Central Florida impresses ‘American Idol’

“American Idol” started a new season Thursday with sweltering auditions in Disney Springs, but the show found guitar- and keyboard-toting hopefuls who could stand the heat.

“I’m impressed by the turnout, and I’m impressed by what we’re seeing,” said senior supervising producer Patrick Lynn. “I can’t even see the end of the line right now. This is great, especially in this heat.”

Jared Draheim, 21, of Ocoee, had a guitar with him for his audition. He described himself as an “Idol” fan and recalled predicting that Lee DeWyze would win season nine, which he did. Unfortunately, for Draheim, his “Idol” journey ended with Thursday’s audition.

“Have to go back to writing songs and working full time to make the dream happen,”

he said by email.

Orlando resident Rebecca Jean-Louis said she was “excited, anxious, ready” before her audition. “I watched it growing up, and I was like ‘that’s going to be me one day,’ ” said Jean-Louis, 18.

The singing contest last visited Orlando in 2009, when auditions were held at Amway Arena. “It was good because it was inside,” Lynn recalled.

That venue is gone, but “Idol” will begin its 16th season next year on Disney-owned ABC. Orlando, the first stop to find talent, became a boot camp for umbrella-carrying singers as temperatures hovered in the 90s.

“That’s why we’re here. There’s a lot of talent here,” Lynn said, estimating the show could see up to 2,000 hopefuls on Thursday. “It was time to come back.”

Three “Idol” victors — Ruben Studdard, Jordin Sparks and Kris Allen — showed their support by visiting Disney Springs.

“I was such a huge fan. I still am,” said Sparks, who recalled watching Kelly Clarkson win the first season. “I looked at my mom and said, ‘I want to do that.’ I wanted to be onstage evoking emotions through song.”

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Sparks, who won season six, recalled that she didn’t have to deal with heat when auditioning in Los Angeles and Seattle, but she said the conditions were a test for the singers.

“They’re seeing how well you can handle everything,” she said. “Can you handle the heat? Can you keep your attitude in check when you’re tired? Can you have other songs in your pocket? Can you maintain your voice? How are you interacting with other people?”

Second-season winner Studdard said his victory was transformative. “I knew when I was 11 I wanted to be a professional musician,” he said. “ ‘American Idol’ was the catalyst for me to get to do a job that I’ve been wanting to do my whole life. So I’m just really thankful.”

“Idol” ran for 15 seasons on Fox, becoming one of TV’s biggest hits. It was off the air this past season before moving to ABC. Katy Perry will be a new judge, but Ryan Seacrest returns as host.

“I’m excited for it to be on ABC, but ‘American Idol’ is ‘American Idol,’ ” Studdard said. The goal remains, he said, to give another young person the chance to shoot for stardom.

Season-eight winner Allen sees benefits from Disney connections for “Idol.” “I thought the show was great before,” he said. “I think adding Disney into the equation definitely puts it in the upper echelon of amazing shows.”

Sparks said “Idol” was a good fit for Disney because the show is all about family.

“It’s good to be here,” she said. “I love Disney; I love theme parks; and I love the show.”

Studdard donned Mickey Mouse ears for the visit and also noticed the heat. He recalled that his audition was “pretty cool” in Nashville in October.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, if you really want it,” he said. “You don’t get to choose how your dream comes. You just get to be a part of the process.”

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After getting in line at 3 a.m. and being rejected at the audition, Alex Willson, 22, of West Palm Beach, kept going. She was singing at the Idol pop-up audition kiosk, which will be open Friday through Sept. 15. Hopefuls can submit audition videos there during Disney Springs’ regular operating hours.

“They said try again next year, and that’s exactly what I plan to do,” Willson said. “I’m a huge ‘Idol’ fan. I’ve wanted to sing for ‘American Idol’ since the first show came out. My dad watched it with me. It’s a dream.”

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