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Preview audiences praise Disney World's new American Idol attraction

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Preview audiences praise Disney World's new American Idol attraction

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So what's the word on Disney's Hollywood Studios' soon-to-be-opened attraction, The American Idol Experience (which just completed three days of tech rehearsals)?

Well, I know that this news will probably shock Disneyana fans (Many of whom groused long & loud last year when they learned that a theme park version of this Fox reality series was headed for the Walt Disney World Resort). But according to Cast Members who attended preview performances for this new Hollywood Studios attraction earlier this week, The American Idol Experience is already a surprisingly solid show. More importantly, once AIE's cast & crew gets a few more performances under their belt, this sleek & slick interactive entertainment should prove to be extremely popular with WDW visitors.

Mind you, in order to really appreciate what it is that makes this new DHS attraction so special, it helps to be familiar with the TV version of "American Idol." And Cast Members who attended AIE previews earlier this week who were also fans of the "American Idol" television program just went on & on about the amazing job that the Imagineers had done here. How WDI had faithfully recreated not only AI's look but had also found a way to capture the energy & excitement that one feels while attending an actual taping of this wildly popular Fox program.

Of course, some of that feeling comes from getting the details right. And starting with The American Idol Experience's pre-show area, the Imagineers do everything they can to quickly suck WDW Guests into the world of this Fox reality series. Which is why Ryan Seacrest -- the actual host of the "American Idol" television program -- also serves as the host of AIE's pre-show. And as folks wait to enter the old Superstar Television Theater, Ryan -- via overhead monitors in the pre-show area -- explains the rules that govern the theme park version of "American Idol."

And while this is going on, AIE's warm-up act (along with a camera crew) is working his way through the crowd in the queue. Looking for people who'd be willing to  appear in brief video segments which will then be digitally inserted into The American Idol Experience show that this audience is about to attend. Where these WDW visitors will then be seen shouting encouragements like "We love you, (performer's name here)!" to the Guests who'll be singing at that particular AIE performance.

Once this is done, the audience is then allowed to enter the old Superstar Television Theater. Which -- to borrow a catchphrase from another reality TV series -- has received a pretty extreme make-over. From its state-of-the-art lighting & sound system to this attraction's sleek hi-tech set (which perfectly captures the look of the AI TV show), this 1013-seat house is now a dazzling new venue for performers.

After the audience is seated, the warm-up guy now demonstrates how the AIE voting keypad works. But again aping the look & feel of the actual "American Idol" TV show, this performer doesn't do this demo from the safety of the stage. Oh, no. With camera crew in tow, he wades out into the auditorium. Where (while this live footage plays on AIE's two Jumbtron screens) the warm-up guy comically walks one Guest through how to properly operate this keypad.

Last year's "American Idol" winner David Cook confers
with a WDI producer as one of the videos for The
American Idol Experience's pre-show is shot.
Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

The warm-up guy then introduces The American Idol Experience's MC. And just like with a real-life TV show, they ask the audience to be please be quiet as they count down to the start of taping. And then ...

Well, this is where this new DHS attraction gets somewhat problematic. You see, as long as AIE's Casting Directors have done their jobs and screened that day's pool of would-be performers for people who can actually sing ... You've got the makings of a very entertaining show. If -- on the other hand -- only tone-deaf tourists have auditioned for the performance of The American Idol Experience that you've chosen to attend ... Well, it's then up to those Comedy Warehouse & Adventurers Club vets who are playing this show's three judges & MC to try & make AIE seem like fun.

And as of this week's tech rehearsals for The American Idol Experience, these performers were still struggling to strike just the right balance between what Simon, Paula, Randy & Ryan might say on the real "American Idol" TV show and ... Well ... What you can actually get away with saying to people who've paid to get into a family-friendly theme park like Disney's Hollywood Studios.

That's where The American Idol Experience remains a work-in-progress. As AIE's performers & creative team struggle to get a handle on this part of the show. Delivering on Guests expectations as to what a theme park version of AI should be like. While -- at the same time -- not saying anything too edgy or offensive to the Guests who've agreed to perform at this new DHS attraction.

