/ Sunday, December 14th, 2008

I was excited to take part in a passholder preview tour of a new attraction, The American Idol Experience, recently.

The American Idol Experience will be opening in Disney’s Hollywood Studios early in 2009. Guests can either register on-line to participate in the experience or can be part of the 1,000 seat audience and vote for their favorite singer at the end of each program. There will be seven preliminary rounds each day, and an eighth program at the end of the day which will pit the winners from all the preliminary rounds against each other to find a winner for the day. The winner from the final round will get a “Golden Ticket” to audition for a representative for the television version of American Idol. Contestants need to meet the eligibility requirements–which are a bit more lax for The American Idol Experience than for American Idol. However, the final winner for each day will need to meet the requirements for American Idol in order to audition for the television version.

Contestants meet at an area behind the attraction and are given a list of Do’s and Don’ts as well as a list of 150 songs from which they can choose to use as their audition song. The first audition is done a cappella. If they pass the first audition, contestants are sent to the producer’s room to listen to the song of their choice, off the approved list, on an iPod and practice putting lyrics to music. They will wait there till they are called in for the second audition. If they pass the second audition, contestants begin preparations for their chance to sing before a live audience.

An hour before the show begins, contestants return to the attraction to work with a voice coach as well as to have their hair and make-up done. Meanwhile, the audience begins to queue to enter the attraction. In the audience waiting area, video screens will play 45 minutes of music videos from past American Idol programs as well as interviews with Justin Guarini, the runner-up from the very first American Idol season. Guests won’t need to be in the waiting area for the entire 45 minute pre-show, but those who show-up early will at least have something to keep themselves entertained.

Fifteen minutes before the show begins, contestants are finishing hair and make-up while guests begin filing into the auditorium. It’s interesting to note that Disney wanted the American Idol Experience to be as realistic and exciting as the television program. The set looks just like the real thing–as well it should since Disney hired the set director for American Idol to design the stage for The American Idol Experience. There are a few differences, however. The American Idol Experience set uses LED lighting instead of neon lights, making it a “green” set. Also, the live orchestra is missing.

There will be three judges present to talk to contestants and to keep the audience involved. Contestants will be glad to hear that Paula, Simon and Randy won’t be sitting behind the desk, but there will be judges with similar attributes: a hip judge with all the music business vocabulary, a sympathetic judge who tries to see the good in each performance, and a more direct judge. However, even the judge with the direct approach will be giving a “kinder, friendlier, Disney” critique of the performance. Only audience members decide the winner for each preliminary and final round.

Before the performances begin, the members of the audience get to try out their keypad by choosing answers to American Idol trivia questions. At the end of the show, the audience votes, and top performers are invited back to the eighth and final show for the day. Although there are restrictions on who can perform, all members of the audience may cast one vote.

So if you are looking to get that big break into music or are a big American Idol geek, The American Idol Experience could be just the attraction you want to add to your Walt Disney World visit. On the other hand, if you couldn’t care less for this type of entertainment, think of it as a place for 1,000 other guests to be elsewhere while you get in line for Toy Story Mania.

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