American Idol Experience Review with Photos


If you’re not an American Idol fan, don’t stop reading quite yet, as you might be surprised with my thoughts about this new attraction. Before I walk you through my tour from earlier today via photos, here are a few quick reactions:

1. The American Idol Experience is quite entertaining.

I watch American Idol on TV only to enjoy the initial audition stages where bad singers and socially-challenged individuals make fools out of themselves. This attraction offers none of that. But as it turns out, the entire attraction is entertaining from beginning to end, even without (what I think is) the best part of the TV show.

2. The American Idol Experience feels like a real television show taping.

With camera men wandering around the stage, a host directing the action, slick lighting, and a great sound system, this attraction truly makes you feel like you’re in a real television studio watching a live taping of American Idol. From the edited interview packages with contestants to the judges’ demeanor, it brings the “Hollywood” back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

3. The American Idol Experience clearly has careful planning.

Disney has done a fantastic job making sure that this show not only runs smoothly, but also runs well. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into making this attraction not feel like a theme park version of the television show. Every detail is accounted for.

Overall, I feel that if you enjoy, American Idol on TV, attending television show tapings in general, or just wholesome entertainment, then you will enjoy this attraction.

Now, on with the photo tour…

You can click any of the images below to enlarge them or simply visit the entire Orlando Attractions Magazine photo gallery for even more photos.

This door marks the entrance to the audition side of the American Idol Experience attraction. The queue for auditions is found on the backside of the attraction near the ABC Commissary and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.

Hopeful singers enter an audition room like this one where they sing one-on-one with a trained Disney cast member who will either put them through to the next round of auditions or politely tell them they’re not good enough. The room is quite small, though is still a comfortable atmosphere in which to audition. Other than the American Idol branding, you should note the trademark red Coca-Cola cup on the desk, like the judges have been seen drinking out of for several seasons of the show.

Unfortunately, this was the only photo I was allowed to take inside the audition areas. Further down the hallway, contestants learn songs in the “red room” via iPods and audition once more in front of a show producer who decides which singers will perform on stage later in the day.

Guests not interested in auditioning have the opportunity to enjoy the show from the audience. This initial holding area features a video starring Justin Guarini, the TV show’s first season runner-up.

The theater seats up to 1,000 people, though the audience isn’t quite filling up during the current preview shows. The set is a near-duplicate of the real one in Hollywood, CA. It is an impressive sight to see in person, especially if you’re familiar with it from the TV show. Everything looks (and smells) brand new inside the theater.

Imagine all of these seats filled with wide-eyed audience members fixated on your every move while you attempt to sing Top 40 hits with bright lights shining on you from every direction. Sounds intimidating to me.

Just like during a real television show taping, this man came out before the show to “warm up” the crowd, telling jokes and making audience members clap and wave their arms around, getting them energized. From my perspective, it seemed like all of the children in the audience were happy to play along with him whereas only half of the adults appeared to be entertained.

The show’s first singer, a girl named Jenna Terry, sang “Walking on Sunshine.” My biggest fear for this attraction was that singers casually found within the theme park auditions would inevitably hurt my ears. This ended up not being the case with Jenna or the other two singers. While she was not a great singer, she wasn’t awful and that’s what counts here. She had a contagious personality that made her likable.

After each contestant sings, they must face the judges. These three offered their best Randy, Paula, and Simon impersonations without actually impersonating them. “Dawg” wasn’t ever said by the first judge, but plenty of other nicknames were. The second judge made a lot of unexpected references to fashion in describing Jenna’s performance. The third judge, who “happened” to be named Simon and “happened to be British, had all of Simon Cowell’s mannerisms down perfectly. From rolling his head back and looking bored while the other two judges spoke to delivering bizarre comparisons about the performances, he served his part well. For a moment, when I looked away, I actually thought Simon Cowell was sitting there. Well, maybe a family-friendly version.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the camera man, complete with Steadicam rig, filming the performers. Watching him glide across the floor in front of the stage while simultaneously seeing his shot up on the big screens really gave it an authentic television feel. All of the screens and cameras are high-definition, so it all looked fantastic. This second singer, Corey Peloquin, performed “Your Song” by Elton John and actually sang it quite well. I think he would make it to the Hollywood round if he audiitoned for the TV show.

Before the third singer, Julie Ohrberg, performed, she and the host sat down to chat on the stage while Coke branding floated around on the screens behind them. It’s a good thing Coke has been a longtime partner of Disney’s or this would simply seem totally out of place. It still kind of does.

There were two parts of the American Idol Experience that I did not like. This dance number featuring previous Idol winner Jordin Sparks on the screens was one of them. Rather than an entertaining musical interlude, it felt more like a giant Disney commercial, showing clips of Sparks riding various attractions around Disney’s Hollywood Studios and dancing through the theme park streets. The judges remained in character throughout the song, with the Randy and Paula characters getting up to dance with the audience and the Simon character just sitting in his chair continuing to look bored. About half of the audience seemed to get into the song and the other half, like me, seemed uninterested.

I was quite impressed with the fast turnaround on video packages shown throughout the attraction. Before each singer performed, some interview clips of them taken earlier in the day were shown, much in the same way that each contestant is interviewed on the TV show. Near the end of the performance, recaps of each song were displayed just prior to the audience voting.

It has become a tradition on the American Idol TV show for host Ryan Seacrest to reveal voting results “after the break,” prolonging the tension and agony of contestants and fans alike. This element has been wonderfully worked into the attraction with the host creatively stalling before finally revealing the winner, as voted on by the audience.

The announcement of the show’s winner is the other part of the attraction that I did not like. It was extremely anticlimactic. There was very little fanfare, no confetti, no streamers, and hardly any excitement from the host or audience. Corey ended up winning and you could barely tell by looking at him. He smiled a bit but didn’t seem all that thrilled. There was a lot of buildup and no proper release. In the end, Corey was “congratulated” by Ryan Seacrest and other Idol celebrities on the screens. I kept waiting for something more to happen… and it never did.

Finally, the three contestants, three judges, and the host gathered together on stage to let the audience know that the show was over and it was time to leave. The Idol theme music played and it was over. While I’m sure the big finale show at the end of each day has a glorious confetti-filled ending for the winner of the Dream Ticket to skip the line at a regional American Idol TV show audition, this show was completely lacking closure. I hope Disney fixes that before the attraction’s grand opening on February 14.

That concludes the photo tour of the American Idol Experience. I’m happy to say that I ended up enjoying the attraction a lot more than I thought I would and am definitely planning on visiting it again to see if all theme park guests happen to have singing abilities or just the ones chosen for the media preview today.

Don’t forget to check out all of the photos I took at today’s American Idol Experience preview in the complete Orlando Attractions Magazine photo gallery.

If you have visited the American Idol Experience or if you have an opinion on it, be sure to comment!

(This entry was cross-posted on the distant creations blog)



Benjamin Thompson January 23, 2009 - 9:52 am

It sounds like you mostly enjoyed it! Try to come back for a finale show. Thanks for coming!


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