'American Idle' Part 2: The Audition

'American Idle' Part 2: The Audition

In part 2, Rocky Paterra looks back on his 2008 memoir "American Idle," which chronicled his failed "American Idol" audition as a 16-year-old.

Sep 17, 2017 by Evan Feist
'American Idle' Part 2: The Audition
Oh hey! It's me Rocky Paterra again, telling you all about my 2008 audition for "American Idol" in East Rutherford, NJ, and the rejection I faced!

As you know, when I was 16 I wrote a memoir entitled "American Idle" about the experience, and now here I am sharing and responding to quotes from that memoir, giving you the dish on what goes down at the "American Idol" cattle calls.

Last we left off, I drifted into an apprehensive slumber at the hotel the night before the audition. Now, I have awoken, and my mother and I made our way to the IZOD Center for the long day that was ahead of us.


On waiting and waiting and waiting:

"When we approached the line, we couldn't even see where it started and where it ended. We began walking to our left to head towards the back of the line. Couldn't believe how many people were already there. It was crazy because some had sleeping bags, coffee, blankets, and other items that made it seem like they spent all night in line. At the back of the line, we sat down. It was around four in the morning. My mom made sure that she brought a blanket to sit on, and I made sure that I had at least six water bottles in a bag. It was at this time that we just waited. Waited and waited and waited."

I just want to express that my mom deserves every Best Mom award for dealing with my awful teenage self in this awful situation on what would because one of the most awful days of my life at the time.

On choosing the perfect outfit from American Eagle:

"I had to make sure that what I would be wearing was symbolic of myself and showed that I was an individual. Of course I'm no expert on style, but I brought two outfits for the possibility of two audition days. I did not know that it would only take one day for everyone to audition, but I decided to wear my best outfit of the two first. It was a pair of blue jeans, a grey T-shirt, and a black pin-striped vest from American Eagle. It looked pretty cool if I do say so myself."

I still wear that vest to this day when I want to look cool.

On being an individual:

"I noticed that one of the guys [in line] had on the same vest as I did. I got a little upset, but I didn't really care all that much. Until I looked behind me and saw that ANOTHER man had on my vest. Apparently trying to look like an individual was 'in,' and that vest was the prime piece of clothing."

American Eagle. "American Idol." It all just made sense.

On meeting and subsequently grabbing Ryan Seacrest in line:

"Out of all the places for his extravagant black limo to pull up to, Ryan Seacrest himself arrives a the IZOD Center only feet away from where my mom and I are standing. He looked so professional with his trademark fohawk and his fancy suit. I was literally standing two or three feet away from him while we took two takes of the promotional dialogue. [...] Well, I grabbed him on the shoulder and said 'Ryan, I need a picture with you!' I stood smiling with my arm around Ryan's shoulders. To this day when my mom tells people about my audition experience, she always says how proud she was that I took the initiative to ask for a picture with him. It was the absolute highlight of my day there."

Yeah, I still have this picture. I look at it from time to time, thinking about what could have been. But mostly I remember that I was excited for how many Facebook likes the photo would get. So basically, I haven't changed.


On the technicalities of the cattle call:

"We were to come down to a row of tables stretching across the area section by section. Each table would be occupied by one or two 'American Idol' producers. Groups of four would go to each table, and each individual would walk up to the table and sing one by one. If you made it through, you would be given a pink piece of paper and head out one stadium tunnel. If you were passed up, you would walk in the opposite direction towards another tunnel after having your wristband cut off by Idol workers."

This was the system and it operated like clockwork. We were not names. We were identified by arena section numbers and table assignments.

On foolishly thinking that the crowd shots would help my chances:

"The huge cranes with cameras attached would fly around the stadium and film the crowd singing the group songs at the top of their lungs. Whenever the camera came towards us, I made sure to make myself known and be outgoing and everything."

Honestly, I had strawberries in Farmville that needed harvesting, and I put my energy into those useless crowd shots for half an hour.

On the truth of reality television stealing my childlike innocence:

"Amazing singers got let down and did not make it through. Here's who did make it: a male stripper, a man in a karate uniform, and a man in a clown suit. It killed me that some of the most talented singers I have ever heard got rejected and sent home. Obviously there were great singers that made it, but the mere fact that awesome talent was rejected for good television is terrible. Before, I used to love all of the crazy people that auditioned for Randy, Paula, and Simon, but now it really sickens me."

The veil had been lifted. Innocence was gone. I became a man that day.

On cheesy Jordan Sparks showing up and wishing us luck:

"Jordan Sparks walks out into the arena! She told us that she was in our shoes before, and that she did not expect much to come from the audition, but she had hope. She told us not to give up hope and to believe in ourselves. Sure it was cheesy, but it was Jordan Sparks."

Thanks, Jordan!

Unrelated: I saw Jordan Sparks in the Apple Store in Times Square last year.

On conflict resolution in the arena:

"Of course, some drama went down in our little section of seating. A girl by us accidentally bumped into a man's leg while he was sleeping, waking him up. He started yelling at her, and she would yell back. They finally resolved their differences and apologized. It was very easy to get mad at any little thing, especially in my section, because we had to wait so long."

Truth be told, I don't remember this drama, but I'm glad they resolved their differences?

