Sneak Peek of The American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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Disneys American Idol Experience

Disney's American Idol Experience

This Valentine’s Day, The American Idol Experience premiers at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios.)

While I am quite possibly the only person in America never to have seen the hit Reality TV Show upon which this attraction is based, Number One Daughter has.  (And she’s a fabulous singer, if I do say so myself.)  Last week, she asked to audition for the theme park attraction.  I began planning the transition from Orlando vacation rentals business owner to Stage Dad!

By now, you probably have read her blog post about the audition experience.  She’s quite a kid!  (Excuse me, Sorry Amber, I meant to say, “She’s quite a young lady!”)  The Producer, on the other hand…Well, we’ll get to that later.

In the Disney version of the show, theme park guests audition to be contestants on the American Idol Experience.  Twenty one guests are chosen to perform each day (three at each of seven preliminary shows throughout the day) and the winner of each preliminary show goes on to compete at the finale show that evening.

The winner of the finale show is named “Best Singer” and receives a “Golden Ticket.”

A Golden Ticket will enable the winner to go to any American Idol audition for the real TV show and jump to the head of the line.  Disney describes it as the ultimate “Fast Pass.”

For those of you looking to be the next American Idol, check back next week for step-by-step instructions on turning your Orlando vacation into lucrative record deals.  For today, I just want to share some thoughts with you about the attraction.

Perhaps the true star of the American Idol Experience is the stage itself.  A Disney cast member said that it is as wide as the real American Idol stage, but not quite as tall.  The background video screen is the same height as the real one.  The theatre holds just over 1000 theme park guests.  The stage looks similar to what I have seen when I have walked through my living room and Number One Daughter is watching American Idol on TV.  There are three seats on stage right for the contestants and three seats and a table on stage left for the judges as well as a lot of room in between for the performances.

The performers are also wired with a transponder that is used by the fabulous lighting elements of the show.  When a performer walks around the stage during their performance, the transponder signals the lighting and the spotlights follow their movements.  One Disney cast member bragged that it was the most technologically advanced show at Disney.  After seeing the show, I’m a little skeptical about this claim; however, it is a very impressive set.

At the top of the hour, the theatre begins to fill and a Cast Member comes out to warm up the audience.  During the show I attended, he was, bar far, the highlight of the show!  He was witty, energetic–The perfect precursor to the rest of the show.

Next, the judges are introduced.  From the reaction of the audience, it is clear that they have adopted personas similar to the real judges on TV.  There’s even a judge in the attraction named “Simon” who is a cantankerous, petulant fellow with a British accent.  The judge he emulates on the real TV show is probably not a very popular or well known person…Just kidding!  I’m not quite that unaware of the American Idol phenomenon!

The “Simon” character appears to relish his role as the most negative of the judges.  The attention to rejection is obvious as the host works hard to get the audience to diminish the impact of negative feedback and to offer supportive cheers for each performer.

The preliminary shows last approximately 25 minutes.  Of course, Number One Daughter was WAY better than all three contestants that I got to see perform.  But I’m sure you knew that already.  (Oops, did I already say that in my last blog post?)

Although I didn’t go to the finale show, I understand that with seven performers (the winner of each preliminary show) it lasts 45 minutes and ends with the presentation of the Golden Ticket and a confetti shower.

As an audience member, the American Idol Experience is quite a show.  But I do believe this new attraction will cause a problem for Disney:  How will they deal with having to “reject” so many guests?  Disney specializes in positive, feel good guest interaction.  How are guests who don’t win “Best Singer” (or even make it past the Casting Director) going to respond to the rejection of American Idol?  With only twenty-one daily slots on the show and only one “Best Singer”, there will be a lot more losers than winners.

It will be interesting to see how Disney deals with this issue as they get feedback on how guests receive this attraction.  I know that Number One Daughter was deeply disappointed when she made it to the Producer, only to be told that she would not be appearing in the show.  And as her father, well, “disappointed” does not come close to expressing how I feel about the Producer who dared to…Oops, I digress.

Another interesting thing I observed was that if a guest made it beyond the “Casting Director,” they were put in an area Disney cast members were careful to refer to as “The Coke Room” to await the audition for the Producer.

When I watched Number One Daughter audition and then during the subsequent show itself, I deliberately looked for the words “Coke” or “Coca-cola” but couldn’t find them anywhere in the audition area or the actual theatre.

However, in addition to featuring “Coke Red” decor and the “Dynamic Ribbon Device” motif in the “Coke” room, you occasionally spot the familiar coke shaped bottle and glasses both in the “Coke” room and on the American Idol Experience set.

I got the impression that Coca-Cola has paid a lot of money to sponsor this show.  It appeared that they are following in the footsteps of the Nike “Swoosh” by attempting to create a subconscious connection between a shape (the “Dynamic Ribbon Device”) a color (bright red) certain glass and bottle designs (the familiar Coke bottle and Coke glass) and the Coke brand.

Detesting the shameless subconscious promotional attempt, I joked aloud that given the dubious reputation of Hollywood, I know what “The Coke Room” really stands for!  (If you don’t get that, perhaps it’s best if you don’t ask.)

[Note:  Upon further investigation I have discovered that, in fact, the words “Coco-Cola” do appear at various places–LanceAround 2/19/09]

I enjoyed the incredible sets and staging of this attraction.  The dramatic tension was also obvious, creating a very entertaining show.  Guests will really enjoy this latest offering from Disney, especially if they are already a fan of the TV show.  It obviously gives the feeling that you are at the actual TV show.  Given the TV show’s popularity, this attraction is sure to be a hit.

I only hope it lasts longer than the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire–Play it!” attraction that seemed to open just as the popularity of that TV show was waning and the attraction closed just a few short years later.

Not having seen the real American Idol TV show, this attraction helped me to understand its appeal.  If you are one of those who has been caught up in the American Idol phenomenon, this experience will not disappoint!  (Unless, of course, you were counting on getting on the stage only to have the Casting Director or Producer give you that dreaded shake of the head–Like one clueless Producer did with an excellent and deserving young singer who was, far and away, the BEST singer that ever walked into Hollywood Studios and who would have been the highlight of…Uh, Sorry, I seem to have lost my train of thought again!)

Anyway, after we watched the American Idol Experience, Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son, Number One Daughter and I strolled over to the Toy Story Mania Ride.  A cast member there was bragging that Toy Story Mania has become the busiest attraction at Disney World and I believe them.  It’s a fantastic ride that can be enjoyed by the entire extended family.

Best of all, it does not tell your Number One Daughter she can’t be on it!

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