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Monday Mouse Watch : Inside "The American Idol Experience"

Monday Mouse Watch : Inside "The American Idol Experience"

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Now that "Toy Story Mania" has finally officially opened on both coasts, Disney Parks & Resorts turns its attention to the next high profile project on the horizon. Which is that "American Idol Experience" attraction which is due to open at Disney's Hollywood Studios sometime in January of 2009.

To date, the Mouse has been rather close-mouthed about this new DHS show. All they've said so far about the "American Idol Experience" is that this attraction ...

" ... will follow the model of the high-energy show. Disney Guests will be able to experience the challenge of auditioning, the rush of performing on stage in competition, or the thrill of judging the performances in a live interactive entertainment setting with all the glitz and glamor of the distinctive "American Idol" set."

But as for the actual mechanics of this show, in particular how WDW Guests will go about earning their time in the spotlight ... Disney hasn't revealed many details. Not to the public, anyway.

But Disney World executives recently received a earful about "The American Idol Experience." And those who sat in on these closed-door sessions say that -- while this new DHS attraction will definitely have some issues during its few months of operation -- this "Superstar Television / Doug Live !" replacement also has the makings of a real crowd-pleaser.


Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Know this, though: If you dream of someday standing onstage at "The American Idol Experience" and belting your heart out ... Make plans now to get to DHS as early as possible on the day that you want to audition. For Disney will only be selecting 120 candidates to possibly perform in that day's shows. And once all of those slots are filled, auditions will then be closed off for that day.

Phase One of the "American Idol Experience" audition process involves Guests entering one of four recording booths which will be located near the attraction's entrance. Once they get inside this booth, a WDW cast member -- via a two-way video hook-up -- will ask this would-be performer to sing a brief solo (How brief? Try just 30 seconds worth of material).

If this WDW Guest is not selected to go on to the next round of auditions, a brief message will then scroll across the video screen inside of that recording booth. With words to the effect of "Thanks for auditioning. Better luck next time." If -- on the other hand -- this Guest does have the making of an "American Idol Experience" performer, a different message will pop up. "Please wait for further instructions."

Should the Guest make it through this initial screening audition, they'll then be invited to take part in a second audition. Where these WDW visitors will now be asked to sing in front of another Disney representative (Who -- this time around -- will actually be in the room with the Guest). More importantly, this time around, the Guest will be allowed to sing to a pre-recorded instrumental track. That first audition back in the recording booth? You were singing a cappella. No pre-recorded music. No live instruments. No nothing).


Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Anyway ... Getting back to Phase Two of the audition processing ... If you make it this far, you've then got to sing a song that you'll selected from a list that the Walt Disney Company provides. This performance will be in front of a WDW rep who will then decide if you have what it takes to perform live in front of a crowd.

You see, Mickey's goal here is to winnow the talent pool down from 120 would-be performers to 15 - 18 finalists. These people will then be broken down into groups of three. Who will now perform in of one of the 5-to-7 "American Idol Experience" preliminary shows which will be presented at Disney's Hollywood Studios each day.

As for the judges ... Just like on the "American Idol" TV show, there will be three of them. This time around, though, the folks who will be judging this competition will be veteran WDW performers. Actors' Equity members who have appeared in such Disney World shows as "Festival of the Lion King" and "Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue." (And -- just so you know -- one of these judges will be mean like Simon Cowell. Though given this performer will actually be working off of a WDI-approved script, one wonders how mean he'll actually be able to be here).

The last "American Idol Experience" show of the day will have all of the finalists onstage competing against one another. With the winner then being awarded a Dream Ticket. Which will then give this performer a guaranteed reservation at some future regional audition for the "American Idol" TV show.


Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

So what does that mean exactly? To be honest, this Dream Ticket holder can now jump the line. They don't have to stand outside with those thousands of other hopefuls. They -- in effect -- now have a FastPass which allows them to go straight to the initial "American Idol" representative. Who then decides whether this performer has what it takes to make it to the next round of auditions.

