What the first season of the series was like
- Justin Guarini came in second to Kelly Clarkson on the first season of “American Idol” 20 years ago.
- He told Insider he didn’t expect the show to become a “superstar machine” when he first auditioned.
- The singer is grateful for his time on “Idol”, especially because of the relationships he has made.
On June 11, 2002, “American Idol” aired its first episode.
In the wake of the 1990s reality TV hype of MTV’s “Star Search” and “Total Request Live,” Fox hoped for its own success. Soon, families across the country were sitting down to cheer and vote for their favorite singers.
“American Idol” finalists like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert have gone on to legendary music careers. And more than two decades later, through judging changes, cancellations, a move to ABC, and a pandemic, the show continues.
Insider spoke with the series’ first finalist, Justin Guarini, to find out what it was like to compete 20 years ago.
No one knew what ‘Idol’ would become at the start of the first season
After airing a season of “Pop Idol” in the UK, inspired by New Zealand “Popstars”, British TV producers Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller have set their sights on crossover success in the US.
With a telephone voting system borrowed from “Eurovision Song Contest” and “Pop Idol” judge Simon Cowell promising to join us, producers set out to scout for talent in cities across America.
Today, it’s not uncommon for hopefuls to drive across the country, or even fly to Hawaii, just for a chance to audition for “American Idol.”
For Guarini, it only took a short drive from Pennsylvania to New York.
“We all got into this store, and we made it up as we went along,” he told Insider. “All I knew was that my job was just to show up and shine.”
From “cattle call” auditions in major stadiums to pre-audition interviews with producers, there was plenty of waiting and off-camera chanting before contestants even set foot in front of the show’s host. show, Ryan Seacrest, and its iconic first judge. panel: Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul.
Guarini said there were “hours and hours of singers waiting in line” but the process was “over a matter of weeks, rather than months and months,” as it is the case today.
“It’s still one of the craziest and most interesting processes I’ve ever been through,” he added.
After Guarini sang “Who’s Lovin’ You” from The Miracles, the famous Cowell told him, “Sometimes you’re very privileged when you do a contest like this to hear from someone who hasn’t been discovered. with a voice like yours, and I think this is one of those moments.”
Guarini went to Hollywood Week with 121 other artists
Hollywood Week is notoriously tough on contestants. It’s the beginning of long days of rehearsals and long evenings practicing in hotel rooms.
It can push people to their limits and strain singers. And, in the eyes of the producers, that makes for great television.
Guarini called the show “a pressure cooker”, adding, “It’s a proving ground for everything you’re going to have to deal with to be successful in the entertainment and music business.”
As with most reality TV shows, Guarini said the producers “really knew what they were doing” when it came to pitching the reality competition. But the competitors still had their say.
“In terms of the outfits we wore, in terms of the songs we sing, in terms of certain elements of the performances that we wanted to create and see, they were very open to our suggestions and very open to helping us put on the best possible presentation,” he said.
On Hollywood Week’s final round, Guarini performed Brenda Russell’s “Get Here” and cracked the top 30. Those singers were narrowed down to the top 10, and Guarini, 23, was officially a finalist.
As the show grew, previously unknown singers were given the spotlight
Guarini already understood life around the cameras. When he was growing up in Georgia, his father was a politician and his mother was an anchor for CNN.
But “American Idol” was a completely different beast.
The intense filming schedule already kept the contestants out of the public eye, but Guarini said the showrunners “sheltered us and protected us from a lot of people trying to get at us.”
“They put us in a lovely mansion in the hills where no one knew where we were,” he said. “And when we went out, we were always carefully guarded.”
While surrounded by luxuries, singers were often too busy performing, recording, rehearsing and promoting the show to fully relax.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that being on a hit show, especially one as detailed and as production-heavy as ‘American Idol,’ is practically a 24-hour job,” he said. to Insider.
In September, millions of viewers tuned in and voted for the first ‘American Idol’ finale
At the time, Guarini said, it was difficult to calculate “the range of everything”.
“You can imagine maybe a hundred thousand people in a sports arena,” he added. “To go beyond that – millions of people?”
Guarini and Clarkson competed while singing the American Idol originals “Before Your Love” and “A Moment Like This” respectively.
Guarini remembers turning to Lythgoe backstage while Clarkson was performing his number and saying, “‘If I win this thing, there’s gonna be a riot. “Because it was so obvious to any objective observer that Kelly was the only winner.”
And she won.
“I remember when Ryan called her being really happy and grateful to Kelly because it was so right,” he said.
With 20 years in the rearview mirror, Guarini is still grateful for his time on ‘Idol’
For Guarini and Clarkson, life after “American Idol” came with a paid trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands, record deals, a movie offer for “From Justin to Kelly” in 2003 and a head start in film. entertainment industry.
Now, 20 years later, Guarini looks back on his “interesting, wonderful, and wild career” that spans from Broadway roles and concert hosting to cartoon voiceovers and soda commercials.
He’s still grateful for “American Idol,” which he says defined his career and gave him access to many of his professional opportunities.
“Little did we know it would be the biggest TV show for many years in a row,” he told Insider. “We didn’t know it would spawn all kinds of shows like this. We didn’t know it would change the landscape of pop culture.
“We didn’t know it would be a superstar machine.”