They sacrificed their sleep and health to camp out where they could best see and be seen. They fought to be heard amidst a throng of thousands. They battled hunger and fatigue to get their chance to prove their resolute patriotism to the American public. These are Yale’s most intrepid students.
No, these are not the Yalies who went to protest in Washington, D.C., last weekend, but rather the five or so students who traveled to New York City the week of Oct. 21 to become idols — American idols.
Jason Ray ’06 came the closest of these undergraduates to becoming America’s next pop-star phenomenon. Breezing through three rounds until the initial group of about 1,500 was reduced to 120, Ray won over the show’s producers. During one of the later rounds, he performed in front of a panel of judges including Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.
“All the producers and others involved with the show were incredibly nice and supportive of me,” Ray said.
For the first round, Ray sang “Blue,” a song of his own choosing, and over the next two rounds sang “The Greatest Love” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
One of the highlights of his whirlwind introduction to big-time entertainment, he said, was getting to hang out with Ryan Seacrest, who hosts the show.
But it was bonding and making friends with other aspiring stars that Ray will remember most, as hopefuls forgot their stardom-bound rivalries and shared blankets while waiting two days in line in the freezing cold. On Thursday morning at 2 a.m., Ray received an audition card. He and seven others pooled all of the money they had brought with them and shared a motel room, where they rested Thursday night.
Despite being out in the wind and cold for two days, he was able to pull himself together. But it was not just his great hair and amazing outfit, he said, that got him as far as he did.
“The said they loved me because they said I had a unique personality and I had an amazing look,” Ray said. “They just didn’t think I was ready for Hollywood.”
The judges said that because “American Idol” was Ray’s first-ever audition, they were not going to send him to Hollywood.
Only a freshman, he has plenty of time to gain more experience and to completely develop his image as a performing artist.
“Performing is not only my dream but is what I love to do — It’s definitely something I’m going to pursue,” he said.
But several thousand “American Idol” hopefuls did not even get a chance to try out, including Thomas Hobson ’04. When he and a few other Yalies arrived at Wall Street at 5 a.m. Thursday, they discovered that audition passes had already been distributed the night before, although advertisements stated that they would not be handing them out until 8 a.m. on that day.
“The cops were telling people to go home and people were cussing, ‘This is my dream. You’re not going to take my dream away,'” Hobson said.
While Hobson was not able to get an audition, he was able to experience firsthand what it is like to be surrounded by thousands of aspiring pop stars. He had enough time to observe the commotion of Kelly Clarkson wannabes camped out in tents on the sidewalks of New York with their portable curlers. People were dressed in everything from preppy clothes to one girl’s outfit of a dalmation trenchcoat with foot-high studded platform boots, he said.
He and the other Yale students were only there long enough to find out that audition passes were no longer being handed out. Instead, they opted to get get some sleep.
In a way, Hobson was relieved that he did not get to try out for the show, he said. He aspires to eventually start a career as a performing artist and wants to ensure that he is respected.
“Not that it’s not a legitimate way to start a career,” he said — but he would rather find his success in another way.
Hobson said he remains skeptical that the show will able to replicate its success.
“Personally, I think the show worked so well the first time because it was a summer show … There was no major show conflicting with ‘American Idol,'” he said.
Whatever the fate of ‘American Idol’, one thing is clear: nothing is holding back Jason Ray or Thomas Hobson.
“There just aren’t any words to describe [my experience]. I feel like I’m living out my dreams already,” Ray said.