As of late Tuesday afternoon (when AIE held its first tech rehearsal for that attraction's finale / results show), it was obvious that those Comedy Warehouse & Adventurers Club vets who were playing the judges were still working off of the quips that had been scripted for them in advance by WDI. Which is why many of the comments that they made to the show's contestants that afternoon lacked spontaneity. Or -- at the very least -- seemed far too scripted.

But this issue ... It's something that the cast will be able to work out as they get more performances under their belt. More importantly, as they learn to gauge what AIE audiences like and don't like.

As for the tech side of this new DHS attraction ... Again, WDW Cast Members who attended previews earlier this week were impressed with how polished & professional The American Idol Experience already seems to be. They marveled at how -- when one performer stood on stage and began singing "Part of Your World" -- the guys in the booth (just as they would have done on a real TV show) first shifted the lighting on the set to a cool blue-green and then projected bubbles on a screen behind that performer.

And just like they do on the real "American Idol" TV program, the WDW Entertainment vets who were working at AIE that day attempted to squeeze every last bit of drama & tension out of revealing who won that day's Dream Ticket. Which is why this finale / results show -- which is only supposed to last 45 minutes -- wound up running for almost an hour.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But all was forgiven once that day's winner was revealed and -- just as it does for every season finale for the "American Idol" TV show -- confetti rained down on the stage as spotlights racked the hall.

All in all, The American Idol Experience is already a pretty slick piece of entertainment. A show that's sure to entertain DHS visitors (provided -- of course -- that they're already somewhat familiar with the "American Idol" TV show).

Speaking of which ... If you're really a diehard fan of this Fox reality show, then you owe it to yourself to go through the AIE audition process. Otherwise you won't get to see the backstage portion of this new DHS attraction. Where -- you'll discover -- the Imagineers also labored to recreate the backstage areas that viewers get to see while watching the "American Idol" television program.

As for you folks who are not AI fans ... Well. the American Idol Experience may not be something that you'll actually enjoy experiencing. But -- then again -- how will you know unless you give this show a try the next time you visit Disney's Hollywood Studios.

You see, that's the real beauty of The American Idol Experience. This new DHS attraction will present six shows a day (plus a finale / results show). And because of the talent level / number of Guests who audition for AIE changes each day, every single show will be different.

Know this, though: Those of you who are thinking of auditioning for The American Idol Experience during its soft opening phase need to be aware that no Dream Tickets (which will then allow its owner to go to the front of the line at any nationwide audition for the "American Idol" television show) will be awarded until after this new DHS attraction finally & officially opens to the public on February 14th.

Anyway ... That's a brief overview of what The American Idol Experience was like as it completed its technical rehearsal phase and then moved into soft opening mode. Please be aware that -- in the weeks ahead -- certain elements of this new DHS show as they were described in today's article are sure to change. As the Imagineers and AIE's cast continue to make adjustments to this still-evolving-but-already-rather-entertaining work-in-progress.

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  • Except for it being a cash cow for DHS I agree with those who don't know why this Fox contest is even in the DISNEY Empire. You can't avoid the hype and ratings of the show, although I have never seen an episode of it myself. I quickly take that back-- I did see a YouTube clip of William Hung. Not my taste but I hope it is succesful.

    I do have to agree with Skipperwest's comment from yesterday. I am far more interested in "20,000 Leauges- Nemo" or "Pirates 4" than the AIE experience you shared with us today.

