Make us your home page
Instagram

At 'American Idol' auditions in Orlando, there are life lessons in line

LAKE BUENA VISTA — From her spot across the lawn, Sasha Orihuela studies her son.

Jeremy Joshua Dorsey is laughing at the front of the line, flipping his bottle of water, fanning himself with his palm. He doesn't look nervous, but then, he is 16. He never does.

Orihuela pulls out her phone.

Go over your song, she texts. Start going over your words.

No response. She calls him twice. He doesn't answer.

"Yep. He's ignoring me. It begins. This is the hard part."

It's all hard, this day. Orihuela and Jeremy were up at 5 a.m. to haul from West Tampa to Lake Buena Vista for the first day of auditions for ABC's reboot of American Idol. Up to 4,000 singers would wait hours in 90-degree heat for a chance to audition in tents at Disney Springs. Just as many moms, dads, loves, siblings, managers and well-wishers bit their nails nearby.

Every now and then, a voice pierces the heat — an intimidating, belt-it-out warble, the kind that has earned singers like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood tickets to Hollywood.

"Ooh," Orihuela gasps as a young woman wails. "Oh my gosh, that's beautiful."

Orihuela once again checks her Samsung.

"Your mother's freaking out," she says, watching Jeremy off in the distance. "Please answer your phone."

• • •

American Idol's luster has dimmed in recent years. Its last few champions have tanked, at least in comparison to past breakout stars like Jennifer Hudson or Adam Lambert. Ratings plummeted, and so did water cooler interest. Viewers turned to The Voice and America's Got Talent.

REMEMBER WHEN: Once a pop culture king, 'American Idol' shrinks with its tour

But Idol is still Idol "it still has a ring," Orihuela said. "It's the singing competition."

When Fox dropped American Idol last spring, a bidding war arose among the other networks to snap it up. ABC emerged victorious, its reboot featuring Katy Perry and two other unnamed judges set to premiere early next year. Disney was an obvious place to launch auditions; former Idol champs Jordin Sparks, Ruben Studdard and Kris Allen were on hand to drum up publicity.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

American Idol stars, from left, Ruben Studdard, Jordan Sparks and Kris Allen cut the ribbon during auditions for American Idol.

For years, Jeremy talked about singing for Simon Cowell, even after Cowell left the show. Idol premiered the summer after he was born; he's never really known a life without it. Idol was just one way to make a living singing.

Jeremy attends Blake High School, Tampa's magnet for the arts; and studies voice and performance at Hands in Motion Music, a talent development, management and publicity boutique in Brandon. That's how the Idol audition came about — the show's casters put out a nationwide call for young talent, with those pre-selected, like Jeremy, receiving front-of-the-line passes.

Slight with intense eyes and curly hair dyed blond, Jeremy is often taken for much younger. He just had a Harry Potter-themed birthday party; he has yet to apply for his learner's permit. But on stage, under the moniker JJosh, he emulates flashier heroes like Prince and former Idol finalist Todrick Hall. When he was younger, he would moonwalk in church. He once made a fingerless glove from backpack netting and the strap from his mother's purse. He wanted to bring it to Orlando. Orihuela talked him out of it.

Before a producer insists they separate — singers in line, parents in the shade — Orihuela retrieves a packet of paperwork. Jeremy breaks from texting friends and snapping photos, and leans on a trash can to consider a questionnaire.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Jeremy Joshua Dorsey, 16, of Tampa looks at supportive messages on his phone ahead of his audition for American Idol.

How has your community supported you? What well-known singer(s) do people compare you to? Are you closely related or a good friend with someone who is famous?

Orihuela laughs. She drives Lyft for a living; before that she taught English as a second language; before that, the Marines. They live with her mother and Orihuela's 18-year-old daughter.

Famous friends? "I wish," she says.

SOUNDCHECK: Tampa Bay concert news and more

Orihuela, 45, is adamant about not becoming a stage mom. "Don't be Joe Jackson" — that's her motto. She is protective. Her first daughter died after a medical treatment she says resulted from a misdiagnosis. After that, she homeschooled Jeremy for three years.

