Defunctland: The American Idol Theme Park Experience

Defunctland: The American Idol Theme Park Experience

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It’s the early 2000s, and being famous sounds like a good idea. Fame and fortune are timeless objectives, but the pop stars of the late 90s and early aughts had reached unprecedented levels of notoriety and denim. Innovations in technology, such as portable devices, the internet and denim, were making celebrities more accessible to their fans than ever, while at the same time, elevating their social status to a  point that many contemporary  commentators felt that the only apt comparison was idolatry. To many, these were Gods, untouchable beings of talent and fame, but some believed that they had a chance at reaching this status themselves.

They just needed to be discovered. Unfortunately, the only surefire way to become absurdly famous at the turn of the millennium was to have starred in the 1989 revival of The Mickey Mouse Club. If you weren’t a Mouseketeer, you could try forming a boy band or a girl group and pray that you are the best, the most attractive, or ideally both.

Short of these strategies, the path to stardom was less clear, but that was about to change. Throughout the 20th century, music competitions had often elevated hopeful nobodies to stardom. For instance, Frank Sinatra got his start on  Major Bowes Amateur Hour,  a radio talent competition.

With the emergence of television, competitions such as Eurovision and Star Search would be popular among audiences and successful in finding stars. However, there were very few active singing competitions on the air by the late 90s, but a new wave was on it's way. In 2000, ABC began airing a music reality competition named Making the Band, and another format, Popstars, would begin airing in the UK and the US in early 2001. Both of these shows sought to find new talent and form the next big music group. Both programs heavily integrated the elements from the new reality television genre, and the winners of the program would be immediately signed to the record label of the show’s producers.

In early 2001, the winners of Popstars UK formed the group Hear’Say, which according to The Observer’s relevancy test was a massive success as they had attracted one stalker, and according to my relevancy test, all five members have wikipedia pages but only three have photos attached. B minus. Popstars US formed Eden’s Crush in early 2001, which launched the career of future Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, but unfortunately, only two of its members have wikipedia pages and only Nicole has a photo.

F. Making the Band on ABC had formed O-Town. Of the five original members and one replacement, two wikpedia pages, one photo. Also F.

Wikipedia is not always correct when it comes to facts, but the Wikpedia Music Group Relevancy Test does not lie. In 2001, British music and television mogul Simon Fuller noticed the interest in these new programs. Fuller was best known as the manager of the Spice Girls until he was fired by the group in 1997. Seeking other venture, Fuller attempted to create a music competition and star launching format of his own, which would be named Pop Idol. The show would begin airing in the UK on ITV in late 2001. Pop Idol combined multiple successful elements of other music competitions, with three key differences that set it apart.

First, unlike Popstars and Making the Band, the goal of Pop Idol was to find a singular star, not form a group. Second, the show would have live episodes featuring the competitors performing. Third, and most importantly, Pop Idol would allow the audience to vote and decide its winner. Fuller hoped that the show’s format would be popular enough to launch the career of the UK’s next big recording star, but the show’s popularity would receive a major boost from the harsh critiques of one of its judges, music executive Simon Cowell.

"I believe you" "Mark yourself out of 10 on that one." "About 7 with a bit of a sore throat." "2." Cowell became known for his honest and often cruel feedback to performers, and Pop Idol would make a celebrity out of Simon before the show’s actual winner had even been chosen. Pop Idol was an immediate hit, and was watched by 10 million viewers a week, over 15% of the country’s population tuned into the competition.

The two finalists instantly became charting musicians. The winner, Will Young, immediately broke the record for the fastest selling single in British history, outperforming The Beatles in this category. The show’s success in the UK led Fuller and Cowell to pitch a version to networks in the US, eventually convincing Fox to air a season of the competition. The show, renamed American Idol: The Search for a Superstar, began airing on June 11, 2002.

American Idol would feature a panel of three judges. Simon Cowell would serve on the American Idol panel, bringing the same surly energy that had made him famous on Pop Idol. "I can honestly say, you are the worst singer in America." "Really?" Cowell would be joined by Randy Jackson, a bass player and music producer and Paul Abdul, a popstar who had found success in the late 80s and early 90s. Two hosts, Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman, would guide contestants and audiences through the competition. The first step in finding the new American Idol was an elaborate open-call audition held in multiple cities throughout the country.

Thousands of prospective contestants were judged by casting directors, and a select few of these singers made it in front of the three celebrity judges and potentially onto national television. The contestants that made it to the filmed audition were either good enough to move forward or bad enough to make compelling TV, with a handful of singers that were just ok to make the process feel realistic. Throughout these first two episodes, Cowell showcased his signature snark, shocking the contestants and his fellow judges with how far he was willing to go to shut down the hopeful singers. "Well Jennifer, here's a new word, that was extraordinary." "Thank you."

"Extraordinarily bad." "Are you taking singing lessons?" "There was this lady up in Montana..." "Do you have a lawyer?" "No. I don't have a lawyer." "Get a lawyer and sue her."

"I thought you were fantastic." "I didn't." The harshness of these critiques was an immediate point of discussion around the country, as was the poor singing ability and lack of self awareness of some of those auditioning.

These humorous auditions were presented alongside contestants with true talent, many of which were immediately relatable  to audiences, showcasing  their singing abilities, confidence, and denim. "I think I like this. Is that a skirt?" "I made this." The show had an obvious bias toward singers who matched the ridiculous beauty standards of the early 2000s, a bias that the program stated explicitly and justified as a necessary attribute for any potential Idol. "The problem I have is that you don't look like an American Idol." "And she just sang an Aretha Franklin song."

