Thousands pack North Shore for 'Idol' auditions

| Friday, July 15, 2011

Tony Cenname strummed his ukulele and practiced singing his Amos Lee song in the dark outside Heinz Field, when he joined more than 12,000 people who lined up before dawn to audition for "American Idol" on Friday.

"It's finally here," said Cenname, 22, of West Homestead. He has performed acoustic shows in the South Side and Hawaii, and leads worship at Camp Allegheny Summer Camp. "I'm pretty excited; my adrenaline is pumping. I'm having a good time."

As the judges for the hit Fox show would ask, why does Cenname want to be the next American Idol -- and why should he be?

"I'm humble. It's not all about, I want to be rich and famous," he said. "If I can make people happy with my music ... I think that I'm doing my job and using the talent I've been given."

Friday's auditions gave thousands of people, ages 15-28, the chance to get on the 11th season of "American Idol," which will begin airing in January. Registration started at 5 a.m. Wednesday, and continued around the clock until auditions started on Friday morning.

Patrick Lynn, supervising producer of the show, said that Pittsburgh produced the biggest turnout, so far, on the show's seven-city tour. Pittsburgh -- which show officials scouted in April -- is the fourth stop.

"We have a massive crowd," Lynn said on Friday.

Although the crowd created traffic backups, Alco Parking Corp. was able to accommodate everyone smoothly, general manager Ralph Reetz says. The biggest rush of cars came from 4 to 8 a.m., he said.

One of the most common audition songs producers are hearing is "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele, along with Lady Gaga songs, Lynn said.

His advice for auditioners• "Calm the nerves. Sing your song. Sing something you know."

Keeping the jitters in check can be challenging in such an exciting, competitive environment, auditioners said.

"I'm all nerves," said Lindsi Fisher, 18, who drove in on Thursday from Ashland, Ky. She planned to sing "Alone" by Heart. "With no sleep last night, I'm really wired."

Calvin Stoltzfus -- an aspiring country music singer who drove out from Honey Brook, Chester County -- sported a black cowboy hat as he took in his surroundings early in the morning.

"It's a little overwhelming," said Stoltzfus, 27. He planned to sing a George Strait song.

The stiff competition makes the audition a bit intimidating, Stoltzfus said, but he can do only his best and hope for the best.

"You're like one in a million," he said. "Who knows?"

About 40 auditioners performed sound bites at a time, and were divided mostly into groups of four spread among 10 tents, each staffed by two show producers. The producers picked an unspecified number of people to pass on to the next round, which will be held in a few days in front of executive producers.

Then, finally, an average of 200 contestants -- the promising ones, and the weird and awful ones that make entertaining television -- will appear before Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson at an unspecified date later this summer. Both subsequent auditions will be in Pittsburgh, although not necessarily at Heinz Field, officials said.

A few hours after auditions started, contestants started filing out of Heinz Field with telling body language. Some were beaming and excited, while others -- some teary-eyed -- seemed dejected. One contestant, who would not give her name, burst into a tirade when she came out of her audition, where she was rejected. She shouted profanities and cursed "Idol."

Erika Van Pelt -- who drove 11 hours from Middletown, R.I., with her mom on Thursday -- said that she sang about 20 seconds, but judges cut off some contestants after just a few seconds of singing.

"You've got to cut right to the good stuff," said Van Pelt, 25, who made it through to the next round.

Scott resident Jaime Bruno, 18, also made it through.

"It feels amazing," she said. "I never thought this would actually come."

Leah Winter, 19, of Baldwin wasn't so lucky. She was disappointed, but not devastated.

"There were just so many good singers that it's so hard," Winter said.

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'American Idol' auditions

'American Idol' auditions

Thousands pack the North Shore for to earn a spot on the Fox show.

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