This past Sunday I took part in a tour of the American Idol Experience attraction that was open to Annual Passholders to get a sneak peak at this brand new attraction. I'd have to say going into this attraction, I've never read and heard so much negativity towards a yet-to-be-opened attraction at Walt Disney World; Even Stitch's Great Escape in the Magic Kingdom had a better level of anticipation than Idol has coming its way. I felt that the tour would serve as a good way of energizing the Annual Pass base that is so passionate about the Disney World brand. Clearly there was interest from the Annual Passholders because the tours available throughout the day were sold out not long after the tour became available on the Annual Pass website. Not to sound like I'm the biggest fan of the idea of Idol coming to the Studios, but certainly I'm witholding judgement until the attraction opened.
While waiting outside the attraction for the tours to commence, I got into a few conversations about the attraction. I got the sense from Annual Passholders in line that most were not excited about the idea of the American Idol attraction. Many felt that the attraction is too late in capitalizing on the fad that is Idol. Still, with so many folks in line, there was a level of curiousity and certainly once past the gates, I think we all held our breath a little bit in anticipation of what was to come.
We were escorted in groups of 10 at a time and brought into the rear of the attraction. The tour started where potential contestants could audition to sing. Because cameras were not allowed, I'll have to describe it as best I can. Picture a small room, about the size of your typical Walt Disney World resort restrooms, with a judge behind a table on one side and a chair with bright lights shining down on the other side. Those looking to audition are looking at a very intimate setting for their first test and the judge there will hear the contestant's song and determine if he or she is talented enough to move onto the next stage of judging. The judge for this stage is someone with a background in entertainment at Walt Disney World and certainly someone with experience in managing talent. There about a half dozen or so of these rooms in the area and the narrow hallways and bright audition rooms certainly do evoke a sense of Hollywood and to me, it's what I'd expect if I was at "the real thing" in Hollywood.
If the contestant managed to impress the judge and move past the initial test, they would be escorted to a brightly colored red room where they could use an iPod to select from a number of different songs to prepare for their next test. This room reminded me of a small lounge that I might find in a city and it was certainly not drab at all. Thus far into the tour, I could tell much was made to make the guests that come to this attraction feel like they were really in a Hollywood talent audition.
One last room in this area remained and the guest would go to a producers room where he or she would audition once more to determine if they have the talent to make it to the show area. The producers room is much larger than the first auditioners room and is the last stop before making it into the actual American Idol Experience attraction.
After touring these rooms, we moved onto the main Idol building and where the stage is. Without a doubt, the stage is wonderfully decorated and does look like the stage from television. We were informed that the stage is modeled after the season 7 stage of American Idol and the same designer of the television show stage came to Disney World to design the stage we saw before us. We sat down in the first row of seats that the audience would find themselves in and found the whole show area to be really intriguing. Regardless of what others may have felt about the Idol attraction beforehand, I think everyone was quite impressed with the stage. From the details we got from our tour guide, it made it sound like Disney was shooting for an experience as close to the television experience as one can achieve.
Looking back on the tour of the attraction, I think there's reason to look forward to the opening of this attraction. I understand the premise of the attraction does not appeal to many guests and I hate to think there are people who will write it off before ever trying it. To be honest, an American Idol attraction wouldn't have been on the top of my list if I had had the opportunity to pick what to place in the theater but there's no doubt that Disney is not trying to sneak by on the cheap here. Disney's partner in the effort, FreemantleMedia Licensing (the group that owns the rights to American Idol), is certainly trying to promote the Idol brand in the Studios and build an experience that anyone can enjoy. After the tour, many guests I spoke with voiced concern over Disney finding enough talent every single day to fill the attraction (with emphasis on the word talent). Many felt that there wouldn't be enough talented guests who would be willing to sing in front of the theme park to come try out each day.
If I could make changes to Idol, I'd prefer there be more of an interactive experience for anyone in attendance at the Studios. If you're not interested in auditioning, the park guest is relegated to going to a showing of Idol and voting on who wins. I'd love to see a few karaoke booths where anyone could sing along to their favorite songs for fun with friends. While I like the voting aspect to the show, I think the experience for park guests not auditioning may simply be a little too passive.
Overall, I'm still excited to see how the actual attraction will pan out. Disney will be testing and adjusting American Idol Experience in January and fine tuning the operations of the attraction before it's grand debut on February 14, 2009. While I'm not predicting Idol to be the next Soarin' by any means, I am ready to give Idol (and Disney) the benefit of the doubt and see how the attraction turns out when it opens up in less than two months.