"I do not believe that if Aretha Franklin entered this competition, she would win it now. "I don't make the rules." Evelyn McDonnell, writing for the Miami Herald, said, “American Idol takes our cultural obsession with celebrities, strips it bare, abuses and humiliates it, then re-dresses it in it own mode and sends it smiling back at us.” This was written two weeks after the show premiered.

Evelyn, pace yourself, this show might be around for a while. Whether it was a genuine interest in vocal talent or some biological yearning for the age of public executions, audiences were hooked on American Idol from the very beginning. The program was the breakout hit of the summer of 2002, and as the competition progressed, ratings continued to climb. Of the 10,000 auditions, 121 singers were asked to come to Los Angeles for Hollywood Week, a grueling audition process in which the three judges narrowed the field down to just 30 contestants.

After this, the true appeal of the program began, as from this point on, it would be up to the audience watching at home to decide  which contestants moved on  and which were eliminated. The 30 contestants were split into three groups of ten, with an episode dedicated to each group. 3 contestants would emerge from each pool, with an additional wildcard show allowing for one additional contestant to round out the top ten. From there, two contestants were eliminated to create a top 8, and after that, only one contestant was eliminated each week. Finally, on September 4, 2002, the Season One finale of American Idol aired, and Kelly Clarkson was announced as the show’s first winner. As with Pop Idol, the promise of the show was fulfilled, and Clarkson was immediately elevated to mainstream stardom.

She signed a record deal under Simon Fuller, and soon she was a legitimate, charting musician. It was completely fabricated, planned from the beginning, yet it was more authentic than most industry success stories. The show was filled with these dichotomies, the cruel mixed with the wholesome, the staged mixed with the democratic.

The value or the morality of the program was up for debate, but it was certainly gripping television audiences. Just one season in, the show was already an overwhelming success, both in terms of ratings and star creation, but the phenomenon that would be American Idol was just beginning. While thousands of Americans were dreaming  of receiving a golden ticket  to the real Hollywood, a fake Hollywood in the swamps of Florida was struggling with its identity. Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park had been put into development in the mid 1980s, shortly after Michael Eisner had become CEO of Walt Disney Productions. Eisner had come to the company from Paramount Pictures, and he brought with him energy, creativity, and knowledge from a pitch he had been given by MCA in July of 1981 detailing their plans for a Universal Studios production  facility, tram tour, and  theme park in Central Florida.

They had plans for a recreation of a golden age Hollywood Boulevard, a stunt show, a sound effects demonstration. They wanted him and Paramount on board. He had been shown the plans. He knew the plans. Allegedly. Less than a year after Eisner took the helm at Disney, plans were announced for a new Walt Disney World attraction, named the Disney-MGM Studio Tour.

Disney planned to build production  facilities and soundstages  for both live-action and animation production. This new experience would  also feature a recreation  of a golden age Hollywood Boulevard, a stunt show, a sound effects demonstration and more. Disney entered into a licensing agreement with MGM to use their name as well as properties from their film library.

Similar licensing deals with Paramount and Sony were signed to create a more authentic and modern Hollywood attraction. In late 1986, MCA would finally greenlight the construction of Universal Studios Florida. Due to Disney-MGM’s similarities to Universal’s original plans, MCA evolved their concept to feature more large scale attractions resembling those found at Disney parks. Meanwhile, The Disney-MGM Studios Tour was developing into the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, which would now feature a tram tour to closer resemble Universal Studios in Hollywood.

A key feature of both parks would be the film production facilities being built on-site, but Disney-MGM was relying on theirs to be the star attraction, with the signature studio tour to last 2 hours. Disney would beat Universal to the punch, with the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park opening on May 1, 1989. Along with the studio tour, the park would feature a dark ride depicting scenes from famous films as well as a stunt show themed to the Indiana Jones franchise. The park also offered several themed dining  experiences, and more modest  shows and demonstrations were scattered throughout the park. Just off of the the Mickey Mouse shaped hub was Superstar Television, a show in which audience participants were inserted into their favorite television programs through the use of physical sets and clever compositing.

Over the course of the 25 minute show, guests would be inserted into vintage shows such as I Love Lucy and The Howdy Doody Show and contemporary programs such as Cheers and the Golden Girls. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme  Park was an overwhelming  success in terms of attendance, but it lacked the breadth of attractions that guests had come to expect from a Disney park. Disney had already had plans to address this. The popular Disneyland attraction Star Tours was already under construction at the park, and a new Muppets area and attraction was on the way. However, the Disney-MGM had bigger problems than just guest satisfaction.

The park was reverse engineered, rather than a tour being added to an operating movie studio, an operating movie studio was created so that it could be toured. Producers on the West Coast were cautiously optimistic about Orlando becoming the Hollywood of the East, but many were skeptical on Disney’s  dedication to operating  Disney-MGM as an actual studio. Less than a year into the park's life, issues had already been found in the design that made production difficult. The New York Street set was placed too close to the park’s signature Catastrophe Canyon tram stop, which simulated  practical film effects such  as pyrotechnic explosions and a flood.

Sound from this area bled into New York Street and other portions of the backlot, which rendered these filming locations “virtually useless,” which in turn hurt the tram tour, because now there was less productions to tour, which was ironic because the reason there were no productions is because of the tram tour. Throughout the 1990s, in almost every instance in which Disney had the choice between improving the vitality of Disney-MGM as an operating movie studio and improving the quality of Disney-MGM as a theme park, they almost always chose theme park. In 1994, a new expansion  named Sunset Boulevard added more shops and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror thrill ride. In 1998, Superstar Television was closed to make way for Doug Live!, which opened on March 15, 1999. Doug Live!, was based on the television series Doug, and the show translated perfectly to stage, with no issues at all.

