Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scott And Carol Present - An American Idol Experience Disney Style

After a few months delay, the park season winding down and with the the fervor of this years Idol showing already starting, we thought it was time to share a bit about our visit to The American Idol Experience at WDW's Hollywood Studios.

How many times have you watched American Idol and thought; “That’s really cool, I wish I could go watch that.” You know you have. If you visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, you can realize that dream. Walt Disney Entertainment worked with Andy Walmsley to recreate the set in a size that would fit inside the theater at the park. The Judges Table has been moved to the right side of the stage, to better receive the boos of the crowd as they dash the dreams of the contestants. Walmsley had long wanted to be a Disney Imagineer and is thrilled to have one of his set designs featured in the Disney Hollywood Studios. He even reused the original cardboard model he had left over from designing the first stage for the program. That is so like an Imagineer, being sure everything works in three dimensions.

The theater looks just like the stage you see on the show. It you are an aficionado, it almost the same as the season seven set. 1,000 guests all have great sightlines, and yet it feels like an intimate venue. The voting is done with key pads on every armrest, no waiting for results on the next nights show. The backroom cast of video editors and producers also have some stock videos from actual show participants that they play which serve as a “free time,” where they can put together a quick highlight reel of each performers routine, just like on TV but without the commercials. The lights work just like the set on the television show, but these are energy efficient LED.

Disney held nationwide auditions to search out the best individual for the judges. Requirements included having the ability to recognize showmanship and a vast reservoir of “show biz” knowledge. Being able to coach the contestants while explaining comments so the audience understands is a must to help further that budding “star quality.” They cover many areas of expertise, from choreography to even professional improvisation. Some have been television show hosts and there is even a former Rockette. They play similar styles to the judges on the television show and the crowd is encouraged to boo and hiss the comments they disagree with.

Everything is shot in HD, and the biggest curved video wall at Walt Disney World Resort is incorporated into the stage. With cameras mounted on the walls, stage, and wandering the theater, nothing is left undiscovered during this park talent search. One of the largest teleprompters worldwide is hung on the wall behind the audience, in HD of course. The automated spotlight system make the performers look their best. Everything is done to provide an immersive Hollywood experience for the guests, whether they are performing, or clapping and voting. That’s right; some guests are even chosen to perform onstage.

The extensive selection process shows how very little is left to chance for the guest experience. Any guest can request an audition time after entering Disney Hollywood Studios. Round one includes a video welcome and they are ushered into a room patterned after the ones used on the show. The casting director provides both feedback and coaching on their performance and advances the best to the next level.

Here they receive an “American Idol” pin on number like the show contestants and they choose from a pre-approved list of songs to sing for a producer. If they pass this test, the next step is appearing onstage for one of the 25 minute preliminary shows. This process maintains a high level of quality for the guests who merely cheer and vote.

Guests where are chosen to perform meet and train with a performance coach and receive the “Hollywood treatment” from professional hair and make-up designers. Before each show, they have a dress rehearsal where they receive final instructions.

The seven finalists, one from each show then compete in the daily finale, which is broadcast live on a stadium size LED screen for the guests gathered outside the Disney Hollywood Theater. And this is a first for Disney, it is the first time any park attraction has been simulcast. It adds a big finale to the end of the day for many park patrons.

For the lucky performer who wins the daily finale, the eligible one for the television show receive a front-of-the-line ticket to a future regional audition for the “American Idol” show. While they still have to qualify and pay their own way, it is a bit jump on the competition at the regional level. Plus they have received all that coaching experience during their day at Disney Hollywood Studios.

Thanks to the kind folks at Walt Disney World for allowing us to enjoy the American Idol Experience first hand, in our opinion it is extremely well done and should continue to be as big of a hit as the TV show!