I’m sitting at a painted wooden booth at Gramps in Wynwood, sipping one of the bar’s cool Rosemary’s Baby drinks, cheerfully recounting an intense day at Miami’s American Idol open auditions with two hopefuls I met earlier in the day.
Suddenly, I’m drenched in sweat, my breathing is shallow, and my mind spins. I feel as if I’m suffocating, my heart palpitating. Reeling, I shakily stand and attempt to walk cooly to the restroom but ultimately sprint into a graffitied stall and spew clear liquid into a porcelain bowl. I wobble to the sink and splash water on my face.
Panicking, I consult Dr. Google. WebMD says my symptoms are consistent with heat exhaustion, the precursor to the medically dangerous heat stroke. I look at my haggard, sweaty face in the mirror, my eyes bloodshot and swollen, and realize the day has come full circle.
At 9 a.m., I had arrived at Key Biscayne's Miami Marine Flex Park. An Uber dropped me off in front of a large truck with a flashing screen: “GOOD LUCK on Today’s American Idol Audition." This was not my first rodeo. Last December, I auditioned for the Broadway show Hamilton. I didn’t get called back, but I grew from that experience and will have the lyrics of “My Shot” forever engrained in my memory. Now I consider myself somewhat of an expert in undercover auditioning, which I undertake with the gusto of a seasoned Method actor.
I spot a long line, where hopefuls form a
I walk to an electrical box, the one oasis of shade in the entire park
The trio coaxes me in front of a nearby parked American Idol bus. We’re all singing into our iPhones, taking footage for Instagram and Snapchat stories. I give a short facetious sample of my prepped song, and then Frankie belts out "Despacito" out of tune and out of time. We all burst out laughing. And the jig is up. Turns out I've been hanging out with radio personalities from Miami radio station Y100. I reveal I’m a writer for New Times. We've both been duped. They excitedly show me footage of singers in line hamming it up for the camera and introduce me to Idol producers.
I take a stroll along the barricades lined with caution tape and scope out the contestants. A tall man clad in a full gold lamé outfit, large metal-rimmed sunglasses, and good grills tells me he drove here from Wisconsin to audition. He’ll sing “I've Told You Now” by Sam Smith. I walk farther down the seemingly endless line and take my place behind a lively group of contestants. A young man dressed in a red high-necked crop top and a gold spiked necklace layered over a short sequined red dress with red suede knee-high boots smiles shyly. ABC network rules prevent us from using his name before the series airs, so we'll call him Val, and he plans to sing Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time.”
A rotund journalist in a
I’ve been here less than an hour, and my water bottle is already empty. A young man behind me offers a bottle of ginger water as beads of sweat drip into the drink. I’m parched and tempted, but I decline. Hours pass. H
Val shares his polka-dotted umbrella with me as we wait in line for hours. Uniformed security guards regularly pace the barricades. There are no provided fans, water, or shade, but we brave it for our chance to make it big. We all commiserate about the inhumane conditions forced upon us during the hottest season in Miami. “They did this because they know we want this, so we’ll come and wait in the heat for the audition,” I overhear a contestant complain.
It’s a friendly, diverse group of hopefuls, all between the ages of 16 and 28, the enforced age restriction for this reboot of American Idol on ABC after Fox
After four hours of chatting and singing a cappella, we’re at the head of the first line, where producers check our IDs to confirm our age and fasten green wristbands on us. We can see a row of tents where producers listen to vocalists vying for a spot in Idol’s 2018 season in groups of four. I'm usually uninterested in making it to the next level, but this time my heart flutters with anxiety.
And then we’re
We hear cheers, and a contestant emerges from the tents, his hand holding a yellow piece of paper raised high in the air. Someone has made it to the next round of Idol. Of the hundreds of contestants, I hear about five cheers like this.
I’m almost at the head of the line, and Jolie, Val, and I huddle so we can audition together. A producer picks Jolie and me out of the line and tells us to go to one tent; Val is escorted to another. We promise we’ll meet up after our audition.
Jolie and I get in a four-person-wide line with two other women. Jolie tells me she’s finally chosen her song, and she shows me her paperwork — she’ll sing the Pokémon theme song. I nod and rehearse my audition song, the Beatles' “Let It Be,” in my head. The group in front of us is dismissed; no one made it through. I can feel that everyone in my group hopes we don’t meet the same fate.
At the tent, we place our belongings on two high-top tables that surround the producer, who sits behind a plastic table. We each hand him our paperwork, a strict release form, and a story sheet that asks us to identify our background, struggles we’ve been through in our lives, and singers we idolize, and take our places on yellow marks.
“You guys know the drill. You’ll sing for me one by one. Good luck,” the producer says in an almost friendly Australian accent.
I’m first. I step out of line and directly in front of the producer. “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. Whisper words of wisdom. Let it be,” I belt. I watch the producer flip through my story worksheet as I sing. And then I’m done and filled with relief. Not too bad, a much more successful try than my Hamilton audition last year, where I was shaking and sweating. I was covered in sweat this time too, but for different reasons.
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“I wanna be the very best/Like no one ever was/Pokémon, you gotta catch 'em all/It’s you and me/I know it’s my destiny,” she sings. The producer stops her and says thank you. She’s disappointed with her performance, and I pat her on the shoulder.
The next woman, waring a loose Afro and an olive-green dress, sways as she sings a gospel hymn. The final member of our group, a blonde with highlights wearing cut-off shorts, belts out Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’.” The producer stops her and puts the paperwork down. As he taps each pile of paper with his fingers, he
We collect our belongings and spot a glittery Val walking toward us. “How did it
In the course of four hours, I was duped by radio producers, apprehended by security guards when I got too close to the tents to photograph, sang a Beatles tune, given a firm no from an Idol producer, and thoroughly dehydrated. In the end, I suffered from a bout of heat