Allie Caren | Contributing PhotographerPulp
Changing their tune: SU community shares “American Idol” stories
The annual American Idols: Live Tour, which makes its way around the country just a few months after each season’s end, will be in Syracuse on Tuesday. The show will bring big crowds and big names, but for some students past and current with more personal ties to the show, it brings something deeper: a hint of nostalgia.
Janine McElhone and Bryce Garcia met their freshman year at an a cappella competition at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
McElhone competed with her coed group, Groovestand, and Garcia, with the all-boys a cappella group, Orange Appeal.
When McElhone’s team won, and all were celebrating in the hotel, she made her way to her classmates’ room to congratulate them for trying their best.
The two met and have hit it off ever since.
Now juniors at Syracuse University, the two have been dating for over a year, and their passion for music, performance and extremely obvious compatibility are just as strong. They emit ambition, confidence and determination, demonstrated by their tendency to break into their own rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” They auditioned for “American Idol” within a year of one another.
Provoked by a friend who told her, “This is your year. You’re going to college. This is the time to do it,” McElhone auditioned in MetLife Stadium, just 10 minutes from her house, the summer before her freshman year. Having been a fan since season one, her friends and peers alike always urged her to try out based on her singing in choir.
Her rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt won her the golden ticket to Hollywood a few months later.
“In every round before Hollywood, you’re in a huge crowd, where not everyone is necessarily good,” said McElhone, an information management and technology major. But, she explained, once there, she felt somewhat on the same level as other performers. “Hollywood, in general, was very intimidating.”
McElhone was cut after her first round in Hollywood.
Though McElhone missed all her finals in her first semester of college and had to arrange to take everything so early that she had not even learned some of the material, it was worth it. Little did she know her boyfriend would audition just a year later.
Garcia was one of thousands to audition in Pittsburgh in July 2011. Having watched the show for a long time with his dad, and being influenced throughout his life by singers and guitar players in his family, he finally went for it.
After he sang, “Bless The Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts, Randy Jackson asked him to perform another song on the spot. “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train pushed Garcia through to Hollywood.
Garcia made it one round further than McElhone, the group round.
“My group round was crazy,” said Garcia, a television, radio and film major. He and his group stayed up until 4 a.m. the day before their performance and woke up a few hours later, at about 6 a.m.
“Every year there’s sort of ‘that group,’ that drama-filled group. That was my group,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s group was OK until the day they had to audition. That day, a girl in his group was not feeling well and fainted a couple of times before the group was set to go on.
They planned to perform without her, switching vocal assignments and dance moves to make up for one fewer person.
However, right before the performance, she made a quick decision, saying that she was OK, and Garcia’s group went back to their original routine.
She fainted on stage.
Garcia was so stressed and worried about the group’s overall performance that he forgot the words when his opening solo began.
“I got on stage and the piano started playing, and I just blanked,” he said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to make an excuse. If I was going to go home, it was definitely going to be because of my own self,” he said.
McElhone and Garcia would like to audition again — “together this time.”
Though their experiences differed, the two learned similar lessons in and out of Hollywood.
“It taught me to work on understanding the importance of trusting yourself. They wont believe you’re good if you don’t believe you’re good,” said McElhone, who changed her song three times before her first audition.
Gary Butterworth, a 2004 alumnus, worked on the other side of “American Idol.”
After the summer he graduated, Butterworth was looking to pick up any temp job he could. After some searching on Craigslist, he stumbled upon a production assistant job for the Washington, D.C., stop of the audition tour of “Idol.”
Butterworth worked for three days, usually from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Essentially, he “babysat” those auditioning, what he guessed to be around 20,000 people camped out overnight in tents in and around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
He remembers it as if it was a big slumber party, mostly fun because of the fact that many auditioning were right around his age.
“It seemed like everyone there, deep down in their heart, thought they were going to win,” he said.
Butterworth was also amazed that his mark at SU was recognizable in a place as far away from the school as Washington, D.C.
For three of his four years at SU, Butterworth worked in Kimmel Food Court, checking students’ IDs late at night. He was the self-proclaimed “Kimmel Bouncer.”
He saw it like a minor celebrity job, because people would know him solely for his job at Kimmel.
It followed him to D.C.
He was recognized in the convention center three times during his three days there as the Kimmel Bouncer.
“It was nuts for me,” he said.
During the rest of that summer back in 2004, Butterworth also had temporary jobs at Animal Planet and HGTV. Now, he works with Voice of America Television in D.C., where he produces a weekly French TV talk show shown in Africa.
To this day, he’s never seen an episode of “American Idol.”
Contact Allie: email@example.com
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