It closed two years later with no planned replacement, leaving this theater space at a prime location in the park empty. In September of 2001, Disney-MGM Studios unveiled the Sorcerer’s Hat, a huge hat themed after the iconic cap from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in the 1940 film Fantasia. The Sorcerer's Hat was constructed to celebrate the 100 years of Magic Celebration at Walt Disney World, celebrating what would have been the 100th birthday of Walt Disney. Surprisingly, the hat would not be deconstructed after the celebration, and would instead become an icon of the park and a signifier of a very specific period in the Disney-MGM history, one that some could be described as a middle period, a slump, or even a dark age.

At the same time that Disney-MGM Studios was entering this dark age, American Idol was entering its golden age. After the success of the show’s first season, a second season of American Idol was quickly put into production, moving the program up from its summer slot to begin airing in Januaryof 2003. "You sounded like a dog dying." "The Next American Idol." Season One had not only created multiple stars,  but it had motivated  thousands of prospective ones.

The open-call for auditions saw 70,000 people try out for the show, and the production had to begin renting out stadiums  to handle the crowds. The show started splitting the process over multiple nights, with three episodes dedicated just to auditions in Season Two. The number of singers moving on to Hollywood week was increased from 121 to 234, and this stage now featured multiple elimination rounds,  resulting in 32 singers  moving onto the semi finals. Other changes this season included Brian Dunkleman quitting the show, leaving Ryan Seacrest as the sole host.

Another exit from the show was the foldable  audition table with its  Party City-esque tablecloth. This was replaced with a more sturdy and sleek looking table that took a lot of the edge and rawness out of the production. This season also allowed viewers to send their votes in via text message, which one would think was due to young people preferring this method over calling in, but rather, it was cell carriers that were using shows such as American Idol to interest young people in SMS. The rise in texting among young Americans  in this period would actually  be attributed in part to American Idol pushing it.

Another technology evolving alongside the show was digital media players, a landscape that was dominated by Apple’s iPod and iTunes. This added an unprecedented level of freedom to the music listening experience, and the instantaneous delivery of singles and albums to audiences would be huge for Idol, which itself was already expediting the path to musical stardom. The show’s supplementary media was already strong, with the season one cast having embarked on a tour, recording a compilation album, and filming a television special. A spin-off show, American Juniors, sought  to create stars out of a  younger pool of contestants, and ended up discovering such talent as Kristinia DeBarge, Katelyn Tarver, and Lucy Hale, but the show made the mistake of trying to form a child supergroup rather than a single star.

The group, also named American  Juniors, had five members,  and only Lucy Hale has a wikipedia page. F. American Idol’s second season concluded with Ruben Studdard narrowly beating out Clay Aiken, and both would find success after the season’s conclusion. The show’s third season began airing in January of 2004.

The season featured more hopeful contestants, more audition sites, and more episodes than the previous season. Five episodes were now dedicated to auditions and two episodes were dedicated to Hollywood Week. The nightmare that was the audition process was becoming a key part of the show’s content and reputation.

Long lines, packed stadiums, and the call number taped on the contestant’s shirt were all iconic imagery of the full-day affair. For many, this exhausting process was part of the excitement, but it also served as a constant visualization of the improbability of not just winning the competition, but even making it to the celebrity judges room. The show was also leaning more into the “funny” auditions which would result in the most famous “funny” audition in the show’s history, courtesy of a man named William Hung, whose performance of Ricky Martin’s "She Bangs" would become a viral moment. "She Bangs! She Bangs!" "Thank you." "I'm wasted by the way she...." "Thank you!" This audition was enough to elevate Hung to celebrity status with the American Idol fandom.

Many critics speculated if Hung’s fame as an anti-idol was due to the show’s reliance on humiliation for entertainment, or if the audience’s racial bias is where the humor of Hung’s performance was being derived. Others took a more optimistic approach, believing Hung’s confidence, positive energy, and resilience was the reason so many fans took to him. Regardless, Hung had become a star without going to Hollywood, and the existence of such a success story would motivate the public and the producers to try out more humorous auditions than they already were. *perfect goat bleating impression* Along with the showcase of poor singing ability, the show’s third season again found star power in both its winner,  Fantasia Barrino, and also in  its seventh place finisher, Jennifer Hudson. The same year that American Idol Season 3 aired, Simon Cowell debuted a new singing competition format in the UK named The X Factor. This program was similar to Idol, with a few rule changes that placed more control in the hands of the judges, and Cowell would get full creator credit on the new show.

The X Factor’s similarities to Idol enraged Simon Fuller, to the point that Fuller sued Cowell over the new program. The two settled out of court, with the reported conditions being that Cowell must stay on as judge of American Idol for five additional seasons and must delay the launch of an American version of X Factor until after this period. Season 4 of American Idol would begin airing in January of 2005, and while this season would have one less episode  overall, there were now six audition episodes and  four Hollywood Week episodes.

The show’s star-making power was as strong as ever, with season four winner Carrie Underwood becoming a platinum recording artist within months of winning the competition. American Idol’s 2006 season produced winner Taylor Hicks. Hick would not reach the level of stardom that the show’s previous winners had, but Season 5 would find a bigger star in fourth place finisher Chris Daughtry. Season 6 began airing in January of 2007, now with eight episodes dedicated to auditions.

This season started with strong viewership on par with the show’s past success, but ratings gradually began to decline as the competition progressed. Many speculated that this  was due to a uninteresting  pool of contestants, an over-emphasis on celebrity guests, or the show’s focus on the bad singers rather the talented ones. This season also featured an unexpected run by 17-year-old Sanjaya Malakar. Sanjaya showcased his singing ability in his audition, but his performances after Hollywood week were less than stellar. These lackluster, shakey performances became the most memorable storyline of the season, and despite the frustration of the judges, Sanjaya developed a cult following and continued to escape elimination.

