Year after year, American Idol tryouts came and went as UNC Charlotte senior Brittney Brown quietly went about her business.
The 21-year-old had been singing since she was a small child and had always wanted to try out for the popular singing competition. However, she suffered stage fright in front of large crowds and for that reason, had never brought herself to try.
She heard about the 2012 tryouts about six months before they were held (in June of 2011). “Something just kind of came over me and I decided I have got to get myself out there if I want the things that I want,” she said.
She looked up the dates for the audition in Charleston, SC and immediately got to work with her voice coach, Sylvia Hawe, whom she had worked with before and calls “a second mom.”
When late June rolled around, Brown and her mother set out for south of the Carolina border on the same day she would be expected to camp outside of the convention center. They soon realized their mistake.
“We didn’t bring anything. That was so stupid. People had chairs and blankets and food,” she said.
Brown didn’t even have a wall to lean against. Luckily, she made quick friends with a girl named Kasey Johnson from Fayetteville, NC. “She gave me a blanket that I shared with my mom. [Kasey] and I are still great friends to this day,” she said.
It was during this night of waiting that Brown realized how hard it would be to sleep, blanket or not. “Random people would stand up and start belting out notes, whether they were good or bad.”
Being exposed to so many random acts of choral expression had a few unexpected downsides for Brown. “I hated [Adele’s song] ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by the end of that night, because everybody was singing it. And I used to love that song.”
At around 10 a.m., Ryan Seacrest showed up and Brown and some others near the front of the line were able to get close enough to touch him. Then came the anticlimax of the registration period. After all that waiting, Brown simply walked into the auditorium and got her registration ticket.
Once they handed her a ticket, she had a couple of days to spend in Charleston before she would need to audition. Brown spent this time making a sign for the filming of the show and making sure she would be prepared for the next big camp out.
When two days passed by, Brown made her way back to the Charleston Convention Center early so she could remain at the front of the line. This time she brought comfortable clothes, chairs and food.
The media was out in full force the next morning. Brown sang for a local radio station as well as a local ABC news station. Contestants were then let into the auditorium.
“This is where you find out that it’s all show business,” Brown said.
“The girls’ bathroom was complete madness. I changed clothes in a stall and then couldn’t even get to the mirror to do my makeup. I just did it in the middle of the room and hoped it looked OK,” Brown said.
In the packed auditorium, the film crew continued to tell the crowd what to do while filming them over and over.
They were told to all sing Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” and then told to chant different things while cameras filmed.
“This is what took the longest. It took hours,” said Brown. “Once the auditions started it went fast.”
The stage is broken into 12 stations with two producers in each station acting as judges. Four contestants go in front of the judges at a time. “I went up with Kasey and two other girls. I knew the two other girls weren’t going to make it. Kasey sang beautifully and I thought she had it but she cracked near the very end,” said Brown.
According to her, the producers’ behavior was the most intimidating part. “Singers only had about five seconds before being told to stop and the judges seemed more interested with what was happening on their computer screens than what was happening in front of them.”
Brown went last in her foursome and began belting out Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” The men looked away from their computers and began smiling as they let her sing long after 20 seconds. They then called all four up.
After a nerve-wracking discussion, the men told all four girls that they would not make the cut.
Out of the 10,000 people in the auditorium, only 500 made the cut. They had to make it through three more cuts before even getting into a room with Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson.
Considering those odds, Brown said she was proud of herself. She and her new friend Kasey are planning to try out for NBC’s The Voice next summer.
As she left, there was a door marked “Winners” and a door marked “Non Winners.”
“I had to walk through that second door, but I walked through it with a smile on my face,” she said.