LOS ANGELES – It’s been four months since “American Idol” held auditions at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and on Wednesday night viewers will finally get to see what went on in there.
“I think in the major cities, L.A. and New York, the stakes might not seem as high for the contestants and their families because they may have another shot at something in those cities,” said host Ryan Seacrest, providing a little context about the intensity they felt at their Minneapolis stop. In smaller markets, “you really get the sense that the stakes are really high because this is their shot when we come through.”
Judge Harry Connick Jr. had hoped to find the next Prince at the auditions last fall, and he repeated that sentiment in an interview on Saturday.
“I remember looking forward to that particular city just because of the musical history there,” he said. “You wonder who’s the next person that’s going to come out of there. And we weren’t disappointed.”
Connick said the judges do tend to find a higher percentage of talented people in bigger cities. But he added, “That’s not to say that there haven’t been some real jewels in the smaller markets, as well.”
If those comments come across as a little subdued and perhaps a bit bland, that properly reflects the Twin Cities episode, an unspectacular hour in a new season that has generated about as much buzz as a rerun of “Gilligan’s Island.”
The ratings for last week’s premiere of Season 14, airing on Fox, were down 13 percent from the 2014 opener — and last year wasn’t particularly hot.
The finale drew 10.5 million viewers. Not bad, but a mighty drop from 28 million for the closer in 2004, when the show was TV’s biggest sensation.
Seacrest speculated that the show suffered last year from a lack of connection between the contestants and the audience.
“I think we could have captured that better,” he said. “This year, we’ve made a real effort to find those contestants that can and will do that, and so will we.”
The show has all but eliminated what was once the most entertaining component of the audition episodes, when terrible singers would be hit with a barrage of insults by Simon Cowell.
Current show-runners are striking a kinder, gentler tone.
“You might have noticed we don’t have quite so many of the obviously bad contestants in the room in front of the judges,” said Trish Kinane, who joined the show in 2013 as an executive producer. “People know when they’re being manipulated, and it’s manipulative to put obviously bad people in front of these guys, who are looking for the best talent.”
At least 3 locals featured
At least the relatively new strategy provides more airtime for seriously strong performers. Among the locals getting the Wednesday spotlight: Bemidji’s Courtney Guns, Fargo’s Zach Johnson and Twin Cities club vet Mark Andrew of St. Paul.
Andrew, 29, was also a contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2013, where he won initial favor with a soulful version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” but was then quickly eliminated. He is also known for singing with local country-rockers the White Iron Band, co-led by his brother Matt Pudas.
Guns, 24, whose real last name is Gunsalus, is a country singer who performs in casinos around the Upper Midwest with the Marshall Star Band.
Even if the eventual winner comes out of the Minneapolis auditions, it’s no guarantee that he or she is on the way to fame and fortune. The last champ who developed into a true superstar was Carrie Underwood nearly a decade ago.
But Connick vigorously argued that “Idol” remains a proper platform for an up and coming performer.
“Boy, I tell you, somebody came up to me a while back, and they said, ‘I don’t like “American Idol.” I think these young musicians should pay their dues,’ ” said Connick. “I said, ‘OK, let me explain something to you. When you audition for “American Idol” and if you get out of it in the very first round, I would call that experience. You’ve experienced something. If you make it all the way to the end and win, you have basically taken six, eight, 10 months out of your year and dedicated it to the most rigorous, intensive process. You’re surrounded by people who are constantly telling you things that will help you improve your craft. So that is about the best experience you can get for any musicians.’ ”