Ironic voting campaigns for Sanjaya began, with radio personality Howard Stern pushing his audience to vote for the singer as a joke. "Vote Sanjaya! No! I'm an American! I will vote for Sanjaya! At the same time, Sanjaya developed an authentic base of young fans who supported him for his looks and hair styles, which he would dramatically change week to week. Some speculated that Sanjaya was the reason that Idol was dropping in the ratings, but this was proven false, as after his elimination from the top seven, the ratings dropped even lower, suggesting Sanjaya’s presence was actually helping the show. However, the existence of a Sanjaya spelled danger for the competition, as it indicated that American Idol fatigue might be setting in, motivating viewers to memeify the voting process just to make the show feel fresh. Despite the show’s dip in ratings, this season would still find A-list talent in its winner, Jordin Sparks. Whether American Idol was a fading star or had simply experienced an off season had yet to be determined, but the program was still one of the most popular shows on television and a bright spot in Fox’s lineup.

In fact, American Idol’s position in pop culture was so strong that a struggling theme park was seeking to borrow some of its star power. Throughout the early 2000s, the Walt Disney World resort struggled to maintain the theming of some of its signature parks. Both Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios were in a similar position. Both had opened with a unique concept, Epcot’s being a technology showcase with worlds fair elements and Disney-MGM Studios’ being an operating movie studio that guests could tour. Both faced unique challenges with their conceit. Epcot could not keep up with the exponential growth of technological innovation, and the park struggled to maintain  the corporate sponsorships  that helped fund many of the attractions.

Disney-MGM Studios required the park to constantly  court and work with film  and television productions, hoping that they set up shop in the park and didn’t mind the nearby explosions that were rigged to go off every twenty minutes. In 2001, Disney-MGM filled one of its soundstages with a new show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It!, an interactive recreation  of a taping of the popular game show, complete with  a Rebis Philbin type host. "You just got yourself a million points! Yeah" In 2002, the State of Georgia created a tax incentive program in an attempt to attract entertainment productions to the state, an initiative that would eventually succeed. In the following years, Atlanta would become  the production hub that  Orlando had once hoped to be. In 2004, with live-action productions already non-existent, Disney shut down its Florida animation studios, officially ending Disney-MGM’s time as a working film and television studio.

While the lack of corporate sponsors for Epcot and the lack of productions for Disney-MGM were huge issues, there was a bigger problem with both themes from a guest perspective. Both Epcot and Disney-MGM were conceived at a time in which Walt Disney World was seeking diversity in their attractions. A vacation to Walt Disney World in the late 1980s and early 1990s would feature the thrills and fun of an amusement  park, as well as edutainment  experiences in subjects such as technology, culture, and entertainment production. However, over time, guest demand indicated that the theme park experience, with its unique presentation   of storytelling and thrills, was itself more engaging than a wide variety of experiences. For general audiences, two  themed thrill rides was better  than one thrill ride and one  edutainment demonstration.

This left Disney-MGM and Epcot in a predicament. With so much infrastructure and attractions dedicated to their respective concepts, both needed to pivot to meet the demands of guests  without completely abandoning  their original themes. The solution for both would be similar.

Epcot would remain a park focused on technology and information, but new attractions would be built that presented these topics in the most thrilling and adrenaline-focused manner imaginable. 1999’s Test Track and 2003’s Mission Space were original attractions that focused on key industrial themes, transportation and space respectively, but both did so with a focus on speed and force. Disney-MGM would transition from a park showcasing the behind-the-scenes of actual entertainment productions to being a park with attractions themed to the entertainment-industry.

1999’s Rock ‘n Roller Coaster and 2005’s Lights Motors Action! Extreme Stunt Show were still within Disney-MGM’s Hollywood theme, but both were focused more on intensity, and when combined with Star Tours and Tower of Terror, Disney-MGM gained a reputation as a park for older kids who were seeking thrills. In August of 2007, it was announced that Disney would finally excise MGM from the park’s name. MGM and Disney had been in conflict over the name usage since before the park opened, but despite Disney still legally having the rights to use the MGM name, it no longer represented the direction of the park. Many speculated that the  new name would incorporate  the ABC television network or Pixar Studios, both of which had been acquired by Disney.

However, the new name for the park would simply be Disney’s Hollywood Studios, leading many to point out that there were no longer operating studios in the park. Despite new attractions and the name change, the park was still in desperate need of a hit. An attraction so appealing that every Walt Disney World visitor would be forced to find time to visit the park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios needed a star, and it had something big in mind. An experience that would keep the park above water based on a property that America could not get enough of, Toy Story.

In 2007, it was announced that a new interactive Toy Story ride, named Toy Story Mania, would be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This shooting dark ride would utilize 3D imagery and interactive screen technology, allowing guests to participate in a series of carnival games hosted by Toy Story characters. At the same time that Imagineers were working on this, they were also working on an attraction themed to American Idol. In February 2008, Disney announced that they had entered a licensing agreement with Fremantle Media and 19 Entertainment, the producers of American Idol, in order to create an attraction based on the show.

This new attraction would  utilize the theater space left  empty by Doug Live! in the  former ABC Television Theater. The description of the attraction seemed to combine elements of the original Superstar Television and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire Play It!, allowing guests to participate in the park’s own version of the American Idol television show. Early plans indicated that the attraction would feature 24 audience participants, ages 14 and up, competing in a dramatic singing competition live on stage. Disney Parks chairman Jay Rasulo indicated that rather than three judges with entertainment industry experience, three audience members would be pulled on stage to judge the performers, with a Disney Cast Member serving as host to facilitate the new show, likely to appear as a Ryan Seacrest type. While many of the details were still being decided at the time of announcement, Disney did reveal the attraction’s grand prize for the winning singer, a front-of-the-line pass to an actual American Idol audition, a lucrative item that could save American Idol hopefuls from trudging through the dreadfully long audition process.

