Queen’s backstage at Canadian Idol

Cast and crew reflect on what it’s really like in front of and behind the camera

As a staging intern at Canadian Idol this summer, Lauren Denhartog, ArtSci ’05, got to wait out the Idol contestants, not hang out with them.
As a staging intern at Canadian Idol this summer, Lauren Denhartog, ArtSci ’05, got to wait out the Idol contestants, not hang out with them.

We’ve all either seen the show or had to endure friends’ polemics on who deserves to win. Love it or hate it, Canadian Idol has become a pop culture phenomenon.

Each week an average of two million viewers follow the Idol hopefuls as they transform themselves through singing lessons, makeup artists and clothes stylists in order to win viewers’ votes. On performance night, they come onstage, sing and are judged before one of them is voted off the show.

But what is it like to be a part of it all? What is it like to live in a mansion—yes, a mansion—and be on camera? Or work behind the scenes? Or be one of the unlucky few whose excrutiating audition ends up on the “Best and the Worst of Canadian Idol” episode? The Journal caught up with several people involved in Canadian Idol, and here’s what they had to say.

THE IDOLS

Elena Juatco, ArtSci ’07, was the fourth of the top 10 finalists to be voted off of the show, but she doesn't regret it for a second. In fact, she said she had a blast, despite the time commitment the show required.

“The days were extremely long. [During filming there’s] a lot of sitting and waiting, a lot of people in the hallways and walking around [and] you have to be conscious of time,” Juatco told the Journal.

“We spent 12 hours on choreography for the upcoming finale,” she added.

In a typical performance day, the Idols would do a sound check, get their hair and makeup done, have a dress rehearsal, go to dinner, get touch-ups to hair and make-up and then do some interviews. Finally, they were off to the show. It’s a long and grueling day.

While waiting for his chance to take the stage, eventual champion Kalan Porter of Medicine Hat, Alta., said he liked to take time away from the other contestants to mentally prepare for his performance.

“I usually try to get away and focus on what I need to do. Sometimes others’ performances can throw you off, so I just try to focus on what I’m there to do,” Porter said in an interview.

Both Porter and Juatco deny the show is overly scripted or that contestants are limited in their choreography and song choices.

They said their voice coach was not allowed to help any contestant with his or her song choices. She could only provide her expert opinions on the way the Idols are singing.

“Everything on the show is up to each competitor, so you can kind of create your own image,” Porter said. “[The stylist and the voice coach] can give you advice, but the final say is always up to you.” Juatco loved having a stylist and loves the clothes she got from the show.

“Of anybody, I was the most excited,” she said. “I love getting free stuff! You start layering, start thinking: ‘I wonder if I can ask for a watch.’ One time I was wearing this really short skirt and I [thought] ‘I can't go out on stage like this!’ So [the stylist] got me some jeans.” Unlike Juatco, Porter said he thought having a stylist was “very weird.” He said it took him some time to get used to paying so much attention to the way he looked.

Both Juatco and Porter said they understand how very important image is in the music industry.

They both said they are aware that being on Canadian Idol doesn’t guarantee a career, either.

“I don’t think by any means that winning the show [or being a runner-up] is a guaranteed career. Now is when the real work starts and you have to earn your credibility,” Porter said.

Juatco said hard work is necessary. She also said there is a stigma attached to Canadian Idol, and because her name is associated with the show, it may be difficult to launch a career. Juatco said if the competition were held during the school year, she would not have participated because of the risk of losing a year of university.

Still, Juatco said she does not regret her decision to enter the competition, because she met wonderful people and had a great time living in the mansion where all Idols stay during their time inToronto.

“I remember the first day we moved into the mansion,” she said. “It was so much fun because there was a pool.”

Several of the Idols decided to have a little synchronized swimming fun in the pool, she said. At the end of their makeshift routine, some of the guys dropped their shorts and mooned everyone else.

“A lot of times … we do a lot of stupid things that we know won’t make it on TV,” Porter said.

While the antics of the Idols might seem more or less normal behaviour from a group of people in their late teens and early twenties, the Idols said they were still aware they are always in the spotlight.

“It’s really strange,” Porter said. “It’s really cool that you have that support and I'm really flattered by it and all the girls.” A member of Juatco’s fan club (called the “Eleniacs”) e-mailed all of Elena’s fans asking for comments on her. She then took all the responses and all the media clippings she could find and made a scrapbook. She presented the scrapbook to Juatco at an autograph session.

Juatco said she regretted not having time to make a scrapbook of her experience, so she was very moved to be presented with the one made by a fan.

Though Juatco and Porter say they loved their time on Idol, both yearn for a slice of normalcy again. Porter said no matter where his career takes him, he will always call Medicine Hat home.

