In mid-conversation with one of the hundreds of competitors, one name is called for the audition of a lifetime. The production crew then probes for answers about nerves, yet you know that you're one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Darren Eubank and Chima Ijeh slowly made their way down a hallway they’ve never traveled, listening tentatively to directions while doing their best to remain composed. About 15 minutes pass and the two are taken into another private holding room.
One door with a prominent American Idol logo is now the only thing that separated the two Red Oak musicians and their chances of performing in Hollywood. The duo could barely make out what was occurring on the other side of the door and decided to, instead, focus on their upcoming performance.
“It’s momentum building, and there’s a big dramatic feeling of opening the big, black door,” Ijeh recalled. “Honestly, it felt like forever. There are a lot of emotions coursing through you. Every moment felt like a lifetime.”
The two quickly completed a ritual that consists of a “bro handshake” and prayer, and then the door opened.
The two stepped through a small dark hallway and dead center was Katy Perry, Lionel Ritchie and Luke Bryant in the spotlight. The production crew — dressed in all black — operated camera equipment in the shadows of the room.
The American Idol stage was set, and the attention was now on Eubank and Ijeh.
“I can’t even remember what I said at first,” Ijeh said.
He did recall his impersonation of a preacher scored points with Perry as she laughed out loud. As Ijeh glanced across the judges, “It feels like you are looking at them through a tv screen, because you’ve only ever seen them on tv. When they finally shake your hand and give you the golden ticket, I felt like I had walked into my tv.”
With guitar in hand, Eubank sang with Ijeh and, within seven minutes, they each scored a coveted golden ticket to Hollywood. Overwhelmed with joy, the men shook each judges' hand.
Eubank disclosed that Lionel provided the best handshake. “Lionel has been in the business the longest so he has the most wisdom and you can tell that everything he does is intentional,” Eubank said.
What the two contestants were not prepared for were the following series of events.
The two had arrived at a warehouse in New York for the celebrity auditions at 6:30 a.m. — early for their 7 a.m. check-in. They wasted time by establishing relationships with contenders. The audition was scheduled promptly at noon and, after that, the Red Oak residents were put through a series of camera exposure and interviews with the American Idol crew. They did not leave until 11 p.m.
Once a contestant receives the ticket to Hollywood, they have to sit in the waiting room with their family or whoever tagged along with either Ryan Seacrest or another individual.
“With Chima and I, they had us sit with another contestant and asked us about New York and if it was our first time and then we did a cut scene with Ryan Seacrest.”
Then it’s confession booth time, which took place in a small room with nothing but American Idol logos, providing the contestants an opportunity to express their excitement. The musicians were then filmed for b-roll to potentially be used in in the show. They were shot on the streets of New York and played for people.
“We were actually pretty shocked that we weren’t on the initial audition episode because they were calling our names more than anyone else in New York,” Ijeh said.
When hunger struck, the contestants were left stranded in the warehouse with nothing but small bags of snacks and an unlimited supplied of Lipton Tea (the company is one of the show's sponsors). The manager of the D and Chi band had tagged along and was allowed to escape and returned with 12 boxes of pizza.
“All I had to eat that day was only two pieces of pizza,” Eubank said. He limited his food intake mainly because he didn’t want to get anything on his shirt.
Eubank said he did an additional two hours of interviews about his personal life where he focused on his new wife and his mother’s death from brain cancer last year.
“It was a full day, and I don’t regret that because American Idol is grooming me to be a star, and when you are a star, nothing is short,” Eubank stressed.
However, once the duo arrived in Hollywood, they felt like celebrities — and this time, American Idol had it all covered and more.
All the contestants were chartered in a bus and the cameras followed them everywhere besides the hotel and bathroom. The two recalled that passersby would often stop and ask what all of the hoopla was for.
“The farther you go in the competition, the more respect you earn from people who work there,” Eubank said.
The food stood out the most though.
“They had some bomb food, man,” Eubank emphasized.
“The food was so good,” Ijeh agreed. He then said the grilled salmon and cookies were the best items offered. “I felt like I was on a Hollywood movie set… Honestly, that might have been the best part of Hollywood week.”
Hollywood week consisted of five days and was televised on March 24. The competition was comprised of three rounds of elimination — the lines of 10, group rounds and the solo round.
Unfortunately, Ijeh was sent home following the lines of 10, while Eubank and another Red Oak graduate, Jade Flores, advanced with 98 other contestants to the group rounds.
Eubank and Flores were both eliminated before reaching the solo round.
Flores acknowledged the uproar on social media after her elimination but has kept her head high. She said Bobby Bones, an on-air radio personality best known for hosting the nationally syndicated "The Bobby Bones Show," wants her on his show. She also mentioned that Lionel Ritchie messaged her on Facebook and encouraged her to audition again next year.
Flores reminisced on her time on American Idol and said, “I’m comfortable now. Before I was really insecure and you know, there is only one Jade. There were so many people there, as long as you stay true to yourself you will stand out.”
Ijeh echoed the sentiment and added, “I’m super thankful to American Idol for the opportunity because I know being part of this experience will help and has helped my career. I feel that people should know that just because you don’t make it on the show, that doesn’t mean you aren’t talented."
Eubank said he and Ijeh will continue to play as a band and is currently getting the other Texas-based American Idol contestants together to perform a show over the summertime.
Ijeh also noted "D and Chi" will be the closing act for the Deep Ellum Arts Festival on April 7.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450