Disney, Fremantle, and 19 Entertainment clarified that these contestants would have no advantage in the producers' decision making, only that they would not have to wait like everyone else. There were still many questions about how exactly this competition would work and operate within a theme park. It was predicted that the American Idol attraction would have six to eight shows per day but just one grand prize would be awarded.

It was estimated that around 400 guests would be able to audition. Initial concept art indicated  that a major overhaul of the  ABC Television Theater would occur, with a grand entrance alongside Echo Lake. However, this planned renovation was scaled back significantly, with the theater's exterior  to be changed very little,  with the most notable addition  being a large video screen. Disney celebrated the announcement of the attraction by staging an excited crowd at Hollywood Studios in the vein of those seen on American Idol, complete with audience signs that said “disney Rocks,” “Hi Mom,” and “Pick me Dawg.”

Throughout early 2008, the stage of the Superstar Television Theater was transformed into one that closely resembled the set of the show, with American Idol set designer Andy Walmsley consulted on the design. The set featured a 35 foot by 7 foot video wall, 1000 seats, a 3000 square foot stage, and 113 video screens. While the attraction was being designed and constructed, American Idol Season 7 was underway, and the ratings for the show continued to fall. The brightest spot of the season was the thrilling finale in which David Cook barely beat out David Archuleta after the competition received  the highest finale vote total  in American Idol history. After Cook’s win, he shouted the iconic phrase “I’m going to Disney World,” “I’m going to Disney World! Whoo!” and a commercial was created  utilizing this moment, in the  same format as the famous series of Disney Super Bowl advertisements. The commercial featured a rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star" sung by Cook.

"When You Wish..." This display of synergy between the Fox show and Disney, owners of rival network ABC, might have been surprising to many viewers, but this is because they weren’t paying attention, not to the theme park news, but to the true underlying loyalty of both corporations, as since their inception the Disney Parks have had a close partnership with soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola, and anyone that has watched American Idol for more than two frames knows that the program also has a close partnership with Coca-Cola. "You're a sweetheart. You're a sweet soul," *Simon slurping that sweet Coca-Cola* "and it comes across when you sing."

After nearly a year of development on the stage and format, the new attraction, officially named the American Idol Experience, was ready to open to guests. A few soft opening previews occurred in January  of 2009 to work out the  kinks of the new attraction’s format, but the official opening would not be until the following month. Finally, on February 12, 2009, Disney rolled out the blue carpet for the first official round of hopeful pop stars to take the stage at the American idol Experience. A gala was held to celebrate the attraction’s opening, and it was a truly star studded affair. Journalists from around the country were invited to the gala, and if you squinted your eyes or video taped it in 144p, the event appeared to be a true Hollywood premiere. Corralled theme park guests, journalists, and even Disney characters lined the blue carpet, and a special motorcade was held with an impressive cast of special guests.

Special guests including Ryan Seacrest, Paula  Abdul, and multiple recent  American Idol finalists. For the first time ever, all seven American Idol winners, David Cook, Jordin Sparks, Taylor hicks, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia Barrino, Ruben Studdard, and Kelly Clarkson all appeared together. An actual run of the American Idol Experience was occurring simultaneously to this event, with guests competing in the singing competition, but the hopeful Idols took a backseat to the real ones.

The big show of the day in which the American Idol Experience winners were to be announced, focused very little on the attraction and its contestants, instead dedicating time to multiple musical performances, including ones by David Cook and Carrie Underwood. Ryan Seacrest came out to host the show, and he even got to interact with the attraction’s Ryan Seacrest type host. Every American Idol celebrity guest were asked the same two questions. First, was the American Idol Experience like the real thing? "Apparently it looks exactly  like last years stage."

"Looks just like American Idol in Hollywood." "It is very, very realistic." "It's fantastic. It's very exciting" Second, what advice do you have for those participating in the American Idol Experience? "Just have fun." "You gotta have fun." "Enjoy life."

"Be responsible and, uh, and go to school." During the press event, all  seven winners were presented  a trophy by Ryan and series creator Simon Fuller. This microphone-shaped trophy was created by the same designer that create the Oscars statuettes, and was to be awarded on the actual show in future seasons. The seven American Idol winners were awarded their retroactive trophy one by one, then forced to hold them for several minutes while the winner of that day’s American Idol experience was announced. Gold confetti rained down, and fireworks exploded in the theater.

It was truly an American Idol Experience, but it was not the American Idol Experience. The attraction received great reviews from the media that had attended the gala and been dazzled by the literal parade of stars, but  this was not an accurate  depiction of the attraction. What was this going to be when Carrie Underwood wasn’t here? And when Ryan Seacrest wasn’t hosting? What actually is the American Idol Experience? Two days after the gala, on February 14th, 2009, the American Idol Experience officially opened to guests. For those wanting to participate in the show,  the experience began the  moment they entered the park. "I thought I would take you in and show you what it's going to be like to have dreams come true Here at the American Idol Experience. The hopeful idols would be directed to the back of the Superstar Television Theater where they would find the American Idol Experience Audition entrance.

This backstage area was just as themed as the stage itself, and those brave enough to try out were taken through a unique themed experience. Guests were handed an audition card with a Q and A and a list of 113 songs to choose from for their audition, including from "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas, "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy  Ray Cyrus, and "Play My  Music" by the Jonas Brothers. The first stage of the process was an acapella audition between the guest and a casting director in a private room.

