Hawaii fans and
contestants idolize
‘American Idol’

"American Idol's" Honolulu auditions: Airs at 7 p.m. tomorrow on KHON/Fox

For as long as he can remember, Reno David craved the spotlight. At the age of 7, his quest for the secrets to stardom led him to his neighborhood library, where he learned that composing a resume was the first step toward a professional career. Although he couldn't quite pronounce the word, he asked for a librarian's assistance in digging up appropriate reading material.

"She actually helped me write my first 'rez-zoom,' and I went home and typed it out using one finger," related the aspiring singer, with a laugh. "Performing was something I always knew I had to do."

Having advanced through the preliminary rounds of "American Idol" two years in a row, David is now considered an amateur show-biz veteran, if such a title exists. The part-time substitute teacher from Mililani made it past the early stages of last year's Los Angeles auditions, outshining the majority of the city's 11,000 hopefuls, and moved past the initial round of this season's Honolulu cattle call.

"Not to be cocky or anything," said David, "but when I first got up to audition, I was feeling confident, and I had this feeling of peace, which surprised me. They were in my home (state) this time, and to me it was just another audition."

"American Idol," now in its third season on the Fox network, has found a rabid following in Hawaii, where viewers cheered on local teenage sensation Jordan Segundo last year as he stormed into the competition's stage of 32 finalists.

You had to be really good or really bad to make it through the "American Idol" auditions. This is one of the photos from the Honolulu auditions posted on the show's Web site. Highlights of the auditions will air at 7 p.m. tomorrow on KHON/Fox.

"Last season, we had the second-highest ratings in the country," said KHON's Tannya Boyd, producer of the revealing "Aloha, American Idol" TV special, which precedes the maiden episode of this year's series locally with an in-depth look at the "American Idol" phenomenon in Hawaii. "We came in just behind Birmingham, Ala., which is where the winner, Ruben (Studdard), came from," Boyd said.

Assembled from KHON reporting footage, "Aloha American Idol" documented the social and financial impact of the program's isle arrival.

"It's TV's biggest show," noted Boyd, a professed "AI" devotee since its June 2002 premiere. "It's the only show on Fox, with the exception of sporting events, that gets more than 40 million viewers. We wanted to focus on the auditions in Hawaii, why that's good for Hawaii and why the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau wanted the show to be here."

A 30-second commercial during an "American Idol" broadcast, Boyd explained, would have come with a price tag of $700,000. A resourceful HVCB, however, realized that an offer of free air fare and accommodations for the entire cast and crew would cost the state a fraction of that while earning considerably more air time for Hawaii. The show's producers, who had been considering Miami as a warm-weather location, accepted an 11th-hour bid, which included free travel on Hawaiian Airlines and complimentary lodging at the Sheraton Waikiki, in exchange for making Honolulu its sixth and final 2004 destination. "American Idol's" Honolulu episode airs at 7 p.m. tomorrow on KHON/Fox.

"(Tonight), we have a whole one-hour show, basically of free publicity for Hawaii," says Boyd. "It's snowing in many parts of the country right now, and they're seeing Hawaii in all its glory."

THE FIRST PHASE of the Honolulu competition, which took place last September, saw nearly 2,000 hopefuls congregate at Aloha Stadium. Contestants were lined up on the field in six rows and shuttled past judges who quickly eliminated the lackluster singers while admitting their able-voiced peers. Presumably, the spectacularly dreadful ones, who, despite an obvious dearth of talent, are occasionally deemed entertaining enough to pass through to the TV taping.

David was among roughly 130 competitors who earned a second tryout for executive producers. "I ran through Aloha Stadium screaming at the top of my lungs, 'Thank you, God. Thank the Lord!'

Of the returnees, fewer than half were asked to repeat the act on camera for celebrity judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Though Hawaii won't know until tomorrow, the panel is assumed to have already allowed a small group of local singers to move on to Hollywood, where regional winners will square off against other vocalists from around the country. Only the finalists, their immediate families and the "American Idol" crew know the outcome of Honolulu's taped auditions.

"Fox was really trying to keep a lid on it, even with us," Boyd said. "They didn't want to release names of people who made it. But just interviewing the judges, they were very impressed with about three or four singers, so I suspect a handful of singers will make it into the next phase. They were really raving about one singer, so unless she really messed up, I think she probably made it, and a couple of other singers, too."

If David is among those who have been passed through to Hollywood, he's not telling, choosing instead to impart a message of perseverance to future "AI" candidates. "Just study, really work with your voice, know what you're going there with and be prepared. If you're on pitch and you know your song, the exposure can only help you."

Case in point: Contestant Keith Beukelaer's horrendous rendition of "Like a Virgin" last season earned the melodically challenged crooner stints on "Inside Edition," Atlanta's Q-100 and San Diego's Star 100.7. At least one Beukelaer fan site exist on the Internet.

"If you can survive 'American Idol,' you can do anything," said David who plans to pursue his dreams of stardom even if "American Idol" doesn't take him all the way to the top.

"If it's meant to be, it'll happen, but if it doesn't, I'm fine with that. I would never have a negative experience with 'American Idol,'" he said before pausing to assess his comment.

"Never. No matter what Simon says."

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