Despite earlier reports that she was going to devote herself to music full-time, Juatco said she will be returning to Queen’s this fall. She spent the past week in Toronto preparing for last night’s finale and said the other Idols teased her about the textbooks she was reading backstage. She can’t wait to get back to Kingston to settle into her Ghetto house, she said.

THE INTERN

Lauren Denhartog, ArtSci ’05, was also involved with Canadian Idol this past summer, but had a less glamourous experience than Juatco and Porter.

Denhartog worked as a staging intern, standing in for contestants or judges during rehearsals as instructed by the production crew.

“It was a lot of sitting around, because they have to stop and change the lighting and people mess up their lines,” Denhartog said.

“We were just basically there to do whatever they said.”

During rehearsal, host Ben Mulroney would practice his lines for the upcoming show. Denhartog said Mulroney’s on-air comments are anything but spontaneous.

“Everything [he] says is scripted,” she said. “He’s reading everything off the teleprompter.”

Denhartog said the cast of Idols and the crew didn’t interact often. She said some of the Idols sang constantly whenever they were backstage, but she only worked with them once.

“There was a rehearsal where they had to sing and we [the staging interns] had to act like judges,” she said. “But we didn’t actually get to talk to [the Idols]. They had a special dressing room, we had our sofa.”

Denhartog said she never met any of the celebrities who appeared on the show, but said the judges seemed friendly and sometimes came backstage.

“I think Farley [Flex] was the friendliest,” she said. “He would often come back and have a drink, come in the kitchen and stuff.”

There were 13 staging interns in total, mostly television or film students.

Denhartog, who studies Film at Queen’s, said she opted to become an intern because she thought it would be a beneficial experience “I basically did it for the connections, because in the film industry … it’s important to know people,” she said.

She said she also learned a lot about how much work goes into producing a television show.

“You get a sense for how many people are involved in something like that,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how it’s all put together.”

THE REJECT

Allison McAuley of Oakville traveled to Toronto this past spring to audition for Canadian Idol. However, rather than being selected as a contestant, she was one of the unfortunate ones whose audition turned up on the “Best and Worst” episode of the show.

Despite the title, the episode showcases what the judges believe were the worst auditions they saw across Canada. Those whose auditions are featured in the episode have no forewarning.

“At the time [of the audition], it never occurred to me I would be on the ‘Best and Worst’ show,” McAuley told the Journal.

McAuley, a blonde 17-year-old, gave a spirited rendition of “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” from the Footloose soundtrack, for her audition.

After her perky performance, the judges asked her if she had ever been a cheerleader. McAuley replied that she was.

“I was a little confused [about why they assumed I was a cheerleader], but I’ve gotten that before,” she said.

McAuley spent this past summer in Europe, and didn’t learn she was on the show until a friend told her afterwards.

All Canadian Idol hopefuls must sign away their rights to the video footage of their audition.

McAuley said that being featured on the show doesn’t bother her very much.

“If they wanted to put me on TV, that’s fine,” she said.

She said she felt the judges’ comments to her were not too harsh, but that their comments to other hopefuls were. She said it is important to take the judges’ criticism in context.

“I made it through the first two rounds [of judging] and for the third round it just felt like there were all these people watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake,” she said. “You have to keep in mind that it’s TV and they have to keep the ratings up.” McAuley said those auditioning for the TV judges were asked by producers to talk back to make for a more exciting show.

She said she felt Canadian Idol is more of a television show than a singing competition.

“For the third round [of judging] it was more nerve-wracking,” she said. “The judges really don’t even look at you—they’re playing it up to the camera.”

McAuley said she thinks the show can be too harsh on those auditioning and needs to be more like its American counterpart.

“I think they need one judge to be nice,” she said. “On American Idol, when the other two [judges] are being brutal, you’ve always got Paula [Abdul] to say, ‘Well you look pretty,’ at least.”

—With files from bce.ca

Five fun Idol facts

· L’Oreal Paris may have scored a winner by pairing with the Canadian Idol franchise: sales of its products at Shoppers Drug Mart increased 20 per cent during Idol-themed promotions.

· Zack Werner and his caustic American Idol counterpart, Simon Cowell, don’t get along. The two exchanged barbs at World Idol after Werner described American Idol Kelly Clarkson’s singing as “shouting with tone.”

· In her five-album career, Juno winner Sass Jordan has sold more than one million CDs worldwide. Her biggest hit, “Tell Somebody,” hit the charts back in 1988.

· Acclaimed manager Jake Gold has his own Kingston connection: he helped Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip get off the ground. He also manages the career of his co-judge, Sass Jordan.

· Urban Music Award nominee Farley Flex still manages the careers of last year’s Idol finalists Gary Beals and Toya Alexis. This recently included having Alexis’ 12-week body/mind overhaul televised on CTV as Toya—Shaping Up For Stardom.

Compiled by Emily Sangster from marketingmag.ca, canoe.ca, ctv.ca/idol/

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