This intricately themed room was a 1:1 recreation of the normal boring rooms that tens of thousands of people get their dreams crushed in across the country during the actual American Idol audition process. It even had a desk. There were four private casting rooms. After touring the attraction, Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila said that this room was “very authentic” and that “the office part with the producers was actually dead-on exactly like when I auditioned.” Most guests would be rejected at this point  and given some advice for  their future performances.

The few that did make it forward moved on to the red room, in which contestants were given an iPod with the most intense security lock possible so that they could rehearse their performance and familiarize themselves with the lyrics. This room was also referred to as "The Coke Room"  which was a reference to  the soft drink sponsorship, or a way to really prepare  these contestants for Hollywood. Auditioners would then be called into a second office room. This room was even more impressive, featuring a flat screen tv with the lyrics to the song and a camera to capture the performance. If the guest passed this audition, they were sent forward to perform on stage. "You get to go into the show!" At this point, they would be assigned to one  of the seven preliminary  shows occurring throughout the day, and they were allowed to go explore the rest of Disney’s Hollywood Studios until their call time, which would be an hour before their showtime.

Once they returned, guests waited in a green room and were pulled into both hair and makeup and a practice room in which a vocal coach would work with them before their performance. Finally, before the crowd was allowed into the theater, the singers were able to rehearse their song on stage. To those visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios that only wanted to watch the American Idol Experience, they entered the Superstar Television under the large marquee. The unique covered pre-show corral was originally designed for Superstar Television and it featured a ramped design that matched the slope of the theater itself. At the bottom of this was an area in which a Cast Member could host a pre-show for guests. In Superstar Television, this is where guests would be pulled to participate in the show.

In the American Idol Experience, guests would watch a short video in which Ryan Seacrest described the process that the performers had gone through to this point. A preshow host would then enter to hype up the crowd, accompanied by a cameraman. The preshow host would then film a brief segment, instructing the crowd to say something specific in order to surprise one of the contestants later in the show. After this, the crowd would enter the theater and the American Idol Experience show would finally begin. The preliminary show lasted around 25 minutes. The pre-show host would come out and get the crowd excited and ready to be a supportive audience for the group of performers.

"And start rockin' like this." "Everyday I'm Shufflin'" After this, a short intro  video featuring Ryan Seacrest  would play on the large screen. This would lead into a faux credits sequence,  with the names of that  show’s contestant’s displayed on the screen.

After this, the Ryan Seacrest type would come out on stage and take over hosting duties, introducing the three contestants as they marched out from backstage and hit their mark. The host would then introduce the grand prize, the Golden Dream Ticket, *American Idol music* The coveted front-of-the line pass  that evoked the iconography of the  Golden Ticket that sent Idol  contestants to Hollywood. It was described as the best FastPass ever. FastPass. (echoing) *American Idol music* The age range for the competition was, according to at least one Ryan Seacrest type, between “14 and death,” despite the  American Idol television show  having an age range between 16 and 28.

The host would explain that the winner of the Golden Dream Ticket could gift it to a friend or family member, but they were not allowed to sell it. The three contestants were asked to leave the stage, and the three judges were then introduced. The original plan to have audience members fill in as the judges was abandoned in favor of three actors portraying the American Idol judge types, trying to match the energy of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. In order to make the three actors seem qualified to judge the contestants, their resumes were listed out by the host.

This part is almost like a magic trick, because anyone that would be hired in a performance-based role such as this at the park would already have a resume with other entertainment-industry projects on it, so the host reading them makes them sound like highly sought after talent judges and not just working performers past their 20s. While the panel was switched out with different actors filling each role, the typical portrayal was that the Randy type would be the most constructive to the contestant. The Paula type would be the most positive, and the Simon type, somewhat  surprisingly, would be mean. Of course, fake Simon could  not be as cruel as real Simon, "Juvenile, tuneless, mediocre and horrible."

"Simon was in a bad mood." as this was Disney World and the contestants are paying park guests, but he would be as rude as possible without going too far over the line. The audience was encouraged to boo fake-Simon as if he were a villain in a melodrama.

The three contestants would come out one at a time to perform. Before their performance, they would be given a staged introduction in one of three ways. The first was pre-taped advice from an American Idol contestant. "Just have fun with it." These segments were filmed and the contestant was placed in such a way to make it appear that the Idol was speaking directly to them. The second introduction was a video biography that the contestant would shoot while they waited for their performance.

These would hone in on an interesting, relatable, or sympathetic aspect of the singer’s character in a similar way that the tv show treated its vignettes. "What brought be to American Idol was, first we were here on vacation." "At one point in my life, I found myself homeless, living in and out of my car."

The final introduction was a crowd of fans chanting the contestants name. This was the surprise that the audience had filmed in the preshow corral. The crowd shot was a way to  increase audience participation  in the show, and it was a nice surprise for the singer, even though this moment was completely fabricated and directed by the preshow host. "Joey, you're my American Idol" These were fake fans, literally.

Each performance would last about 90 seconds and was immediately followed by critiques from each judge. *American Idol Music* Reportedly, the producers of the attraction would try to place the strongest singer in the final spot in hopes that the recency bias would move them forward in the competition. After all of the contestants had performed, the Ryan Seacrest type would introduce another pretaped Idol cameo featuring Jordin Sparks, who would lead the audience in a rendition of “I’ve Got the Music in Me.” For clarification, “I’ve Got the Music in Me” is a 1974 song by the Kiki Dee Band, it is not "You Are the Music in Me" by the cast  of High School Musical 2,  which was being performed just a few feet away in  front of the Sorcerer’s Hat.