Now where this gets interesting is that -- while the "American Idol" TV show actually has an age limit for those who want to audition (Only performers between the ages of 16 & 28) -- "The American Idol Experience" will be open to all WDW Guests 14 years of age or older. Which means that it's possible that the Dream Ticket could be won by some Disney World visitor who'd then ineligible to take part in the audition process for the actual "American Idol" television show.

Should this happen ... Well, it took Disney Legal & 19 Entertainment (i.e. the company that actually produces the "American Idol" television program) months to hammer this particular compromise out ... But the winner in question would then be allowed to transfer their Dream Ticket once to a person who's actually eligible to audition for the TV show. Mind you, the Dream Ticket can not be sold. If it is, this line-jumping FastPass is then automatically rendered null and void.

As you can see, there's lots of possible kinks here. Operational issues that are sure to arise once "The American Idol Experience" enters its soft-opening phase in late December / early January. But when you factor in the once-in-a-lifetime behind-the-scenes experience that Guests will ... well ... experience at this new DHS attraction (i.e. where -- before they go onstage -- they'll get to work with a vocal coach as well as have their hair & make-up done by Disney professionals), it sounds like a really fun time for those who are lucky enough to make the cut here.


Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

One aspect of "The American Idol Experience" attraction that already worries DHS Ops staff is the capacity of the old Superstar Television Theater. You see, there are only 1000 seats in that theater. Which severely limits the number of Guests who'll actually be able to attend those 5-to-7 daily performances of "American Idol" that will be presented daily.

This is why Disney's Hollywood Studio now has plans to simulcast each performance of "The American Idol Experience" up on that Jumbotron which will face out onto Hollywood Boulevard. Mind you, this is a great idea on paper. But given that the "High School Musical 2: School's Out!" pep rally is presented in this very same area several times daily and "Block Party Bash" has to pass on through some point during the day  ... It's going to be interesting to see if Disney's actually going to be able to pull the simulcast-on-the-Jumbotron aspect of this new DHS show off.

And speaking of working the bugs out with "The American Idol Experience," should any of these 5-to-7-shows-presented-daily ever run short ... Well, Disney has plans to have a fourth Equity performer standing by backstage. Who would then come out dressed as a tourist and deliberately sing badly. Which would now allow this show's Simon Cowell-like judge to really unload on this talent-free singer

Now please keep in mind that -- now through January -- aspects of this new DHS show are sure to change. But this is how "The American Idol Experience" was recently described to WDW executives.

So what do you folks think? Does this new attraction sound like something that you'd go out of your way to see the next time you visit Disney's Hollywood Studios?

Your thoughts?

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  • this has got to be another one of the Great Embarassing Moments about to happen in Disney Park History.  

    Oh, and Jim...MIDWAY Mania.  Toy Story MIDWAY Mania. ;)  who cares what them turkeys in Marketing are trying to pull, anyhoo.....

  • Jim, will there be any special rules for annual pass holders vs. day guests. I am betting that if you want to get on the show and live in the area you could get an AP and go multiple days. Maybe there will be rules how many times you can apply?

  • I honestly can't see DHS finding 12-15 "good" singers each day, 365 days-a-year, to create this show.  Also, I'm having trouble imagining 4,000 park guests wanting to watch other park guests perform a few songs. And hasn't American Idol already hit its peak and is now on its way out???  So I don't understand why Disney is yet again trying scoop up an older television property for a theme park.  Was nothing learned from Ellen's Energy Adventure and the sound show with Drew Carey???

  • Last I checked, englishboy, the only part of Ellen's Energy Adventure that's really dated is Bill Nye -- and Alex Trebek's mustache.  Ellen herself is still very much in the public eye, so it's not so bad.  (Although I do hope they're at least working on concepts for a revamp.)

    I agree, though, that it's possible American Idol has peaked.  It's still massively popular, though, and this could be a great experience for those selected.

    What disappoints me, however, is the insistence on vocal performance.  I realize that's how Idol works in real life, but IMO pop singing is overdone.

