Contestants compete for ‘Idol’ fame

A woman auditions for American Idol with a winding line of competitors behind her in June 2015. (Photo by Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer)

Kanti Kasa’s mother spent time singing on Broadway and raised Kasa to do the same.

But unlike her mom, Kasa — who was born with the name Deliylah Johnson — doesn’t want to be on a stage in New York. Her goal is to take the stage in front of the world.

Kasa and hundreds of other hopeful contestants gathered at Bakery Square on Sunday, waiting for their chance to audition for “American Idol” and prove to the show’s producers that they have what it takes to make it in the music industry.

“When I sung my song to the person, he gave me this face, his mouth dropped,” Kasa said. “I could tell I was singing well.”

Kasa, 24, is a professional singer. Despite her experience, the judges denied her from advancing to the next round.

“American Idol,” a reality TV show that raises previously unknown singers to stardom, has produced award-winning singer-songwriters such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert. The show, originally run by Fox, went off the air last year after running for 15 seasons, but support from fans led ABC to pick the show up.  

Though all contestants at Sunday’s auditions were between the age limit requirements of 15 and 28, they came from a range of backgrounds and skill levels and possessed widely varied singing experience. Many of the contestants who auditioned on Sunday have been watching the show since it first premiered in 2001 and are excited for the upcoming season in 2018.

Hannah Jenkins, a 22-year-old from the Southside with a bachelor’s degree in music business, said she had been singing for years before finally deciding to audition for the show.

“I’ve never missed a single episode of ‘American Idol’ since I was in first grade,” Jenkins said. “I was meant to be on this show.”

To get on the show, contestants must either submit a video online or audition before one of the show’s producers, who then decide if the singer moves on to the next round of auditions.

At Sunday’s auditions, five producers — each sitting under their own individual white tent — watched singers perform. Contestants waited their turn in a small green space before approaching the tents. On the sidelines, friends and family of the performers stood behind a line of yellow caution tape just a few hundred feet from the white tent “stages.”

Karlie Marie, a student at the Community College of Allegheny County, said it was her first time auditioning for “American Idol,” although she had previously auditioned and was denied a spot for “The Voice,” another competitive singing show.

“It was really nerve-racking, singing in front of all those people, but fun,” Karlie Marie said of the open-air Idol auditions, the first in the city since 2015.

“American Idol” held auditions in Oakland in 2015 and at Heinz Field in 2012. Many contestants who auditioned Sunday were rejected at these past auditions, but returned this year hopeful for the future.

Nekeya Farrington, 27, walked to the auditions from her home in Garfield, accompanied by her two small children, age four and seven.

“This is my second time auditioning. I’ve been waiting for [Idol] to come back, because they say I have a beautiful voice,” Farrington said.

Farrington was rejected once again from the first round of auditions, but remains hopeful that, with a little extra training, she can become Idol material.

“This time he said I just have to work a little harder, that I have a beautiful voice and that I just have to work with a voice coach,” Farrington said.

Although Farrington is only eligible to audition for one more year, she plans to audition again in 2018 if the producer tour bus returns to Pittsburgh. Farrington said she wants to be an American Idol even more now that she has kids who look up to her.

Producers accepted few singers this year for the subsequent competition round, where individuals perform for the show’s executive producers or celebrity judges. In 2015, when auditions came to Oakland, only about 20 people advanced. But morale remained high this year, and contestants vowed to keep trying to achieve their dreams.

“It just depends on if the judge likes you, really,” Jenkins said. “So it makes sense to keep trying. And it’s just fun auditioning, it’s all about fun.”

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