  • A.I. is something that does not belong at Disney in any essence of the word...it is Disney groping for the teen and related market demographic to cash in on a craze that is already dying on network television.  You would think they would have learned the problems in that area when the Eisner Regime did a similar spin with the dance craze of the 80's and built Videopolis on prime real estate that better offered itself for themed land expansion...yet eventually became the Fantasyland Theatre...which has been dark save for a profit grabbing "Princess" marketing experience that really gives young girls false images to achieve in life as they grow into women.  (Sorry, personal grievance on that one. ;)  )

    so, 20K is being brought back to life!  Recently, the 11' NAUTILUS that hung in One Man's Dream in Florida was removed (this was the model built by Tom Scherman and Rich Allsmiller to film the NAUTILUS surfacing footage that eventually was used in the pilot film of the DISCOVERY BAY  CHRONICLES), and, even more recently than that, the hero film model of the NAUTILUS thath ad been on display in LIVING SEAS at EPCOT before it became that Clown Fish Aquarium (which has the best of the 'Finding Nemo' Projection based rides, in a humbled opinion)...the Hero model that was painstakingly restored by master model craftsmen and then displayed only to cast members in the Epcot Cast building...has been packed back to the West Coast and Disney Studios in the last few weeks...

    And, the big announcement was made today at far too many websites to list about Disney fast-tracking the 20,000 LEAGUES: NEMO prequel....which seems to be a "hoped for" launch of a new adventure series for the studio to capitalize on...it is strongly hoped they do, at least, retain the Harper Goff designed NAUTILUS for this new film...and, that the audience reaction is strong and the franchise takes off...it could stand to mean that America will finally see a MYSTERIOUS ISLAND theed area built here...and, we can only hope, a DisneySea themed park to support it....

    At the very least, this is the best chance for the NAUTILUS to finally be rediscovered by a new generation and for WDI to try and bring her home to a berth she so richly deserves in our country....

    (Sorry to hijack this thing...but, this story hasgotten more media buzz and internet attention than anything American Idol will ever produce...it has been green lit and fast tracked into production....)

  • Skipper- As cool as the 20K news is, AI will ALWAYS produce far more press than any live action Disney film. AI is a monster. Whether it belongs in a Disney park is certainly open for debate, but to say that 20K is bigger news is just laughable.

  • I like the interactive element, and it seems like it's always been a mandate of DHS to make the guests "feel like a star," so it's a decent concept in that regard.  But I hope the Imagineers have already started thinking about what they're going to replace this attraction with in a few years when American Idol ceases to be such a media powerhouse.

    The show is already starting its 8th season and though the ratings are still strong, how much longer do you expect that to last--5 years?  10?  I'm sure it's got more life left in it than "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" did when that attraction was built, but the clock is already ticking.

    Anyway, it sounds like they did a nice job with what could be a tricky concept to execute, so kudos to Disney on that one.  I just wish they'd focus their energy and money on creating something with a little more permanence.

  • I personally would much rather see Who Wants to Be a Millionaire than AI -- and much much much much rather participate in the former than the latter.

    Especially since it's just singing.

  • Laugh all you want - The Disney Park empire was largely built on the back of the success of the original 20,00 LEAGUES Disney film.  And, 20K is the type of adventure element that Walt would have created in his parks, not some "one-trick pony" marketed at a moment in time and a current trend in a "see me" generation which will have as much lasting power as a slab of butter in the Florida sun.  

    The ethos behind a Disney attraction/adventure/show is that - above all - it is timeless and can be enjoyed over and over again by all members of the family, it has a great story to tell and to experience, it is UNIQUE TO DISNEY, it maintains the quality of the Disney name...of Which A.I. isn't even a part of.  AI features six shows a day, maybe eighteen people total, with one person winning a prize at the day's end?  No story - it is a rehash of one of the most "generation see me" shows on television, most of the experieince is non-active on the part of the audience...it is sit and watch and laugh at the comments and cringe at the bad singers...even join in making fun of them (a wonderful trait to be exemplified by Disney), the story is greed and being the over all winner (when you get under the surface venner of being "the BEST singer of the day"...which is still an ego stroke for  person and not something that holds the ethics of  Disney FAMILY experience)....this is something so downright oriented to capitalize on something it is sickening. But, Disney (in this marketing sense) is a machine, and, machines cannot be taught...they must learn it themselves.

    Yet, 20K offers the probability of a realm of adventures and experiences that are ageless and universal in their telling....and, if the film is a success, then, we stand to get an equivalancy of Tokyo DisneySea and the realm of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND built here in America.  That is the product which 20K can bring about...and that is no laughing matter.

