Monday, February 16, 2009
Disney's American Idol Experience http://theadventuresofdonchapman.blogspot.com/2009/02/disneys-american-idol-experience.html
Here's a behind the scenes look at my visit with Chris Sligh to the premier of Disney's new American Idol Experience on February 12, 2009.
Before the Disney experience, Chris led worship and I played the piano at the Metro II Music Conference - a gathering of church music directors. That evening we had dinner at Boizao Steakhouse in Tampa - the best Brazilian steakhouse I've been to so far. There we celebrated Chris's Rascal Flatts cut and first single "Here Comes Goodbye." This achievement is probably why American Idol invited Chris to the Disney premier - not all top ten finalists were invited as not all top ten finalists have careers.
Chris and I got to Orlando on Wednesday and Disney gave us each $100 meal cards. I've always wanted to eat at the California Grill - it's the restaurant on top of Disney's futuristic Contemporary Resort. The meal was great (not outstanding) but the service was exceptional. Our waiter was top-notch and loved telling stories of famous people he's waited on. He said his most unfriendly customers have been Rosie O'Donnell and Teresa Heinz Kerry! We didn't leave the place until after midnight. The view is incredible - big windows that look out to the Magic Kingdom and surrounding lake. This would be a great place to watch the nightly fireworks. Make sure you get reservations way in advance if you'd like to try it.
On Thursday Chris and I had lunch with Sligh SuperFan Carmen and her husband at Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney. I had eaten at a Planet Hollywood once, many years ago when one opened in Nashville (it has since closed) and thought it was one of the worst meals of my entire life. Unfortunately nothing has changed.
After lunch, Chris and I met up with his manager, Mitch, and a Disney representative chauffeured us to the backstage of Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) so Chris could get ready for the Idol parade.
The Disney rep took Mitch and I into the park and led us to the VIP section where we could watch the parade. I recognized Harvey from Celebrity Fit Club. Chris is currently negotiating to be on the show. I asked Harvey what brought him to the premier. He said that he's never seen an episode of the show, but is dating Kimberly Locke (she was 3rd place on season 2, right behind Ruben and Clay.)
The Idols rode their own convertibles down a blue carpet through main street of the Hollywood Studios, and were interviewed at the end of the carpet.
After that they entered a tent for interviews, then walked down a press corridor for even more interviews.
Chris, Mitch and I were next ushered into a restaurant where we were served delicious hors d'oeuvres as we waited for the premier to begin. We sat next to Ace Young and his girlfriend - you almost wouldn't recognize him now that his hair is cut.
When the show was about to start we were all led into the American Idol Experience building. The first two front rows were all reserved for guests and we each had an assigned seat with our name on it. I sat between Chris and Phil Stacey. Phil's excited about working with super producer Brown Bannister on his new album. I noticed David Archuleta and his spooky dad in front of me to my left, Bo Bice in front of me to my right.
Both Chris and Phil were amazed at how eerily realistic the set is. It really is just like being on the show. Every day they'll have several shows with people who've auditioned in the park. At the end of the day, all the daily winners will compete for a ticket that will get them straight to an audition with Randy, Simon and Paula - no waiting for hours.
The show opened with a guest appearance from Ryan Seacrest. He introduced the five finalists. Paula came out on stage, rambled a bit then inexplicably started giving the contestants back rubs. Ryan said something like "Paula, remember the rules about interacting with contestants!" The audience howled. Paula stood there perturbed and said "shut up, Ryan!"
The show even comes complete with a fake Ryan Seacrest, a fake Randy, Paula and a fake Simon with British accent. Each contestant performed and received critiques from the judges.
But before the winner was announced, the real Ryan came out and told us we'd hear from some special guests. David Cook and 5 of his band members came out, sat on stools and sang an acoustic version of his hit "Lights On." Then Carrie Underwood came out with her band members and did an acoustic version of "All-American Girl." David came back out and they did a duet on the old Fleetwood Mac tune "Go Your Own Way." All I can say is wow - the sound was incredible, the musicianship was incredible and their vocals were incredible. Carrie has really grown as an artist.
Ryan introduced the other Idol winners from past years and they all were there: Ruben, Taylor, Fantasia, David, Carrie, Jordan... and then, sheepishly, Kelly walked out on stage. She seemed to have a weird vibe about her. I found out later there had been negotiations for days to get her there. That morning the negotiations were finalized and she flew out to Disney on a private jet and arrived an hour and half before the show! Two different Idols told me that they have hung out with Kelly several times in the past and she acted as if she didn't know them at the premier. Sounds like she's going through a diva spell.
It's clear who Idol wants to promote - their current favorites are definitely David and Carrie, and these talented two deserve it. They both sparkle. I heard Fantasia was let go from her management contract with 19 Entertainment and she didn't look so hot. Ruben has lost lots of weight but you don't hear much about him. Taylor also looked good but he, too, has fallen out of the public eye. At least Jordan's getting a few hits under her belt.
After the audience voted electronically (Phil's voting thingy didn't work and he said "what do you expect, it's Florida!") and the winner was announced (some quirky guy who beat out a real vocalist with talent) explosions and confetti filled the room.
After the show the Idols gathered out front and had their pics taken with Mickey. Conspicuously absent were Clay Aiken, Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson.
I chatted with Mandissa for a few moments - I had played piano for her and Matthew West when they did a Christmas concert at Brookwood Church a few months ago. Mandissa looked great - she's lost 70 lbs and plans on losing 30 more before her new single comes out.
I also got to talk with one of my favorite Idols - Melinda Doolittle. She had just been on the Ellen Show that week promoting her new CD. I reminisced with her about how all of this happened - we all sat in Chris's hotel room two years ago in Pasadena after they had gotten word they'd made it into the top twenty, and we all watched the Idol episode that night where Melinda had her original audition.
Everyone headed down to the Tower of Terror part of the park where Disney had food and drinks galore: sushi, chicken, fish, carved meats... you name it, and all delicious. By this time Disney had closed the park and this party was just for Idol guests. I stood at one of the neon-glowing tables and had a wonderful time chatting with Mike Blanton. He's one of the architects of Christian music, guiding the careers of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and others (including Chris, Phil and Melinda.)
Mike, Melinda and I went on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with some others (three times in a row with no waiting) and then joined Chris for the Tower of Terror. Melinda prayed loudly throughout the entire ride!
When that party died down we were whisked away by limo to an after party thrown by Idol's 19 Entertainment, held at Rix Lounge at the Coronado Springs Resort. Security guards were everywhere, and only the Idols and their friends & family were allowed to enter. Just more to eat in a dark place with very loud music.
If you want to see what it's like being on an American Idol show, I recommend Disney's American Idol Experience. It's actually two experiences in one: an audition experience and an audience experience. I was in the live audience on the real show I can tell you it's very realistic. Click through some of my posts on this blog and you can read about my visits to the show.
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posted by Don Chapman @ Monday, February 16, 2009