But at some point, you still have to stand back.

"That's your questionnaire, baby, not mine," Orihuela tells him. "You handle it. It's your story."

• • •

There's an emergency. Jeremy forgot to bring his questionnaire packet to producers.

"Give me the sheet!" Jeremy pants, racing from the front of the line. "I need the sheet right now!"

Orihuela pulls the packet from her purse. Jeremy grabs it and races back.

Orihuela swipes through baby photos on her phone. There's one with Jeremy at six months, turning away from his hugging sisters. Always doing his own thing.

It would be wonderful if Jeremy made it to Hollywood, but the way she sees it, the Idol audition process isn't about that. It's a test: How many singers — how many parents — are willing to sweat out this first, difficult step? And how many will take the next? And the step beyond that?

"Raising kids has been like that," Orihuela says. "They're always going to test your boundaries and see how far they can go, and then they grow from there. And then they test again, to see how far they can go, and then you go on from there. That's kind of what I'm trying to instill in him. A lot of what we go through in life is testing you to see if you can make it to the next level."

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Jeremy Joshua Dorsey, 16, of Tampa auditions for American Idol.

In the tent, Jeremy sings Bruno Mars' That's What I Like. It's over in minutes. His whole group walks away empty-handed. When he sees his mother, he shakes his head.

"They said that we were good," he says. "It's just the energy wasn't what they needed."

"Ah," Orihuela said. "All right, then. I guess I've got to give you coffee next time, huh?"

"Mom!"

It's not yet noon, but it's time to go home. Jeremy wants a strawberry lemonade. Orihuela wants a nap. The drive west to Tampa is about 90 minutes. Hollywood will take a little longer.

At 'American Idol' auditions in Orlando, there are life lessons in line 08/17/17 [Last modified: Thursday, August 17, 2017 4:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 22

    Events

    Arcade Fire: The wildly acclaimed indie rock outfit tour in support of their fifth album, Infinite Content. Presumably, the band will also play songs from their first few albums. Wolf Parade opens. 7 p.m., University of South Florida Sun Dome, 4202 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. $35-$75. (813) 974-3004.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08:  Musician Win Butler of Arcade Fire performs onstage during The 24th Annual KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas at The Shrine Auditorium on December 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Radio.com)
  2. What the 11 terms Merriam-Webster just added to the dictionary say about our foodie culture

    Cooking

    Joining "troll" (as in, a rude person on the Internet, not a bridge-dwelling creature), "alt-right" and "dog whistle," 11 food-related words were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this week. That's out of 250 new terms, a pretty good ratio that signals the ongoing shift toward a more food-obsessed culture, one …

    IPA is one of the words recently added to the dictionary.
  3. St. Petersburg's newest hotel opens with craft beers, cocktails and Cozy Corners

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — Last spring, Ryan Tarrant applied for a job with the new Hyatt Place nearing completion in downtown St. Petersburg. Among the questions an interviewer asked:

    What does this hotel need to succeed?

    Hybar, a bar area with outdoor seating  that will feature craft drinks and Sunday brunch starting Oct. 1, is ready to open at the new Hyatt Place hotel at  25 2nd St. N in downtown St. Petersburg. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. A coast away from her roots, American Stage's Stephanie Gularte is soaking up Florida

    Stage

    ST. PETERSBURG

    The last clear day before the storm, Stephanie Gularte looked at Milo, her 8-year-old Boston terrier.

    "You ready for action, bud?"

    Stephanie Gularte, who arrived in the Tampa Bay area 2 ? years ago to become producing artistic director of American Stage, strolls along Coffee Pot Bayou in St. Petersburg with Milo, her 
8-year-old Boston terrier.
  5. Tampa Bay theaters usher in a broadened vision, new works in 2017-18

    Stage

    By Andrew Meacham Times Performing Arts Critic

    The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa will serve up the musical Waitress in April 2018.