Paula Fuga of Waimanalo sang yesterday while she waited for her turn to audition for the "American Idol" judges at the Sheraton Waikiki.

'Idol'-izing the isles

The judges of "American Idol"
hope to return in 2004 after
successful auditions

The celebrity judges of "American Idol," even the notoriously picky Simon Cowell, were pleased with the talent they found in Hawaii and said they'd try to return next year.

But producers said they were too busy on the final day of filming yesterday to think about whether the show will be back.

The judges took a break from filming auditions for the popular television talent show for a press conference yesterday on behalf of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Wearing a lei and aloha attire, judge Paula Abdul said that she saw some "truly amazing" talent from some Hawaii residents. One Hawaii 16-year-old gave all the judges goosebumps when she sang Whitney Houston's difficult ballad "I Will Always Love You" right on mark, she said.

"I'm pleasantly surprised. You know, there was some talent here," said judge Randy Jackson.

Even judge Simon Cowell, known on the show for his cynicism and nasty comments, thought the Hawaii tour yielded more than a vacation for the show's cast and crew.

"Come back?" he asked. "Why not?"

"American Idol" emcee Ryan Seacrest, left, and judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell met with the media yesterday.

The HVCB paid $30,000 to bring "American Idol" to Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines and Sheraton Hotels also kicked in airline tickets and hotel rooms.

The investment, they said, was well worth it.

"It's priceless," said Les Enderton, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau interim president. "You really can't buy" this kind of an advertisement.

The show's producers said they plan to devote at least a 30-minute segment to Idol's island auditions. Show host Ryan Seacrest filmed a series of segments Friday that will air in 30-second clips within the Fox show and feature some of his Hawaiian adventures, including learning to surf off Waikiki.

A 30-second paid advertisement during the show costs an estimated $500,000, said David McNeil of McNeil Wilson Communications, HVCB's public relations firm.

McNeil said it would be great if the show comes back, but the HVCB and the producers haven't begun discussions about the show's return.

David Gossin, supervising producer of "Idol," said yesterday's auditions were filmed with Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach in the background.

"That alone is like a postcard seen by 25 million households during the dead of winter," he said. "I can't think of a better time to advertise Hawaii."

The show, with a broad demographic that attracts whole families, begins airing in January, Gossin said.

"American Idol" judge Paula Abdul got a peck on the head yesterday from fellow judge Simon Cowell. Media descended upon the judges during a brief press conference.

On top of the TV time, the show also attracted dollars from the more than 800 mainlanders who came to the islands for the auditions. They represent about 40 percent of all the contestants who auditioned in Hawaii, McNeil said.

Some 2,000 people auditioned during an open casting call at Aloha Stadium Tuesday. About 60 were chosen to come back and perform before the judges and cameras at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Gossin said that if a Hawaii resident is chosen to be in the show's top 12, producers will return to the islands to do a biography on that person.

Outside in the waiting room, contestants could only hope they would make it that far as they waited their turn yesterday to belt out tunes to Abdul, Jackson and Cowell.

Kailua resident Crystal Akana, who auditioned for the show in Los Angeles last year and made it to the second round, was next in line after the judges' break yesterday.

"It's been crazy," she said. "I'm trying to stay relaxed."

Twenty-five members of Akana's family waited with her on the 30th floor of the Sheraton.

Rosalinda Flores of San Francisco was there, too. She said she's met people from around the United States during the auditions and, if nothing else, has made some good friends.

"It's really scary," she said of the process. "And a lot of fun."


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