    TDS is the most amazing thee park in the world.  It's design and style was what set the bar for Universal's Islands Of Adventure (built my many of the same design team when their project Tokyo DisneySea) with Disney was completed and they had to pick up another contract elsewhere (Islands of Adventure).  TDS is a park that has been part of the Disney Park heitage with it's foundation in the amazing Discovery Bay Project as far back as the early 1970's.  This is the chance (if the film succeeds) for Disney to build a park that will top an other park in our country...

    A park of that nature would pretty much dwindle numbers going over to Universal for IOA and the studio park there.  And, if Disney were to go back to the plans that existed for the Port Disney Project at Long Beach (which included aquatic research stations and aquariums on a scale ten times larger than Living Seas) and extended the marine life center from Living Seas at EPCOT across to the DisneySea America version, the Busch SeaWorld franchise would have competition, just as Disney gave exacting competition to the Busch Africa Park in Tampa when Animal Kingdom opened.

    That's a lot more than a flash in the pan like A.I.E. has to offer in the large scope of things, wouldn't you think?

    Now, given, yes, A.I.E. is a proven draw...based upon a specific generation interest in a television show that is already starting to lose numbers in the Nielsen Ratiings and market retentention figures.  The legs A.I. has to stand on are growing weaker and do not have much further to walk.

    But, if Disney is successful with the 20k:NEMO film and opens a franchise of adventures of dicovery and exploration - a steam-punk series of daring do...another line of marketable elements and park placements that is equal to what Pirates of The Caribbean managed to do, to that which Prince of Persia is hoping to do, and, to that which The Lone Ranger is hoping to do...it makes 20K a very significant trump card held in Disney's hands.

    So, while you may find the idea of 20K laughable overt hat of AI, I can assure you that, if 20K:NEMO does prove itself a winner, then, Captain Nemo will be having the last laugh.

  • Regardless of whether I would personally go to see this attraction or not (probably not, since I have virtually no interest in the show), I think it sets up a bit of a Catch-22 beyond what you're outlined here.  Because while part of the appeal of the TV show is getting to see some genuine talent and voting and rooting for your favorite aspiring star, another thing which some fans of the show apparently enjoy is seeing the totally tone-deaf contestants take to the stage and then watching the judges, Simon in particular, tell them just how bad they are.  And there's the conundrum: when your contestants are actually guests in your theme park, you can't really afford to get nasty with them.  A few to many snarks like "Were you singing, or did Winnie the Pooh fall out of the honey tree and land on Eeyore?" and the attraction quickly gets an unappealing reputation as "Disney's Meanest Show."  But I think there's a pretty easy way to get some of the nastier digs into the attraction without risking hurt guest feelings: add another cast member.  This cast member's job would be to play a contestant whose vocal stylings make William Hung sound musically gifted.  Someone who will make the reasonably good guests who are competing sound that much better and the less talented singers sound good by comparison.  Someone who is so utterly convinced that he or she is a born star that the audience won't mind seeing him or her get taken down a peg or two.  The judges can lay in with their jokes, the cast member contestant reacts by getting huffy rather than hurt, and the show goes on with the audience having received a taste of the meaner side of "Idol" without anyone really getting hurt.

  • Skipperwest-

    I agree with you about much of your agrument FOR 20K. I love the book, the film and think it SHOULD be a big part of the Disney Parks. I just find it laughable to to suggest that the mainstream media will cover 20K remakes/prequels/sequels/revisioninngs over AI.

    Is AI on the downward spiral? Yes. But it's still able to command far more attention than any other series on TV right now. The only series that comes even close to the media attention is Dancing with the Stars.

  • Wow, Imagineering managed to copy an existing TV set and add a queue?

    That's brilliant!