Coincidentally, this video featured Jordin Sparks and other singers performing outside the Sorcerer’s Hat, along with footage of the Lights Motors Action Extreme Stunt Show. After this, voting would begin, and highlights of the three performances were displayed, reminding audience members of each contestant’s designated number. The voting mechanism was embedded in the seat’s armrest, and within seconds, the audience was polled and the results were tallied.

The Ryan Seacrest type would round up the contestants and dramatize the reveal. The lights on stage turned red, and just like the television show, the contestants were read a recap of their performance and the judges reactions. The Ryan type would often make a joke about cutting to commercial, "Should we cut to like a Ford video or something? Or we just..." Before finally revealing the winner. Another pretaped Idol would  congratulate the contestant, and the Ryan type would wrap up the show, reminding guests that the competition was just beginning, because the winner of this preliminary round did not win the Golden Dream Ticket, but rather the opportunity to move on to the American Idol Experience finale show that would be occurring later that evening. There were as many as seven preliminary shows per day for a total of 21 singers competing for a spot in the finale.

Each preliminary show’s winner would move forward, resulting in as many as seven singers competing in the final show. If a singer moved onto the finale,   they were allowed to explore the theme park, that they had paid to enter before their second call time of  the day, again being asked to arrive  at the attraction an hour before showtime. The final show began with  the Ryan type introducing  the seven contestants and then the judges. This show would last around 40 minutes, 15 minutes longer than the preliminary rounds, to account for the additional contestants. Each singer would take the stage one-by-one, preceded by advice from an Idol star or the contestant’s video biography if they had created one during the preliminary round.

The last performer to be introduced would receive the chanting pre-show crowd, which was the only segment to be reshot for the finale show, again in order to add to the sense of audience participation. The finale show was unique in that it was the only show to be displayed on the screen outside of the attraction near Echo Lake, allowing the Ryan type to claim that the show was being broadcast live, which was technically true, although it was likely no one was watching. After all of the singers had performed, an American Idol celebrity would appear on the screen and speak to the full group of contestants. The audience would vote for the finale’s winner, and the Ryan type would draw out the results, eliminating one or two of the final contestants at a time until the top two singers remained on stage.

After stalling as long as possible, the Ryan type would finally reveal the winner, gold confetti rained down as the  singer was presented the  Golden Dream Ticket. The show closed with more pre-taped appearances  by multiple Idol winners  sending their Congratulations to the newly crowned  champion, before the Ryan type  waved goodbye, and the American Idol Experience concluded for the day. "You never know you could be the   next American Idol." *American Idol Music* From an audience perspective, the attraction was initially met with mixed to positive reviews.

Fans of the experience loved how similar the  competition was to the  American Idol television show. Others felt that the experience was merely karaoke with elaborate set dressing, and if the competitors of any given show were not exceptionally talented singers, this review was more common. However, from the perspective of the performers, the attraction was incredible, a bespoke, intricately themed adventure through the world of music, entertainment, and all things American Idol, culminating with them getting to perform in front of a live audience of tourists, far more than most karaoke bars or school talent shows would allow.

Even those that were not chosen to perform often walked away with glowing reviews, as the Disney Cast Members tasked with turning down hundreds of people per day were exceptionally kind and impressively trained in the art of rejection. "So good job. I can't pass you through today." "It's okay though. It's fine." Others on the other hand, still felt a bit odd about the process after getting turned away. One forum poster at the time explained their experience, how they auditioned for the show during soft opening as a bit of fun, not expecting to get on, but after getting rejected did “feel a little bad the rest of the day” and that it felt weird being at the park for the rest of the day after being “rejected by Disney.” "It's all part of the experience." *crowd laughter* The cruelty of the Simon-type judge also depended on the performer and their improv, and while most of the time, this character's biggest insult was suggesting that a performer should take singing lessons, some comments could be much more pointed.

It sounded like a Norse God gargling a hammer. The mean-spirited nature of the character was authentic to the television show, but not in line with the expectations a Disney theme park. Compare this to Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, a comedy show that opened at the Magic Kingdom in 2007. This virtual puppetry show relies on audience participation and is set in a fictional comedy club, but the furthest the monster comedians will ever go is some softball joke about how a random person in the audience is going to buy everyone churros after the show.

Completely toothless, cowardly even, to look out on a crowd of sweaty, entitled Walt Disney World tourists and pull punches like that, but these are paying guests and also children. So the furthest you should go is saying that someone is “feeling the urge to get up and dance.” I guess in-universe the funniest Mike Wazoski  gets is just getting racked  as if he has reproductive organs on the bottom crest of his sphere body, but the point is, insulting paying customers and children is a big risk, and if you’re  themed environment is a  comedy club or a mean-spirited reality show, you should probably just go through the motions. Fake Simon, at times, did not fall in line with this idea… In these instances, the attraction’s reception was the most split, with some people being legitimately offended and others finding it genuinely funny. However, reception was not the main issue with the American Idol Experience. Daily operation was.

The elaborate nature of the competition required a huge time commitment from contestants. When auditioning, guests were told that, if they were to make it to the finale, 6 hours of their park day would be dedicated to the attraction. This was around half of the park’s operating hours. On top of this, contestants could not join lines at other attractions if the wait would make them miss their callback time. Disney did sometimes offer  FastPasses to contestants  so they could enjoy the park, but for the most part, the American Idol Experience was an all-day affair for those performing. For many, this was not an issue, and they knew this going in.

