Thursday 15 May 2014

Suburban Exclusive: My live dispatch from American Idol in Los Angeles

Who will win the 13th season of American Idol? Seventeen year old Jena Irene from Farmington Hills, Michigan or  rocker Caleb Johnson, 23, from Asheville,  North Carolina?   Alex Preston, 20, from Mont Vernon, New Hampshire has been sent home.

How will the diagnosis of a bruised vocal cord affect Caleb?

Live on the set at American Idol in Los Angeles.
While in Los Angeles this week I had the good fortune of seeing a live recording of the show and meeting the top three finalists. Thursday  on Fox and CTV Two, we learned that Alex had been voted off on the eve of next week's finale.

Readers of my column will recall what a big fan I was of Canadian Idol, broadcast for six seasons on CTV.  In 2008, CTV announced that the popular singing competition had been “suspended.” It has never returned to the airwaves. American Idol, on the other hand, will return for a 14th edition next year.

American Idol is currently the number two program on CTV Two, with total viewers, behind only Dancing with the Stars.

Ryan Seacrest,  whose syndicated radio show is broadcast weekdays on Virgin Radio in Montreal,  is the show’s dashing host.  Taping takes place at CBS Television City in a studio which is much smaller than you would think. Most of the crowd is standing, including the pit by the stage occupied exclusively by a youth component who get to enjoy the perks of having “selfies” taken with judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Seacrest.

There is a throng of media who follow the series live each week. They do so from a special air conditioned media tent. I was fortunate to see the action from a seat, accompanied by Freemantle Media executive director of communications Kristina Kirk.  I was on hand for the landmark 500th episode, so when the cameras stopped a big cake was rolled out. Seacrest and show mentor Randy Jackson, a former judge, were recognized for being in every one of  those episodes. Even Idol creator Simon Fuller was on hand for the ceremony.
I was this close to the cake.

Yes, J. Lo is as breathtakingly beautiful in person as she looks on TV. During commercial breaks Connick Jr. and Urban really work the crowd, posing for endless selfies and signing autographs. J. Lo too. There is also a lot of makeup retouching. Meanwhile a huge backstage crew makes significant changes to the set for each performer.

I like reality TV for the way they transform your average everyday person into a household name. This year’s Idol crop was a good one and America chose well with its top three.

On the May 14 edition, the singers had to go three rounds

Round one had Randy Jackson calling the shots. For Caleb he chose Never Tears Us Apart by INXS and given his voice problems he did a pretty good job. Alex  was next and knocked Pompeii by Bastille out of the park. He showed his versatility here, playing guitar and banging some pretty neat drums. Jena scored Titanium by David Guetta, an energizing song. Standing atop a giant podium she was full of energy.

Meeting Caleb.

Round two was the judges’ choice. Caleb started off with Demons by Imagine Dragons. Again not an easy task for a man with voice issues.  He is showing the ability to have a very successful career as a pro for these kind of illnesses always occur for performers on the concert tour and the show must go on. Alex followed with Stay by Rihanna and Jena did a good job with Demi Lovato’s Heart Attack (she will get a chance to sing with Demi in the finale next week).

Meeting Jena.
For the final round, songs were selected by the contestants’ hometown residents. Caleb got Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin and this performance might just have been enough to put him into the finale. Hard to believe he had voice issues with this one and in true rocker style he completely destroyed his microphone stand at the end of the bit. Alex was next with One Direction’s Story of My Life, a song I really love. Jena wrapped things up with a great rendition of  Radiohead’s Creep, showcasing her talents as well on the piano.

After the show I went to the media tent where a select group of American  journalists camped out in specific spots and waited for the Idols to become available. I was given a spot to wait at and sure enough along came Caleb, Jena and Alex one by one. Caleb was on doctor’s orders not to talk too much as he was recovering from a bruised vocal cord. He nonetheless shared a few words.  “This  experience has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “It is so incredible and humbling to do what I love. Losing my  voice was a real challenge. I had to work hard to get ready for this show.”
Meeting Alex.
Alex told me how this entire experience has been so crazy. “It still feels like a dream,” he said. “ I still feel like the kid who came in for the audition. I am really excited about starting the real music grind, start writing new songs. I did not realize how much my life changed until I went back for my hometown visit.”

Adorable Jena is also overwhelmed with the experience. “I did not think I would get this far,” she admitted. “Initially I  just tried out just to try out. It has been a life transformation experience I could not imagine it any better. I am so grateful that people like my style and I am excited for our tour. I cannot wait to produce my own album and see how that sounds.”

It will be interesting to see whom America chooses.

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