    Powers  &8^]

  • Are you kidding?  Of course they'll find enough singers a day.  This show is going to be massive, people are going to be camping out the night before.  You only have to watch the show to see how bad people want this

  • No question they will find enough singers--AI wannabes will be flocking to DHS in the hopes of getting a "fastpass" to the judges.  If you've watched the show, you know they fill stadiums with potential contestants, many of whom have come thousands of miles.  If this is seen as an "in," it'll be huge.  Besides, 15 people who can carry a tune out of 30,000?  The only problem I see is making sure people who sign up in the morning don't get bored and leave the park if they're in a late afternoon show.

    How tightly scripted will the judges be?  Because when equity actors are allowed to improv and mock guests in the Adventurers Club, the results can be pretty funny.

  • My least favorite park gets my most hated TV show.

    Another good reason for me to stay away from the Studios.

  • You know, I guess it all depends on how you define the "magic." Clearly a LOT of people have the "Idol" dream. And there will be OODLES of really MEDIOCRE singers (more than the bad ones, these are the ones who are so grating--the girls with the faux tremolos and endlessly bad impressions of pop stars--y'know what I mean?) who will line up to take their shot.

    Idol, btw, while "fading" a touch, is still a HUGE hit watched by millions. The issue is less the popularity of the show and more the VALUE of winning. Recent winners have been much less successful at selling records and that's partly because the novelty is over and mostly because the music biz has changed so radically. And let's face it--the Equity members who are Disney cast folks doing the judging are technically pro's, but not ONE of them has ever done anything to equal even being a finalist on Idol not to mention winning, at least as far as career exposure is concerned.

    Ah well, not my idea of entertainment or certainly of a way to spend a whole day at Disney...but to the degree that it stimulates people to attend ANOTHER day and extend their overall WDW vacation, it will be a success.

  • Sounds like not much more than tarted-up karaoke for the presumably sober. Personally I prefer to watch professionals, but the novelty of this for audiences who will never get to see the original TV show live will probably pack the room, at least until the TV show packs it in.

  • I think this is a good idea overall, but the proof is going to be in the execution. If the show building is designed well, things move along quickly and WDI has a free hand to add touches to make this interactive and immersive - it could work well and change the dynamics of the park. If they execute on the cheap, best of luck.

  • I think one big issue would be locals doing it day after day, like they did with the Millionaire attraction.  

    I have such fond memories of the Superstar TV show.  2 of my kids were in it, but the funniest was the barely English speaking Japanese tourist in the Soap Opera scene.......  I do not think Idol will be as entertaining.  But, we will see.

  • Hey if it lowers the line levels of Midway Mania then I'm all for it.

  • Oh no....

    I respect the tastes of many people who enjoy watching American Idol, but this is just... c'mon... I think a karaoke attraction is fun to stare at, but in the end, it's kinda state fair status of an attraction waiting to happen. I can see the Marketing Dept completely blowing this out of proportion and guests visiting. It will be a hit for a year or so, and slowly die down and won't really be something that's memorable... just embarrassing to watch.

    But again, this is just my opinion, and who knows... as long as its not anymore Disney Channel stuff... (shiver). but this is pretty darn close.

  • Look atthe reality of the situation...MILLIONAIRE was a major loss in a short period of time...both in Florida and in California.  Theming an attraction based show to a popular television phenomena is a bad move...it is not a timeless placement and just a quick fix to try and capitalize on tourist draw income.  And, for me at least, it really detracts from the Disney Park Experience.  Admittedly, I don't go to these type shows and tend to avoid them like the plague.  About all they might be good for, in the long run in Florida, is an air conditioned respite from the summer heat.  ;)  There is so much more that can be created on Hollywood and movie themes to fit a mutable show building over a television show that is already losing demographic numbers in it's annual broadcast.  

  • Yeah... I predict a HUGE opening... and then within months to a year later it will be empty and they will be BEGGING people to come.

    They should have actual perfomerers do Disney songs and then pick ONE person (a kid or teen) from the audience to sing too. Then have the panel 'judge' them all, and then let the audience pick the winner by applause (or just let the audience member win).

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