Next stop: ‘American Idol’

SCHS student gets chance to audition for the popular TV show
Feb. 25, 2013 @ 12:09 AM

When the next round of auditions comes around for “American Idol,” one Sevier County teen won’t have to wait in long lines to get her time in front of judges.

Kelsey Cate, 15, will be spared that thanks to her friends and family convincing her to compete in the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World in Orlando.

The youngest daughter of Joe and Pam Kate of Kodak, the Sevier County High School sophomore was at the park with her mother, sister Whitney, 17,  and other members of the SCHS marching band. The band traveled to Florida the weekend of Feb. 15 to march in a park parade.

While visiting the Hollywood Studios park, her friends prodded her to enter the talent competition, and her father did as well via text messaging. He was also in Orlando, but was attending a conference for his job with Pilot and couldn’t be at the amusement park.

“I was texting her, you better do this,” Joe Cate said.

Joe Cate said they knew of the American Idol Experience from previous trips to the park, but on that Saturday, her friends finally talked Kelsey into auditioning. She is a member of the high school chorus and sings with a youth group at Beech Springs Baptist Church. She also takes singing lessons from Beth Smith in Knoxville.

The American Idol Experience process started with Kelsey singing a capella a song of her choice for a producer. She chose “American Honey” by Lady Antebellum. From there she chose from a list of songs to sing with a musical track for a director. She chose Reba McEntire’s “Turn Up the Radio.”

“That’s the one I knew,” Kelsey said of the songs on the list, which included several genres of music, but country is her favorite.

Pam Cate was able to be in those first auditions, but couldn’t tell at the time what the judges thought of her daughter. She said they said little about their evaluations until letting them know they would be performing at one of the four shows held each day. Only three people are chosen to compete in the four shows. Moving on is determined by the voting audience, with four of those 12 going on the the finale.

“They simulate the real ‘American Idol,’” Joe Cate said of the format of of show.

Kelsey went back to “American Honey” for her stage performance in front of about 2,000 people. She said the only other time she sang for that large a crowd was at a Beta Club convention.

The American Idol Experience audience used keypads at their seats to vote for their favorites. The majority of the members of the SCHS band were in the audience. “We texted people to try and get the votes,” Kelsey said.

At the finale, Kelsey had to stand on stage and learn her fate. “They did it just like the regular show,” she said. “They called you up if you made it and told you to sit down if you didn’t.”

But she didn’t have to sit down. She had to compete with the three finalists from the other daily shows to see who would win the Dream Ticket, and then on to the next round of American Idol auditions.

Kelsey said she doesn’t recall what was going through her mind when her name was called as the Dream Ticket winner for that day. She was just excited, she said. She didn’t really expect to win, she said, because the competition was pretty good.

Her critiques from the judges were good, she said. “The guy said ... he could see me singing at the Bluebird,” Kelsey recalled, naming a famous landmark in Nashville.

She said she’s never really thought about trying out for “American Idol” before.

“I actually did try out for ‘The Voice’ back in January and didn’t make it through,” she said. “But I never thought about ‘American Idol.’”

“I’m all for it,” said her dad, who was also in his high school band and plays the piano.

She does plan to try out next summer, and hopes to follow in the footsteps of two of her favorite singers and “American Idol” alums: Scotty McCreary and Carrie Underwood.

Kelsey said she would love to make singing her career. Long-range plans include attending Belmont University in Nashville.

Until then, she is grateful for her friends prodding her to try out and for supporting her during the shows. They were waiting for her at the end of the day after her win. She showed her thanks this week by bringing them a batch of chocolate chip cookies.