Friday, February 13, 2009

Disney's 'American Idol Experience'

Disney's Hollywood Studios lived up to its name tonight as, for one day, the phenomenon that is "American Idol" left its Hollywood, California, home and set up shop in Orlando.

Thursday marked the grand opening of Walt Disney World's newest attraction, "The American Idol Experience," at DHS. To celebrate the event, Disney brought in more than two dozen "Idol" glitterati for a "blue carpet" event (blue being the main color of "Idol"). Chauffeured down the park's Hollywood Boulevard sitting in the back of convertibles were the likes of Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest, Carrie Underwood, and the most recently crowned Idol, David Cook.

Disney Imagineers have gone to painstaking detail to recreate the actual "Idol" in a theme park version. Working with the show's original set designer, they've shrunk the traditional "Idol" set to fit in a 1,000-seat theater inside DHS, including the largest curved video wall in Disney World at 35 feet long and seven feet high (see photo above).

Just like the real "American Idol," park guests audition throughout the day and, after several preliminary rounds, the best of the best as chosen by the audiences during the day compete in a finale that night. There are even three judges up on stage who don't pretend to be Randy, Paula, and Simon, but they do emulate their three quite distinct personalities, providing critiques of each "guest performer." Keypads embedded in the audience's armrests allow them to vote, and the winner is guaranteed an audition in front of the real "Idol" judges the following year.

How well did Disney translate the real thing to the theme park? According to the people who should know best, they nailed it. Seacrest helped host the big show Thursday night and he told the audience in one of several candid, off-the-cuff moments: "It really is like being on 'American Idol.'"

Later in the evening I caught up with Season 1 Runner-Up Justin Guarini (who couldn't have been nicer, by the way), and he told me DHS got it exactly right.

"It gives the everyday person the exact experience—in a much shorter form—that we got," Guarini said. "You have to audition in front of casting people and producers, you have to pick a song, you get hair and makeup and vocal coaching, all that stuff. And then, the most exhiliarating part, you get to audition on the big stage in front of hundreds and hundreds of people in the audience. I loved it. When I saw the stage today, I was blown away by how much it looks exactly like the stage they have now [in Hollywood]. An awesome attraction."

"Awesome" is a pretty good way to describe the entire event tonight. I'm not an "Idol" watcher, but even so I could still appreciate that, as Seacrest pointed out, this was the first time all of the show's winners had been on one stage at one time. And the crowd went absolutely beserk when Cook and Underwood performed a song each, then duetted on Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." It was certainly a heck of a way to open a new attraction: "Idol" tested, "Idol" approved.

I'm certainly no paparazzi, but here's a few shots I managed to snap from the blue carpet:

Carrie Underwood faces the photog gaggle …

David Cook makes a friend …

Ruben Studdard is a big dude …

And here's a look down the blue carpet …

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