Dream ticket winner Claire Ann Martin said, “We planned our whole week around the Disney Idol experience. We heard about it online, and we decided that we definitely wanted to try it out.” Claire also said that “getting the ticket was the high point in my life.” She was only fourteen at the time, so that’s fine. The biggest issue that the operations team faced was recruitment. To coincide   with the attraction’s debut and to attract potential contestant’s, Disney created a web page with information on the process and how to audition. There was  

also a minigame called "Judge This", that allowed you to play as a judge. *Idol Music* "Lalalalalalalala La la lalalaa" "Hoi derr laadaa daadda der, Aayagh, aahg" *Chewbacca type noises* Nice, I got a dawg from the Randy Type! "Old McDonald had a farm. E I E III OOO" "Take me out to the ball game.  Take me out with the crowd." "Row, row, row your boat."

*Audience cheers* Wow, this is an old website. Just look at that graphic in the corner. On this site, guests could sign up to audition ahead of their visit to Hollywood Studios. The attraction would mainly rely on walk-ins, and would cut off auditions when all of the shows were filled or at 2  PM, whichever came first. The American Idol Experience  relied on a constantly  refreshing pool of contestants, making daily operation less predictable than a typical  theater show, but there were  other issues on the horizon.

The American Idol Experience’s debut in 2009 coincided with several turning points in the history of Disney, the American Idol television show, and the world as a whole. The most obvious was the Great Recession, which was in full swing while the attraction was being developed and was still ongoing when it opened. At the same time that Disney was developing the American Idol experience, the parks were feeling the effects of the economic downturn, with many families not having the resources to spend money on vacations. Considering the scale of the recession, the Disney Parks fared better than many expected, thanks in part to Disney  offering generous promotions,  such as free admission on a guest’s birthday.

Still, the company layed off 1400 people at Walt Disney World due to the downturn. These layoffs began four days after the American Idol Experience opened. Apart from the recession, another global trend was occurring, this one cultural. The accessibility of the internet was growing at an exponential rate, and the ability to share media was becoming easier and easier, and almost overnight, real, mainstream stars were being discovered on  platforms such as YouTube. For instance, Justin Bieber became the world’s premiere teen pop idol, despite having never served his time in the gauntlet of shame known as American Idol.

The internet took the American Idol competition, once the fastest track to stardom, and made it look like a slow process in comparison. The American Idol Season 7 finale set the record for the highest number of votes cast, but the show itself was dipping in the ratings. The show’s fifth season which aired in 2006 received an average of 30 million viewers per episode. By the show’s eigth season in 2009, this was down to around 21 million viewers per episodes, and the ratings would continue to slip.

And more change was on its way. When Season 8 began airing in 2009, songwriter and producer Kara DioGuardi was added to the panel of judges. While DioGuardi no doubt had the industry experience to serve on the panel, many speculated what this change meant for the future of Idol and the show’s original three judges.

Rumors circulated that Paula Abdul was set to leave the show, but this was denied by both Abdul and DioGuardi. Season 8 attempted to scale back on the show’s  trademark cruelty, putting  more focus on sympathetic contestant biographies, which were derogatorily referred to as “sob stories” by critics. "Um, I live with my 93-year-old grandmother." "Do you know that I sing?" "Do I what?" This season was won by Kris Allen, who beat Adam Lambert, to win the competition.

Allen taped his own Walt Disney World commercial,  and traveled to the resort  for a special appearance at the American Idol Experience. Allen also filmed new segments for the attraction, which were integrated throughout the show. "And I know they'd appreciate any encouragement" "Just get out there and have fun."

Despite denying her intention to leave the program, in August of 2009, Paula Abdul announced on Twitter that she would not be returning for American Idol Season 9, with pay disputes being cited as the reason. Simon, Randy, and DioGuardi would be returning, and the producers raced to fill the empty seat before the next season. They needed to find someone who was marketable, likable, easy-going, and kind. "I... am... the next... American Idol... judge." "Ellen Degeneres!"

This was also the season in which General Larry Platt auditioned with his original song Pants on the Ground, which to this day, is  still charting #1 in the  minds of American fathers. "Pants on the ground! Pants on the ground!  Looking like a fool with  your pants on the ground!" The top five this season featured singer Aaron Kelly, the youngest to ever make it this far in the competition at just 16 years old when he auditioned, and 17 years old when he was eliminated. Kelly is also notable in that he was a Godlen Dream Ticket Winner, getting to skip to the front of the line at his American Idol audition as he had won the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After his top five finish, Kelly would be mintegrated into the show at the park as proof of the value of the Golden Dream Ticket. Season 9 of American Idol was won by Lee Dewyze, and just like Kris Allen and David Cook, Dewyze did a Walt Disney World commercial, made an appearance at the resort and the American Idol experience, and filmed segments for the attraction to be integrated into the show. "The best advice I can give  you is have fun with it."

After Season 9, the judging panel experienced even more shake-ups, with DioGuardi, Degeneres, and most notably, Simon Cowell leaving the program. DioGuaridi and Degeneres explained the show wasn’t a fit for them, but Cowell’s reasoning was more predictable. The period stipulated by the settlement with Fuller had ended, and Cowell was able to both leave American Idol and launch X Factor in the US. Cowell would not only premiere the show, but he would partner with Fremantle and Fox to do so, once again enraging Simon Fuller. Fuller again sued, seeking executive producer credit and a fee, and the case was eventually settled out of court. X Factor in the UK had proven to be a starmaker, having discovered and formed the boy band One Direction.

The US version would find success in the group Fifth Harmony. The same year that X Factor debuted, another singing competition came to the US. The Voice was a format that originated in Holland, and would debut in the US on NBC. The show’s format and marketing was a direct response to Idol, which had been accused of being too focused on a contestant's appearance and not focusing enough on the voice. Get it? The show’s positive attitude and inspiring, kind-hearted format has resulted in 24 seasons of friendly competition and genuinely beautiful moments, while at the same time producing zero mainstream recording artists as winners.

The actual reason for The Voice’s success as a television show

2024-02-18 23:59

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