Summer of 2017 a call came to my cell phone out of the blue. It was a friendly lady who said she was an American Idol casting producer.
Skip the audition lines; we are interested in you being on the brand new season. Come sing for the producers.
Is this for real?
How did they find me?
Roughly 6 VERY busy months later - and what is exactly a year ago this past week:
I boarded an airliner to LA, a destination that I was more terrified of reaching than any other flight in my life; almost paralyzed from it. I shouldered a guitar on my back and 2 suitcases packed for a possible 1+ month stay.
The plane I found myself on also managed to accommodate more carryon guitars than I have ever seen on one flight in my life.
Prior to that, even the passengers without guitars - somehow, we could easily spot each other in the terminal, despite the directives we’d been given about being discreet to the public. Artistic expressions of dressing or maybe just the recognition of similar emotions fluttering across each other’s faces - curiosity, excitement...fear? Or was that just me? - we gathered at the DFW gate, getting to know each other. Some, like me, originating from Texas, and others making a connection from elsewhere onto this flight.
The next 12, 24, 48 hours - I can’t really be sure how long it was - are mostly a blur. Arriving and waiting, waiting, waiting as the shuttle came to and from the LAX airport to pick us and all of our luggage up in small loads. I was on the very last load. Why, oh why - as much as I travel - did I not fore-think to pack snacks?
Winding up on an American Idol bus hours later, we sat and waited some more. Hungry and tired, but we hadn’t even begun. Maddie Poppe, sitting in the bus seat across from me, offered Cheerios to anyone who was interested. A cheerful Cheerio beacon. On my left, another southern girl I’d befriended, and next to Maddie was another Maddie. Iowa Maddie and Ohio Maddie. It didn’t take long to notice the region differences among us; a lighthearted accent comparison ensued.
In the back of the bus, perfect runs and notes sailed up and down - a beautiful voice passing the time. I never would have been brave enough to sing in front of this group, but with the voice she possessed, I could deduce why she wasn’t intimidated.
The question to myself every other 3 minutes, what in the world am I doing here?
The next few days (which included most of the night too): rules briefing, lots of instructions, getting to know a roommate - oops... wrong room assignment, getting to know a new roommate - aching for sleep and food and water.
Constant cameras, interspersed interviews, intense hours that allowed more friendships to form, binding us like plaster in a shared plight as we waited, waited, waited in the holding room, chatting ferociously (or listening, in my quiet case)... always on camera.
Favorite part by far - watching the other talent perform. Mind blowing.
What in the world am I doing here again?
Sitting next to the down to earth girl in the red corduroy jumper - Iowa Maddie - once more, inside the theater this time, as other contestants took their turn. The first moment she heard Caleb Hutchinson sing, I watched her tear up with emotion at his voice. Her eager reaction to each vocal performance continued to resonate spot on - I, too, was thrilled and impressed; though my ears, instead (and more uselessly), notated every guitar that was ever so slightly out of tune - moments before Katy Perry, just feet to our right, would point it out on microphone. The only surge of confidence I felt.
Over with. Just like that. Is it really over?
Mentally trying to remember how many people I’ve confided in about this journey, how many people I would now be letting down. How I dreaded that.
Now, repulsed at the thought of facing even the other contestants...yearning only to be alone. Back at the hotel, my roommate gone. Eliminated. A night in peace to experience a flash of every emotion, and eat dark chocolate out of the ever-present emergency chocolate in my suitcase.
Months of a secret kept, all my focus and energy poured into one thing - one thing that I didn’t even know how to define, what to expect, hadn’t been planning on, not allowed to talk about.
Back home so soon, but only in body. My brain still left in Hollywood, spinning and spinning, unable to disconnect from such an intense experience. Emotions are a funny thing; they make attachments.
Nightmares visited my sleep.
Messaging with contestant friends, keeping me up to date with Hollywood goings on - helped.
Gradually, emerging back into reality.
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year!!
These musings don’t begin to tell half of the wild journey.
Did I mention I’m an introvert?