At age 9, I watched with wide eyes as"American Idol"debuted on national television in 2002.
I never imagined that 10 years later I would receive my very own golden ticket to Hollywood.
After my debut appearance in the Season 11 premiere, which showed interview footage, clips of childhood singing performances and my encounter with the judges, and later the San Diego auditions — the episode aired Sunday night after the NFC Championship game and then again on Tuesday night — I began getting inquiries about the intriguing process and my personal story.
After some thought, I figured, who better to tell the story than me?
This column is about my personal achievement: becoming one of 300 singers selected out of 110,000 contenders who auditioned in stadiums across the nation to become the next American Idol.
Today, as a performer, entertainment writer and avid contributor to the Daily Pilot, hopefully I can use my words to tell my story as effectively as I used my musical notes in front of the “Idol” judges, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, who all sent me to Hollywood a week after their unanimous decision.
For years my father, a huge fan of the Fox show and a musical man himself, watched eagerly and encouraged me to give it a go. This year, I finally gave in and decided to audition just for fun. After all, the reality show is known for producing singing superstars overnight and turning them into household names.
The prospects are pretty tempting, but I went into the audition without expectations.
Before making it through on “Idol,” I had considered auditioning for “The Voice,"NBC’s attempt — with little success — at crippling the “American Idol” machine. Nonetheless, “American Idol” ranked No. 1 among adults ages 18 to 49 for eight consecutive seasons. It was also the No. 1 television show of the 2010-11 season, even with the new judges who came onboard last season.
As a side note, I was relieved that contestants were no longer subject to Simon Cowell’s notorious scrutiny, but were met by an encouraging and benevolent panel. Honestly, despite Cowell’s brash, no-nonsense manner, the guy knows what he is talking about.
So, on a sweltering day back in July, I showed up at Petco Park in downtown San Diego, along with my childhood best friend and 10,000 other hopefuls all wishing to be the next Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or Scotty McCreery.
Most of them came prepared to sing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” However, I had a different song in mind for my moment in front of the panel: “Some Kind of Wonderful” by Carole King, which over the years has also been covered by the likes of Grand Funk Railroad and Joss Stone.
Equipped with a solid audition song, I entered the judging room after a wait that seemed an eternity. But, somehow, the confidence I had mustered during the wait escaped me. Before me sat legendary frontman Tyler, global icon Lopez and Grammy Award-winning producer Jackson.
They all stared at me in my deep purple headband and hippie garb with expectant eyes.
Frankly, I was happily terrified — a strange reaction given my background in performing arts. There’s something about all the cameras and excitement that takes you on a roller coaster ride of newfound emotions.
As I took a deep breath and opened my mouth to sing, I could feel my hands shaking. But, after the first few lines I looked up to find a relieving sight: Tyler interjecting and waving his hands in the air, grooving to my soulful sounds. From then on, I came into my own and even made the judges laugh!
Then came the moment of truth.
In an unanimous “yes,” the panel — most notably Lopez — pointed out that I was an artist possessing “the whole package,” as well as a certain emotive energy and spark in performance. I’ve never received compliments well, and always seem to get embarrassed, beaming bashfully from ear to ear.
And then the screaming came. This was the golden ticket moment viewers saw for the first time when the San Diego episode aired Sunday night.
When I ran down the stairs in a frenzy to greet my family, close friends and host Ryan Seacrest, who all eagerly awaited the decision. Everyone was instantly in high spirits — especially Grandma, who impressed me with her Olympic high-jump.
But while my support group danced through the corridors of the U.S.S. Midway, I tried to ground my excitement in reality. In the entertainment business you eventually develop a thick skin, which means learning to never get too excited or disappointed about an experience. Anything can happen in show business, especially in reality television.
However, my road to Hollywood began even before I set foot in Petco Park last summer.
Immense musical preparation made this moment attainable. Thankfully, for a 19-year-old I have had my share of musical opportunities including: radio play on Top 40 stations like Radio Disney, and soundtrack work in movies like “Marley & Me: The Puppy Years,” “Flicka 2" and “Moondance Alexander.” And at age 13, I was lucky enough to be the opening soloist at an event featuring Sting and Natalie Cole.
In the end, I owe all of my feats to my family, who has enduringly supported this passionate dream I hold close to my heart. When I started to sing, I was not driven by a thirst for stardom, but a genuine zeal and emotional connection to my music as a universal communicative tool.
An intriguing journey has just begun.
For more information, log on to https://www.heatheryoumansmusic.com or americanidol.com where the “Idol” team has posted my official “Road to Hollywood” interview and a photo taken during my audition. Stay tuned as “American Idol” continues to search for America’s next singing superstar.