American Idol Auditions Prove More Grueling than Gratifying for Mason Staffer

Posted: September 8, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Stephanie Hay is not going to Hollywood, but she can at least say she tried. The coordinator of communications for the College of Arts and Sciences braved a crowd of more than 30,000 people last month at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., to have her shot at being the next “American Idol”—and learned that getting a chance at stardom doesn’t come easily.

For more than 17 hours, Hay watched and waited while thousands around her practiced, prayed, and slept—all were sure they had “it.” Although many took the audition very seriously, Hay says she had no expectations. “I audition for things like community theater and choirs all the time. If there is an opportunity, I go for it because you never know what might happen,” she says. When she heard about the American Idol auditions, her mind was made up. “I never considered not doing it.”

Arriving at the convention center at 4:30 a.m. on the day of the auditions, Hay found herself in line behind several thousand people who had camped out. Auditions were to begin at 8 a.m., but a photo shoot put the producers of the show behind schedule. “The rumor mill trickled down that Clay Aiken was there, but I never got to see him. I was in the basement of the convention center the whole time with about 7,000 other people, just waiting,” she says.

Stephanie Hay at Idol tryouts
Stephanie Hay, center front, with

her new “American Idol” friends.
Photo courtesy Stephanie Hay

In fact, most of her day was made up of waiting—which allowed her plenty of time to bond with the people around her. She also had lots of time to observe crying, frustration, and even a few fist fights as the pressure got to some of the singers. And there were a lot of rumors—which songs not to sing, which judges not to get, how many had already auditioned. “I couldn’t believe the rumors that were flying,” says Hay. “People told us that anyone who sings gospel music or Whitney Houston is automatically rejected. Some singers who had prepared those songs were trying to change them in line, calling friends on their cell phones to get the right lyrics. It was insane.”

Out of the 30,000 people, only about 500 were chosen to come back for the next round, and half of the chosen ones were picked for their bad singing or outrageous appearance—something that always makes for good television. The producers cut the auditions down to a few hundred people before the three judges—Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson—even see any singers, so Hay did not get a chance to meet the trio.

Instead, at 9:30 p.m., 17 hours after arriving at the convention center, Hay auditioned for one of the 12 screeners who weeded out the thousands for the next round. Standing at a table with four other singers, Hay had 20 seconds to make her star impression, singing Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.”

“At that point, I was so tired I didn’t even really care,” she laughed. “I sang, and I thought I did pretty well, but the judge didn’t give any of the five of us a slip. So that was it.”

Still, although she says she won’t ever audition for the show again, Hay has no regrets. Not only did she endure the process, but she also made a few good friends from the people she met that day. “It is the opportunity of a lifetime. You don’t have to be anyone, you don’t have to have an agent. You just have to show up. I couldn’t have just missed that opportunity because every time I would see the show I would regret not doing it.”

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