  • Priesman - It doesn't surprise me at all that mainstream media turns attention to an adventure film such as 20K over AI.  AI is a television show that is fading and bears the brunt of many jokes in the media world.  By theway, far superior (and drawing more attention than AI) - LOST, 24, CSI, ER, BOSTOL LEGAL (God love it and the time it was on), PRISON BREAK...it depends upon the market you wish to attract.  24, Dancing With Stars are not real television - they are "See Me Generation" entertainments that are cheap to produce and have no real substance to their programming.  

    MEdia attention will turn to something that is any hint of a blockbuster on the horizon and observe it as the story and substance within such a project is far more rewarding in the long run than the simple artifical reality shows and games that are flash in the pans and then gone.

    AI is nothing in the scope of matters - it is a specific generation market (primarily teens to mid-20's) who are looking to have thier egos escalated by being the next plastic stamped approved singer for the media market to exploit...much like Disney has jumped on AI as the next plastic stamped experience for their media market to exploit.

    20K is something far beyond a PR stamp out carbon copy of an entertainer.  It's a story with meat and drive...and, the biggest adventure tale that set the bar for adventure movies to follow.  For Disney to go back and return to the award winning foundation of their live action adventures in such a big way is a major event....a cloning of a egotistical and mean little television show isn't.

    MalDRagon - you hit a nose there with the evaluation of seeing the responses as being eventually envisioned as being "mean" - and, that type of thing sends the wrong response to the audience and people who see it....yes, a lot of people watching the actual television show do get a laugh from the judging responses and the sadness of people who can't perform..but, in truth, that is a laugh derived from cruelty...which is something that the foundational ethos behind the Walt Disney Company did not do in their public entertainments.   And, I think that the overall public will respond to that.  The "see me generation", however, will flock to this thing in droves when it first opens, I fear...wasting their admission prices and park time in hopes of doing this one attraction....staying for all the shows and following it through the day....diminishing their overall Disney World experiences a hundred fold, and, if with a family, optionally destroying the enjoyment of the entire group for that given day.  A Disney park is a series of adventures and experiences undertaken by the guest...not just one given element or thing....no one element or item is greater than any of the rest...and, this one show stands to be something that can endanger the concept of what a visit and day (or days) at WDW (or any Disney park that installs this horror factory of AI) should be.

  •    God, I wish I had the time and energy to devote to this as some of you do, but I work at a job where I don't sit at a computer all day Ha!

    Anyway, I agree with Skipperwest for the most part. A I is not DISNEY "magic" something like "20,000..." is. DISNEY needs to recapture the magic and compete with its rivals by marketing its "magic". A I is not it.

  • I love how all of you are obviously the target audience that Disney is trying to attract with this so your opinions on something you've yet to see or experience are so important.  By all means, go on trashing something new and different to you sight unseen.  It really makes the company care when you start complaining about them trashing classic rides.

  • By the way, I'm confused by the "unique to Disney" argument.  You're either saying that there are AI attractions elsewhere (which there are not) or you're saying that Hollywood Studios shouldn't have attractions from concepts not originated from Disney.  I'm sure it's probably the latter but that just makes me think of Star Tours, Indiana Jones, Rock n' Roller Coaster, Muppetvision, about 80% of the Great Movie Ride...  Need I go on?

  • Tuckenie, I'm 31, media-savvy, and a music-lover.  In what way am I not part of the target audience?  How is it trashing AI to say I'd much rather participate in WWTBAM than AI?

  • AI certainly isn't for me but then I don't expect that every single attraction at WDW will suit my tastes.  If nothing else, hopefully it will draw people away from the attractions that I do like.

    As for those whole AI vs. 20K Leagues debate, I don't see the relevance.  Just about everything that happens in the movie industry today is deemed newsworthy--particularly when it involves a familiar title and a big-name director.  

    Theme park attractions are rarely newsworthy.  "Transformers" made nearly a billion dollars at the box office in 2007 and I don't hear anyone in the mainstream media talking about the attractions announced by Universal.  The Toy Story films have turned into multi-billion dollar franchises and I didn't see the Hollywood Reporter or Entertainment Tonight devoting any time to Toy Story Mania.  

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