SALT LAKE CITY — McKenna Silvester was 6 years old when “American Idol” first aired in 2002, and she’s dreamed of being on the show ever since.
When the young singer turned 15, the age of eligibility, her parents took her to Los Angeles so she could audition.
“I thought that was it for me,” said Silvester, who lives in West Bountiful. “I thought it was my big break, and little did I know it was just the beginning of (my) journey.”
This Wednesday, Aug. 23, “American Idol” — revived by ABC after ending its 15-season run on Fox last year — is coming to Provo, and aspiring pop stars in the Beehive State will have the chance to audition for a spot on the show’s 16th season. The day will also mark Silvester’s fifth audition for “American Idol.” Silvester and other singers with Utah ties reflected on their experiences trying out for the show and offered advice for those auditioning Wednesday.
When fans of “American Idol” watch the contestants’ “first audition” in front of the celebrity judges, they’re actually watching the singer’s third — or even fourth —audition.
Before stepping into a room to perform for the show’s judges, there are a few preliminary rounds with producers, according to Valerie Payne, a BYU graduate.
“There were about seven booths that had two to three producers in each booth," Payne wrote in an email. “They lined (us) up, and four people went at a time.”
Payne, who auditioned in 2010, recalled a singer in front of her who was dressed up as Disney’s Hercules. For his audition, he performed an excerpt from “Go the Distance.” As she stood listening, Payne was impressed by his powerful voice and charisma. She was shocked when the singer didn’t receive a callback.
And then it was her time to shine.
She sang for 30 seconds.
During her brief audition, she noticed that one of the producers wasn’t even watching her.
When that happens, singers should do the best they can to regain the judges’ focus, said Catie Pilkington, a Bountiful resident who has auditioned twice for the show.
“The first round is so loud,” she said. “If you want to get (the judges’) attention, you have to do something crazy like pretending that you’re awful, or you have to be insanely attention-grabbing to get through the first round of judges. That’s what they want; they want people that are going to be entertaining to watch.”
Pilkington, who auditioned for “American Idol” in 2005 and 2006, recalled the moment she noticed one of the judges ignoring her. As she continued singing, she marched up to the table and stood directly in front of the judge in an attempt to get his attention.
“You just have to do whatever you can,” she said with a laugh. "But do what is going to showcase your voice the very best immediately, because you never know how much time you’ll get — 30 seconds or 10 seconds. I wish that I would’ve gone right in and done the loudest, most prominent part of the song.”
A person’s song choice can also affect the success of an audition, according to Silvester. She recommended steering away from songs that have recently been a No. 1 hit or are extremely popular around the time of an audition.
“Pick something that the judges will recognize, (but) haven’t heard in a while,” she said. “Change it up — don’t sing it the same way they do. Make it your song.”
But being high-energy and attention grabbing can present a challenge, especially when most of the day has been spent waiting in lines.
“If I could give anyone advice, it would be to audition with friends,” Payne wrote. “I spoke to people (in line) and made some friends, but I think I would have enjoyed the long period of waiting (more) if I had friends with me.”
Although Payne and Pilkington didn’t advance past the first preliminary round, auditioning was still an event well worth experiencing.
“(Auditioning for ‘Idol’) was a bucket list item for me,” Payne wrote. “I’m super glad I went.”
Don’t give up
“Am I going to continue, or is this the end of the line?”
Silvester asks this question every time she auditions for "American Idol."
“Your nerves — they will get to you,” she said. “You think, ‘This is going to be great! I’m not going to have any nerves because this is what I want.’ But the stage fright builds up (every time you get past a preliminary round).”
It wasn’t until her fourth audition in 2014 that Silvester, 21, finally made it past all three preliminary rounds for a chance to perform in front of the celebrity judges.
She stepped into a room where she was greeted by celebrity judges, including Keith Urban and Randy Jackson.
“It was the most exhilarating feeling,” Silvester said. “As I was singing, I was so nervous and so excited. I was just totally enthralled by what was going on.”
When she finished singing a part of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the judges told Silvester they could tell she was nervous, but that she still had time to grow, and they encouraged her to audition again in the future.
Although Silvester said she was “crushed,” she followed that counsel and has remained undeterred in her quest for a golden ticket to the Hollywood round —something she hopes to receive Wednesday.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Take what you’ve got and give it your all. That’s all you can do. Even if it’s not quite what you wanted or expected, it’s a really cool experience to be able to say ‘I tried.’”
Note: The auditions will take place in Provo at Courthouse Square, 51 S. University Avenue. "American Idol" hopefuls can also audition online here. Participants for all auditions must be between the ages of 15 and 28.