CU Staff Member; Alumna; and Student Try Out for ‘American Idol’ in ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Experience

By Ashley Zsedenyi, staff writer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Who will be the next American Idol?

Well, it won’t be me, nor will it be my friends and opera singers Brittany Benningfield, a 2007 graduate of CU from Hodgenville, Ky., and Clint Warf from Greensburg, Ky., who plans to graduate from CU in December 2008.

It all started with the announcement that American Idol would finally host auditions in Kentucky for its eighth season.

Anyone who knows me knows how much of an American Idol addict I am, and that I’ve always said if they came to Kentucky I would try out.

So it should be no surprise the first thing I did when I learned of the Louisville audition was schedule the day off work and text my friends, “Do u wanna audition for American Idol?”

Brittany, whom I’ve known since high school and was in the music program at Campbellsville University with, said she would think about it. A few days later, Clint, whom I met for the first time at CU’s School of Music, said he would go. The three of us were in the University Chorale together and traveled to New Orleans (pre-Katrina) and to Germany to sing in concerts.

So when I knew for sure I was going, I had to start preparing for the audition.

The hardest task for me was picking a song to sing for the judges, who at this round of auditions were producers of the show, because the song can literally make or break you in about 15 seconds.

I read several blogs online that discussed what to expect at the auditions, and also had the opportunity to get advice from people who had auditioned before.

Before I knew it, it was Friday, July 18, and I was rushing home to pack my bags and head to the hotel with Brittany, Clint and another friend Jamaal, who planned on auditioning until he learned he had a test on audition day that he could not make up, but he still went to get a wrist band, just in case.

The hotel was located conveniently across from Gate 4 of the Fair and Exposition Center, so the next morning we could drive right in and bypass the main gate traffic.

We heard about the news coverage of people sleeping in their cars to try and be the first in line, and actually had another friend call from the line at around 11:30 p.m., but we decided we would much rather sleep in the beds we had paid for.

So at 4:30 a.m. our alarms were going off and we started getting ready.

We decided to turn on the news at 5 a.m. and the first thing we saw was the line…the long line that was starting to wrap around the Expo Center.

By the time we arrived, after parking about half a mile away from the building, and walking another half a mile around the building, we finally reached the end of the registration line, which was almost to the South Wing entrance on the back side.

The line started moving by about 7:30 a.m., and by 10:30 a.m. we had our wrist bands and tickets and were ready to sit down!

After going to grab a bite to eat it was time to head back to Hodgenville to recuperate for the auditions on Monday.

We met up in Hodgenville on Sunday evening to head back to Louisville, after I went and bought a new outfit of course – after all, you have to look good in case you’re on TV.

We ate dinner at Red Robin, which by the way is fantastic AND they offer bottomless French fries, and headed to a friend’s house to crash for a few hours, since the rules instructed us to be in line at 5 a.m. Monday morning.

We headed toward Freedom Hall, sans Jamaal because he couldn’t get out of his test, at about 4:15 a.m. and almost ran into traffic problems since no one noticed the sign for alternate gates to the Fair and Expo Center, but we just went around the 50 or so cars waiting for the main gate entrance and drove right in.

We ended up parking next to a guy who had obviously dressed for the occasion – you know, one of those who they pick for the audition shows for everyone to laugh at… You’ll see him on TV, wearing some type of fur and leather or something top with his face painted black and white…

We made it up to the line, and this time we were on the front side of the Expo Center, probably about halfway through the line.

Before long the news crews were out and about picking random people to interview and sing. Brittany’s mom called her at 7 a.m. to tell her we had been on the news, because we were standing next to one of the random interview victims.

At least one other time I know of we walked past an interviewee and waved at the camera.

Colonel Sanders, a look-a-like of course, even came out to be on TV, since even if he were still alive would be too old to audition…

There was even one guy who had dressed up in women’s clothes and shoes and had on a wig and a pink superman cape who he was walking around waiting for the cameras to come up to him.

Finally, it was almost 8 a.m. and we started moving into Freedom Hall.

We headed to our seats to begin the “crowd shots.”

We were told Saturday to be familiar with the songs “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen and “Get Ready” by The Temptations.

We sang these songs, all 10,000 of us, along with a cheesy choreography routine we learned on the spot.

I noticed pretty quickly the benefit of camping out overnight for registration – the seat tickets they handed out were in a specific order, and those who got their tickets first ended up getting the most camera time.

After those shots were completed, by about 9 a.m., the audition tables were set up and lines were formed.

The singers who impressed the judges were given a “Golden Ticket” to move on to the “Winner’s Room” to get more instructions for the second round auditions in September, with Randy, Paula and Simon.

We watched and listened, and heard many great voices, but saw very few “Golden Tickets.”

The person who won the Fox 41 Idol competition didn’t even make it through.

I think by the time we left they maybe had picked 80 people to go on. Of course black and white face dude in the funky shirt got a ticket, even though he auditioned and wasn’t selected – a producer grabbed him before he walked out and gave him another wrist band and one of the coveted “Golden Tickets” just based on his appearance.

We waited, listened to the iPod, and waited some more…

Luckily we planned ahead and packed some sandwiches with some frozen bottles of water, because the concession stands were obviously there to make a profit that day. I had to buy one bottle of water and it was $2.50.

Finally at around 4 p.m., it was time for our section to line up.

By this time, we were so tired I don’t think it really mattered to us one way or the other, we just wanted to be done and get out of there.

I mean, of course we wanted to make it, or I wanted to make it anyway.

It has always been my dream to be a singer, ever since I was a little girl…

Brittany has her future somewhat planned, beginning with graduate studies in opera at the University of Kentucky this fall, and Clint plans to do the same in January, so they will probably be famous opera singers one day.

We finally made it up to the table of two judges, but one judge had to go on a break, so we were left to sing for one judge.

Of course he picks me to go first…

I decided at the last second which of my top two songs I would sing – the Jennifer Hudson song from “Dreamgirls.”

I sang “And I Am Telling You…” for about 15-20 seconds, which is what we expected, and that was it.

After the three of us and some other girl sang, the judge brought us up to the table. He asked the last girl to wait for the other judge to come back, and then told us “Thanks for trying out, we’re going to pass.”

So after 12 hours, that was it – 20 seconds.

Maybe I picked too big of a song for me, but I felt most comfortable with that song and thought it could show off my voice in a short amount of time, which is key.

Maybe I should have dyed my hair pink or worn a costume…but that’s not who I am, and I wasn’t there to be on TV, I was there to win based on talent.

Of course it was disappointing, but life will go on, and this was definitely a once in a lifetime experience for me that I will never forget. At least I can say I did it!

So now I get to look for myself in the crowd on TV…let’s just hope they don’t pick the welcome message where we had to say “Get lucky, in Kentucky”…

Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has an enrollment of 2,405 students who represent 98 Kentucky counties, 25 states and 36 foreign nations. Listed in U.S.News & World Report’s 2008 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 22nd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South and eighth in the South for “Great Schools, Great Prices.” CU has been ranked 15 consecutive years with U.S.News & World Report. The university has also been named to America’s Best Christian Colleges®. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his tenth year as president.

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