'American Idol' sweeps into Athens for auditions

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally, filed Monday June 29, 2015

I will update this more later, including video and more photos. I have some other stuff I have to do but I wanted to get the basics out here:

For the sixth and final time, I got to cover an "American Idol" opening audition and it was refreshing how casual everything felt. Security was light. The auditions were held outdoors in front of the Classic Center. It helped that this was a bus tour stop, not one of the "big city" stops where auditions are typically held inside an arena. In those cases, I could never get close enough to the action there to hear these first auditions.

For the very first time, I had full access. I was able to stand just a few feet from the initial auditioners as they sang. I was able to judge vicariously along with the two producers who were actually judging. I was able to guess whether singers would make it through or not (and much to my delight, I was more often right than wrong.) I was able to interview contestants who made the cut moments after they made it through.

I spent three hours in Athens and would have stuck around longer but I had friends coming over later that day to my house.

There were people who sang so softly, I couldn't hear them 10 feet away. There were others who just looked nervous so even if they sounded good, didn't inspire confidence. Most people I heard were okay but lacked personality or any real star power. Or they hit a few bad notes, which in this situation is a major no no. Some felt over rehearsed or overly theatrical.

Ultimately, it was easy to see why the producers could cut more than 90 percent of the auditioners without much pain or agony.  I heard a lot of covers of Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys and John Legend. I didn't see a single person who was blatantly doing this as a grand joke or brought silly props (because even in the show's early heyday, those people were actually rare.)

The producers brought people up, four at a time. They'd step forward and sing one or two songs. Then they'd step back. After a few moments of consideration (the producers in this case were each on their own), they'd call those they were going reject forward, thank them for their efforts and send them on their way. A few times, they'd clear someone, bring them up and hand them a bracelet and paperwork. When that happened, the crowd behind them would applaud.

with his own modified lyrics. Above, he's awaiting his fate. Naturally, he made the first cut. I would be surprised if we didn't see him again in January, 2016. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Here's the story that will run on myajc.com and the print edition Tuesday:

Cullen Bohlinger, a 15-year-old Alpharetta student, showed potential during his initial audition for "American Idol." CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.