Kennedy Plaza was filled on Wednesday morning with the sounds of competing guitars, spontaneous singalongs and a megaphone occasionally barking instructions at the hundreds of hopefuls lined up for the chance to become an “American Idol.”
The famous televised singing competition, known for turning regular folks into superstars like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, was in Wichita on Wednesday to stage auditions. It was the show’s first scouting visit to the city since it started 17 years ago, and Wichita is on a list of 22 cities the show’s producers are visiting over a two month period that started in Brooklyn in July and will end later this month in Chicago.
All of the singers who showed up on Wednesday morning were competing for a chance to sing in Hollywood in front of celebrity judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie an Luke Bryan — and to appear on the show when it returns to ABC for its 18th season this spring. The show will ultimately crown one winner, who will walk away with a cash prize and a recording contract.
The crowd gathered on Kennedy Plaza on Wednesday included lots of experienced singers and their supportive friends and relatives, who came to hang out with them while they waited for their 90-second turn to show their skills to “American Idol” producers.
Many had lined up starting at 7 a.m. for the auditions, which officially started at 9 a.m. The line, which stretched from one end of Century II to the other, included lots of nervous young singers (only people ages 15 to 28 are eligible to try out), many carrying guitar cases on their backs. Some had taken their guitars out and were passing the time warming up or engaging in raucous singalongs with people next to them.
Among those in line were hopefuls from Wichita, like Zephaniah Moore, an aspiring R&B singer who polled friends and family on Facebook about whether he should audition for “Idol.” They said he should. Also in line was Makayla Brownlee, a Wellington teen who has been featured on the local ABC affiliate KAKE as it promoted Idol’s impending visit.
There were also lots of hopefuls from out of town who had traveled to Wichita for the auditions. Among them was Sharane Calister, a 26-year-old singer from Des Moines who in the spring of 2018 placed 11th on another singing competition, NBC’s “The Voice.” Calister, who was on Alicia Keys’ team, has a photo of her with the famous singer as the screen saver on her phone. This was her fourth time trying out for a television singing competition, she said, and she planned to perform an Adele song for the judges on Wednesday.
Calister, who in 2017 also auditioned for “Idol” in Chicago and advanced to the next round, was feeling confident about her chances this time, she said.
“I think they’ll like me.”
Although the producers didn’t allow the media inside Century II, where auditions were taking place, they started shuttling people inside Exhibition Hall just before 9 a.m., when auditions started.
By 9:10 a.m., people who had been in the front of the line were already filing out of the building, many with long faces.
Ian Craig, a singer and rapper from Denver who drove to Wichita to take his shot, had unsuccessfully auditioned three days previous in Colorado Springs.
He decided to drive to Wichita and try again, and he said he performed an original song for producers, which included some rapping and some singing.
The producers were kind, he said, and told him that while his rapping skills were on point, he could use some more work on his singing. He hired a voice coach a few months ago, he said, and he intends to keep working on it.
Music is his dream, Craig said, and even after rejection No. 2, he’s not giving up.
“I’ll probably submit an online audition next,” he said.
Producers on site said they wouldn’t be able to reveal how many people from Wichita’s auditions would advance to the next round. Those who are given the green light in Wichita will have to survive several more rounds before they get a chance to sing in front of the celebrity judges.
But there’s a more than decent chance that someone from the Wichita auditions will appear on the show when it returns in the spring, they said.
“There are always great singers,” said “Idol” supervising producer Brett McCosker, who was milling about on Kennedy Plaza on Wednesday, checking out the line. “And they can be completely unexpected.”
Anyone interested in auditioning has until 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Here are the rules and fine print.