. I showed up at the stage door at 3:45pm and I was brought into the green room by Michael where I met the other two singers; Colin and Sian. As we sat in the chairs, Michael told us that we had about ten minutes to relax before things started moving quickly and we would be getting ready for the show.
After a few minutes, I was asked to join Dan, the vocal coach, in a small studio near the green room. Dan asked me to sing the song for him and I sang it all the way through. He told me that he wasn’t going to change anything about my vocals but wanted to work on my stage presence. I asked if we could work on the end of the song since I was having some timing issues with the truncated version of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Dan worked out a new ending for me and then in front of a large mirror, he taught me how to take command of the American Idol Experience stage and draw the crowd into my performance.
When my ten minutes with Dan were over, I moved onto hair and make-up. The make-up for my face was done in two minutes. With time to spare, I told the make-up artist that my wife hated David Cook’s hair, so I asked her if she would “trick out/spike” my hair in honor of David Cook. She thought I was kidding at first but when she realized I was serious, she broke out the gels and sprays and spiked my hair. I asked her if she had any hair color products because I wanted to add some purple but unfortunately, she did not.
When hair and make-up was done, I went back into the green room until the 4:00pm show finished and we were brought backstage for rehearsal. As we walked through the rehearsal for the 5:00pm show, the stage crew showed us where to stand, the staging, and the script for the concert. Then each of us rehearsed our song on the American Idol Experience stage so that we could get a feel for how big the stage and the auditorium were; unfortunately, I royally screwed up my rehearsal.
As 5:00pm approached and we all went back stage to wait for the show to start; I listened to the various members of the stage crew as they gave me constructive criticism about my rehearsal performance. I took mental notes as I was being wired up and made sure I had a checklist in my head of what to do and what not to do when I took the stage. As the clock crept closer and closer to 5:00pm, I could feel the butterflies as they rose and fluttered in my stomach. I was trying to stay focused and not let the nerves get the best of me.
Then, it was show time! The show ran just like an episode of American Idol. We went on stage and were introduced to the crowd, the judges were brought in and finally the host spoke to the performers and the crowd about the contest. Then we were all sent backstage to get ready for our individual performances.
When I took the stage with the microphone in my hand; the old lead singer in me took over and I did what came naturally to me, I sang. The butterflies disappeared, the nerves subsided and the entertainer inside of me rose up and electrified the crowd. Armed with the mental notes I had taken after rehearsal, I commanded the stage from the start of my performance until the end of the song and I loved every second of it.
As I finished the song and stood in the middle of the stage, the crowd wildly applauded. I looked over at Stephanie, Josh, Chloe and Angie and I was in heaven. Time seemed to stop as I watched their faces light up with pride; especially my kids faces. It was a moment that will be etched in my mind for as long as I live because for ninety seconds, I got to do what I have always done best; perform for a crowd. But what made that particular moment so special was that my children were sitting right there in the stands when it happened. I was beaming as I reveled in the moment.
My ego and my excitement went through the roof as each of the judges gave me their feedback. None of the judges panned my performance; I received good reviews from all of them. As I exited the stage, I took in the sights and sounds of an appreciative crowd as they once again applauded loudly for me.
As our American Idol Experience competition drew to a close, it was judgment time. The audience voted and before the results of the vote were revealed, Colin, Sian and I took our places at the center of the stage. As we stood there for what seemed like an eternity, our host walked down the line, stopped next to each of us and reminded the audience what the Judges had said about our each of our performances.
“Doug, you sang ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ Rainey said, ‘You slayed the room with your energy.’ Carole said, ‘She loved how you found the camera.’ And David said, ‘Tons of personality, nice role model.”
(Click the link to see the recap. This was sent to me by a woman in the stands who wasn’t supposed to take video of the event. idols-judges-recap.MOV )
As she moved on to the next contestant I was smiling from ear to ear, I was literally on cloud nine. I had accomplished my mission; I performed on stage and I had not made a fool of myself. But more importantly, I gave a performance that I was truly proud of and when the host announced the results of the audience vote; I had won! I was moving onto the American Idol Experience Finale at 7:00pm.
When the 5:00pm show was over, I left the theater to go join Stephanie, Angie and the kids. Josh and Chloe ran up to me and jumped into my arms; they were so proud of me. At that moment in time, I was the greatest thing since sliced bread to them and I reveled in their adoration. Families came up to me and congratulated me. They asked if I would take pictures with them. Kids came up to me with their Disney autograph books and asked for my autograph; and I signed every single book and I took every single picture with a smile on my face.
It was surreal. I wish I could have frozen that moment in time and lived in the limelight for just a little bit longer, but I had another show to perform that night. At 7:00pm, I took the stage and performed against four very talented women in the American Idol Experience Finale. When the competition had ended, I finished third overall. And I was proud of my accomplishment.
As we stood on the bus and headed back to our resort after the final concert, Stephanie leaned into me and said, “Dreams really do come true here; for kids of all ages.”
And she was right. And Josh was right when he said, “You can’t say ‘no’ in Disney World;” because if I had said ‘no’ earlier in the day, I would have missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime! Instead, on Friday, February 6, 2009, I took the stage at the American Idol Experience in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and I got to live out one of my dreams and the memories from the day will live on in my heart and mind forever.
It is true what they say in the commercial; “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you.” I went to Disney World and I lived the dream; and it was absolutely magical!
Better Photos: these are a mix of the professional photos and our photos. To see all of the professional photos, send me an email and I will forward a link for the 250 some odd shots!
UPDATE: Here is the web site for Sarah Marince. She won the American Idol Experience the night I competed and she told us she had just released a country album. I held my own against the pros! Good Luck to Sarah in her career!!!