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Believing in Idol

 I was on my way to the airport when the news of American Idol coming to the Studios broke. It seems like I'm always traveling when major news about the Studios occurs but I was able to have some time before my flight to jump online on my laptop and update Studios Central with news of the new attraction. Content with getting the news up, I boarded my flight and looked forward to seeing everyone's reactions when I got to my destination. I logged on to the Studios Central message boards to find a generally negative reaction to the attraction and the sentiment carried over to other sites as well. To be honest, I'm suprised by it because I think American Idol is going to be a great attraction for the Studios.

The most common argument I hear why the American Idol attraction stinks is because it's seen as "cheap" or Disney "selling out" or they "could have done more" but I don't see this as a first for Disney. In fact, bringing the American Idol brand in is no different than when Disney brought George Lucas' Star Wars and Indiana Jones brands into the Studios nearly 20 years ago. The Hollywood Studios isn't just about the Walt Disney Company; it extends to other brands and even films and products of other studios and that lends more credibility to the park that Disney is "big enough" to admit that there are other films and productions that are major contributions to popular culture. Let's face it, THE name in seeking amateur singing talent is American Idol and by bringing in Simon Cowell & Co. here, it brings instant credibility to the attraction.

Calling American Idol "cheap" is another mistake. Think about some of the best attractions Disney has, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion or Space Mountain. These sort of attractions are basically just a water ride, a dark ride and a roller coaster; Those are hardly break-through ride systems. The Disney Difference is that Disney Imagineers take these basic concepts and amp things up with a unique guest experience to make them popular with Walt Disney World guests. If you think this American Idol attraction is going to be a glorified karaoke bar, I think you are seriously mistaken. Disney is going to take the idea and go with it to really bring a real Hollywood experience to the masses. That's what the Studios are about, bringing Hollywood to Walt Disney World and so the attraction promises to make you feel like you are out in Hollywood, evaluating talent.

Speaking of talent, American Idol is about showcasing great singing talent and even if you aren't gifted enough to be one of those talented few, you can join other guests in evaluating talent that comes through the gates. And remember, these are amateurs and probably folks who have never considered they could be a real singing talent. To be part of that and to be able to say "I was there when Person X was discovered" or tell your friends and family later how talented this one little girl was is going to be a tremendous experience. Let's not forget that this isn't the first time the Studios has had a talent search show at the Studios. Early in the history of the Studios, the old televsion show "Star Search", hosted by Ed McMahon, was filmed at the Studios and American Idol will expand on improving on the guest experience by not just letting guests watch but be part of the show now with American Idol.

American Idol is also addressing a larger issue that has long been complained about by guests that there isn't enough to do at the Studios. In 2008, we already know that American Idol will be coming, along with Toy Story Mania, a new Pixar Place themed area as well as the recently rehabbed Playhouse Disney attraction. These are some major and minor additions to the park to address these needs and an American Idol attraction will help add to your options in your day. To be honest, the Studios is finally getting the attention that it's really needed and continues the expansion the park has enjoyed for the past 3 or 4 years. Considering that the ABC Theater (the building where this American Idol attraction is going into) has been dormant for the better part of 7 or 8 years, it's great to see Disney utilizing this prime section of real estate.

Something that's been lost in a lot of the discussion is American Idol reserves the right to bring their real contestants from television to the parks and that is going to be a major draw to bring these shows right to the Studios. This appeals in two ways, first if you are a fan of the show then you get to see the stars of the show in person at the park for the price of your regular theme park admission. In addition, there's something very cool about seeing stars and being part of a real television recording. Again, more "real Hollywood" being brought to Walt Disney World.

Regardless of if you agree with me or not, it's important to reserve final judgement until the attraction opens and you can experience it for yourself. I know when Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It! opened at the Studios, I dismissed it but after finally experiencing it myself, it quickly became a favorite of mine so keeping an open mind is key. Millionaire brought in a real gameshow experience that you wouldn't be able to normally experience and again, Disney is bringing that exclusiveness to the Studios again. Remember that many premises of favorite Disney World attractions can't do those ride justice so I think we need to take a wait and see attitude and not write the thing off before a single door has opened up. I think we can all agree that Disney does one thing very well and that's creating unique guest experiences that you can't find anywhere in the world.


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A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 by