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Idolized: Local hopefuls vie for ‘American Idol’ slots

By Nick Mullen and Chidi Nwakpuda / The Pitt News Staff

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When Amario Gian finished singing his cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” “American Idol” competitors and bystanders greeted him with cheers and applause as he left the audition area.

But when producers told him that he didn’t advance in the competition, he left to join hundreds of other rejected auditioners.

At the Pittsburgh auditions for the fifteenth and final season of Fox’s hit show, Gian was one of the approximately 800 people to audition in Schenley Plaza on Monday, June 22. Only about 20 vocalists made it to the next round.

Contestants from across the east coast lined up in the eighty-two-degree weather for an opportunity to prove their talents to “Idol” producers on a bus tour. The bus tour travels across the country, stopping in select cities such as Baltimore and Tucson to hold auditions. Hopefuls began lining up early in the morning for registration at 7 a.m., and auditions started at 9 a.m. Selected participants went on to the next round of auditions, where they would perform in front of executive producers or the celebrity judges, including Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr.

Throughout the day, the producers had to discern the contestants they believed would shine on screen. Peter Cohen, one of the producers, was clear about what the show was looking for.

“Really what we look for is [can] that person be on our show, and [can] they possibly win,” Cohen said. “You hear a lot of great voices that aren’t really confident or unique, or you might not hear the strongest voice, but there’s something really compelling about [them].”

Participants waited anxiously in line holding guitars, water bottles and paperwork as they slowly made their way closer to the registration tent.

Many of the contestants socialized and practiced while standing in line. Jake Steele, an alumnus of Pitt Greensburg, played his acoustic guitar as he waited to audition.

“I really need this to happen. I can’t play bar gigs for life,” Steele said. “I’ve always wanted to be a pop/rock singer, but it’s hard, because people usually want one or the other.”

Other performers, like 15-year-old Kiarah Floyd from Pittsburgh, sat quietly in chairs or on the ground, collecting their thoughts before the audition.

“It’s always been my dream to sing,” Floyd said. “I just want to change people’s mindset about songs, and about music, period. That’s my dream.”

Once they reached the registration tent, participants formally registered and proceeded to the center of the plaza while they waited for a producer to call them forward to sing. The producers listened to 15 to 30 seconds of each performance, and then made their decision.

Eric Price, an Ohio State student, was one of the lucky few to make it to the next round. Price was so excited to advance that he hugged one of the producers.

“I did this because my family was struggling,” Price said. “I have haters that say my dreams will never come true, so I had to shock the world.”

Although he didn’t make it through to the next round of auditions, Amario Gian’s said his musical career is far from over.

“I produce music. I record a lot. I’m even shooting a music video later this year for [the] ‘Never Fear Being Different movement,’” Gian said, speaking about a group which encourages kids to develop leadership skills.

Sarah Cochran, from Canton, Ohio, who had auditioned for “Idol” five times in the past, returned again this year only to be rejected again.

“I got a little nervous and might have messed up a bit,” she said.

Cochran said that during the first few auditions, she was overweight. But since then, she has lost more than 90 pounds, which she said boosted her confidence. Still, she struggled to fight back nerves for her audition.

As another auditioner whom the producers rejected, Steele took his rejection in stride.

“I’m just going to keep trying,” Steele said. “It’s more than just winning a competition. It’s about being humble, staying true, having integrity and inspiring others.”

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Idolized: Local hopefuls vie for ‘American Idol’ slots