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Local teens try out for American Idol singing talent competition

Two 16-year-olds from Pine River traveled to Chicago this month to audition for the 12th season of American Idol.

Unfortunately, neither made it to callbacks, but both gained insight into the popular singing talent competition.

Kayla Adkins and Ryan Sweeney, high school juniors, auditioned July 12 at the United Center with thousands of other hopefuls age 15-28.

The Chicago Tribune estimated the crowd gathered at around 9,000.

Both teens found out about the Chicago auditions online and realized they were both going to attend by seeing each other’s posts on Facebook.

Since Adkins and Sweeney are minors, they had to be accompanied by an adult to register and audition.

Registration days were July 10-11. Registration consisted of entrants providing a photo ID and signed waivers in exchange for a wristband and a seating ticket for audition day.

Sweeney and his mother, Ann, got in line for registration at 1 a.m. even though registration didn’t start until 8 a.m.

Kayla and her grandmother, Kathy Brue showed up later that morning and only had to wait an hour or so to register.

On audition day they had to line up outside at 5 a.m. while producers filmed footage for use during American Idol commercial breaks once the season airs.

After they entered the United Center, they were seated in sections and further divided into groups of four. The small groups were auditioned at one of the 11 judging booths throughout the day.

Both teens had prepared a piece of music to sing in front of the producers judging the auditions.

They knew they might only have 10-15 seconds to sing before the producers could cut them.

Adkins chose the country song “Undo It” by Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood. Sweeney sang part of “Time of My Life,” by Season 7 winner David Cook.

Singing is a passion for both; Adkins and Sweeney have been in choir since fifth grade and have received Superior ratings as soloists in state competition. Adkins also performed at the State Fair at age 12 by singing “That Song in My Head,” by Julianne Hough. Sweeney performed on stage in the school’s productions of “Cinderella” and “Footloose.”

The American Idol audition was exciting for both. They heard a brief pep talk by American Idol host celebrity Ryan Seacrest, and caught a glimpse of singer Haley Reinhart who placed third in Season 10.

The challenging part was zoning out the crowd and concentrating on herself, Adkins said. While the crowd was quieter during the auditions, numerous people auditioned at once and there was the typical murmur of a crowd in the background.

While she has performed in front of crowds before, Adkins said she was a little nervous knowing that a lot of people were listening to her sing.

Sweeney said he stayed calm with the exception of a few nerves when he was lined up on the floor right before auditioning. He temporarily blanked on the words to the song he was to sing, but remembered in time.

Aside from singing talent, those auditioning are evaluated on attitude, look, movement and confidence as well as the difficult-to-describe star quality.

While thousands audition, only a select group is winnowed down to the semi-finals in November/December.

“There’s so much talent that goes to waste,” Adkins said of the number of talented singers who perform but aren’t chosen to advance for one reason or another.

There were also people who auditioned who were not good singers. “There were some pretty interesting people just in it for attention, but that’s what makes the show,” Adkins said.

Even though they did not make it past the first audition, both plan on trying again next year. “It was still an awesome experience,” Adkins said. Sweeney added that he will definitely audition again – especially if an audition is held in Minneapolis.

While neither is banking on a singing career, both would love to sing professionally if the opportunity arose.

And both would recommend others audition for American Idol. “You’re not out anything; either way it’s a great trip,” Adkins said.

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.