Looking for talent for its 14th season, “American Idol” again headed to judge Harry Connick’s hometown, New Orleans, last summer.
One of six audition cities — the reality competition show also visited Kansas City, Missouri; Long Island, New York; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; and San Francisco — the musical Big Easy again offered loads of hopefuls, including Anjelika Joseph, who like thousands of others, sang first for “Idol” producers in June.
Those advancing returned in August to sing their hearts out for “the big three,” judges and entertainers Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Connick.
Those auditions will be spotlighted on Thursday night’s show. Among the crowd were New Orleanians Quentin Alexander and Mikey Duran. Did they get a golden ticket to Hollywood? They can’t tell.
“Idol” will release a list of all those heading to Los Angeles after the audition show airs.
While they couldn’t say if Hollywood is in their futures, Alexander and Duran could talk about their “Idol” experience.
Managing his music
A native of New Orleans, Quentin Alexander’s day job is as a retail manager.
The 21-year-old says he’s been singing all his life, but didn’t get serious about it until high school.
“I was always into music, like as far as instruments, being in the band. I was introduced to the school choir and through that I was introduced to an art program where I went for acting,” he says. “I ended up watching one of the other guys get up and sing and I decided, well, I think I can do it, and then, from that point, I pretty much pursued it.”
Alexander honed his voice in McDonogh 35 High School’s choral and theater programs, the latter affording him the chance to do traveling musicals, he says.
Growing up, the songs of neo-soul singer-songwriter Erykah Badu stand out in Alexander’s memory.
“We really didn’t have cable TV, so I got a lot of my inspiration from my sisters listening to music or through movies ,” he says. “Her (Badu’s) voice was definitely something that was very relevant to that time.
“Also, as far as styling goes, I really take heart from Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Andre 3000, just a bunch of different people.”
Alexander scratches his head when trying to classify his sound.
“I say indie-soul. I jump to different genres, but I always come back to the soulful Southern feeling,” he says.
This was Alexander’s second time auditioning for “Idol,” but his first time advancing to audition before the judges.
In June, he performed the Lorde song “Royals” for show producers.
“They were very responsive to, not necessarily the song I sang, but the way I sang it,” he says. “They really just told me they were feeling my style and just to keep that whole unique thing going.”
Then the day with the Lopez, Urban and Connick arrived.
“It’s truly life-changing, just to be able to have that opportunity to perform in front of three of the biggest people in the music industry of all time. It’s something that’s really appreciated,” he says. “And you have to pat yourself on the back because you are one out of however many millions who made it to that point. It’s a really, really, really big deal.”
For the judges, he sang “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve and reprised his rendition of “Royals.”
“In that moment, I realized there’s nothing you can do to prepare yourself for that big shocker” he says. “As soon as you walk in that room, it’s an entirely different world.”
Alexander recalls when he was simply an “Idol” watcher, especially in the series’ first few seasons.
“I remember watching that first time and laughing hysterically at the people who weren’t so good, and then, at the same time, being mesmerized by the strong vocals of Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia (Barrino), Rueben (Studdard, past ‘Idol’ winners). Now I’m able to say I’m part of that journey that most kids grew up watching.”
Now, standing in their shoes, he hopes for success.
“I just needed the outlet to be able to get my art out there,” he says.
School + singing
Mikey Duran is a 19-year-old LSU sophomore majoring in business.
He also grew up in New Orleans and remembers really wanting to do something with music in his early teens.
“I picked up a guitar and that really helps with accompanying anybody’s voice, and I started playing open mics around and getting positive feedback and I just went from there,” he says.
Duran’s musical scope includes pop, ballads, rock and. indie. He’s had no formal vocal training, but has done open mics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He was working at Lakeside Mall when “Idol” came to town.
“A random stranger was handing out flyers for auditions,” he says, “and I decided I would go.”
It was his first time auditioning, although he’s followed the show off and on, especially in its early seasons.
For muscial inspiration, he often turns to the Beatles, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and Maroon 5. At the initial audition, he chose a standard, “Feeling Good,” most recently covered by Michael Bublé.
“I brought my guitar in but sang a cappella first,” he recalls. “With my guitar, I did ‘Too Close’ by (singer-songwriter) Alex Clare.”
He opted to sing one of his original songs, “My Demise,” for the judges’ round.
“They seemed super surprised,” he says. “They said they really liked the song and they couldn’t believe that voice was mine, and that I wrote it.”