On Judge 13 aka the man who ruined my life at 16:

"It's time to introduce the man that shattered the dreams of hundreds of talented people with a single shooing hand gesture. That man was Judge 13. This man was the ultimate -- and I mean ultimate -- passer of amazing talent. This man was a jerk. He wore a white T-shirt and had dark hair. I didn't know what his face looked like."

Why see the movie "It" when apparently this man was the most terrifying entity to my 16-year-old self. I eventually saw his face up close and personal...

On being assigned to sing for Judge 13:

"All the while I prayed, 'Please God...not Judge 13. Anything but Judge 13.' As we reached the front of the line, the man said to my group, 'Alright, I want you four to walk all the way down to judge number 13.' Breathe, of the drop in the pit of my stomach. It was awful. Completely awful."

On Judge 13 possibly making me a star:

"I was the first one to step up and sing, and as I took my deep breaths to tell myself that this performance would decide my entire future, I panicked. Judge 13 wore a sneer on his face and looked as if he did not care one bit about any of us. I pulled out my pitch pipe and attempted to make him laugh by sounding my correct starting note, but he only let out a slightly humored 'humph.' I gestured and used my hands while I sang, as most Italians do, and when I stopped, he looked at me for a moment. 'Could you sing something else,' he said sneeringly, as if I bored him with my first choice. However, if he didn't like me, why would he be asking me to sing again. Honestly, I had no clue what was running through his mind. Not knowing what to think, I grabbed my pitch pipe and found the note for my second song. I think I did very well with the performance, but he sent me to the back with the rest of the group."

OK, Rocky, you sang for Judge 13 twice and you didn't suck. Great... what now??

On Judge 13 playing mind games with me and breaking my heart like a scornful lover:

"After the rest of the group was done singing their selections, I was called up to him again! What was going on?? He told me to wait for one minute while he brought somebody back. When I began to sing for a third time, I started out well, but my nerves got the best of me. Once I forgot a word or two, the whole rest was thrown off. I was making up words and phrases that didn't even make sense, and this time, he could tell. He chuckled to himself while I sang -- not because I sounded bad, but because he knew I was improvising and trying to get back on the right track. I ended the song. He sent me back to the rest of the group. Judge 13 looked at all of us and said that we weren't what 'American Idol' was looking for at that time. I stared at him for a few moments, my face drained of any emotion, and he looked at me and said, 'I'm sorry.' I walked up, had my wristband cut off, and left through the tunnel."

Cue childhood trauma.


On being way too dramatic after being rejected:

"Waiting for my mom to meet me outside of the lobby, a few people came up to me and said how good they thought I was. They said that they were just rejected and that they saw how Judge 13 would dismiss people and that I didn't deserve that. I didn't respond. I couldn't. My mom finally saw me and walked up to me, and her face was just as blank as mine was."

Even though I was hashtag speechless, I'm pretty sure I did respond to them. I said thank you or something. I love compliments.

On crying in a hotel room:

"We got to the hotel room, and I went straight up to the bed and lay face down. That's when I began to cry. I haven't cried in a long time, but tonight I cried. Not moving at all with my face buried in the bed, I let all of the blankness and emptiness out. I don't know if it was for 10 minutes or 20 minutes, but I have never felt so rejected and unappreciated. The one thing that I could ever feel proud of in my life was now useless. I felt like I wasn't good enough for anybody anymore, and I have never felt so defeated. When I finally got up, I hugged my mom for a moment. It was the saddest night of my life."

Young Rocky, just you wait. There will be many sadder nights ahead of you!

On telling everyone of my failure:

"Driving home was a disaster. After stopping at McDonald's, everything was beginning to hit me. I would have to tell all of my family and friends of the rejection. My priest announced to the congregation that I was auditioning: my orthodontist, dentist, and hairdressers knew that I was auditioning, not to mention half of my school. I fell asleep on the drive home thinking about how useless and empty I was without this dream coming true."

I'm laughing because I literally made a Facebook group in 2008 called "What Should I Sing For My American Idol Audition" and invited every friend to join. You brought this stress on yourself, Young Rocky.

On reality TV teaching you life lessons:

"I learned that failure can really test the strength of someone, and defeat only makes you stronger. I realized that everything you want in life is worth fighting for, and I am not about to let the rejection destroy my hopes of one day making it onto that show or any other big opportunity that may come my way. I learned how important friends and family are, because they are what got me through everything. I am so lucky and blessed for what I have and what I am capable of, and the experience of auditioning for 'American Idol' Season 8 helped me realize it."

Nowadays when I get rejected at auditions, I order Seamless and take a nap.

So there you have it, friends!

That, in a nutshell, is what happened during my 2008 "American Idol" audition as told from the memoir written by my younger teen self.

What a roller coaster ride. Tears and laughter, Taco Bell and McDonald's, jeans and an American Eagle vest, you name it.

It's all here in these 40 pages of a young man's quest for reality TV stardom.

In all sincerity, this really was my first big industry rejection, and I truly did learn so much about perseverance and focusing on the silver linings. I continued to audition for the show in the years to come, and the fact that I am to this day still traversing through an industry that constantly pushes you down speaks towards the kinds of lessons that this audition taught me.

So keep going, friends! Never give up!

But also, don't wear vests to cattle calls!

By Rocky Paterra


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