Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Soviet Idol Not Allowed!

A lot of my friends have been asking me both jokingly and seriously over and over again: "Why aren't you on American Idol?" Well, I have never tried it on this side of the ocean, but I did audition for the original Pop Idol show in the UK a few years ago... Without even knowing what Pop Idol was all about!

In autumn of 2002, as an aspiring 17-year-old singer, I finally decided to make the big move to the UK and really focus on my music career. With nothing to my name but "a voice", I embarked on a journey that would take me to some of the most exciting, thrilling, even somewhat scary places...

On my way to Sheremetyevo International Airport of Moscow, I got an email from DJ Neil "Doctor" Fox, a dear friend, great champion, adviser (you name it!) suggesting that since I was going to be in London anyway, I should pop over to the final off camera audition for an upcoming ITV show called "Pop Idol" - a new television contest that was about to hit primetime TV in the UK for the first time.

I had no idea what the show was all about, so I called Chris Neil, someone I have immense admiration for and really looked up to from day one (he later became my executive producer.) "Just do it, you never know, you have nothing to lose!" he encouraged me during the long-distance call.

As soon as I got off the plane, I literally rushed over to the ITV studios with my dad and a family friend of ours. I barely made it in time for the last call of auditions - and had to talk my way through the security, as I was already too late by then.

It was nothing like what we see on television - completely off camera, intimate, equally stressful but still somewhat relaxed... We made sure that by the time I showed up at the audition, Foxy was no longer there, so it wouldn't look like a set up or a name-dropping contest.

And there they were: Nicki Chapman from 19 management, Pete Waterman, the producer of Kylie Minogue, among others, and THE Simon Cowell from BMG. I have to admit, at the time, nobody outside of the tight circle of the music business in the UK knew anything about Simon, so to me, he was a complete stranger!

The three potential contestants lined up, I was the last one... Two other girls were sent home within minutes... I got a bit scared, I thought: "That's it, bye-bye, Tinatin!"

By the time it was my turn, I stood center stage in the spotlight and started chatting to the judges, the most charming of whom was Simon, in all honesty. I sang "The Power of Love" and I was amazed when they didn't stop me even when I got through the second verse!

The most critical of the three was definitely Nicki - she said I looked somewhat tired, so in response, I started recounting my flight details, but Simon quickly cut us off: "Come on, Nicki! She has a great voice. You're really good. Tell me more about yourself..."

I must have spent at least half-hour, if not more, just talking about music, who I was planning to work with in London, etc. and Simon and I really clicked. The best part of it was that because at the time Pop Idol was still completely unknown as a project, and so was Simon Cowell to the general public, I didn't feel the need to "please" him or gain his approval - I could be myself and let the rest take care of itself.

It was unanimously decided that I would enter the final selection of contestants before the TV show kicked off (at the time, it was done mostly off camera) - but then Simon verified my citizenship... Oops! "You have to be British in order to qualify, I think, but let me check..." So they looked into the rules and regulations and the contract confirmed his hears - no Soviet idols (nor any other nationality) allowed, gotta be a Brit :-(

I was slightly disappointed, especially because I had no clue about the show and who would have known back then that it was going to take over primetime TV!

Instead of worrying about the legalities, Simon immediately suggested that I get Chris Neil, whom he had known for years and who was also about to become my producer, to contact him and arrange an A&R meeting independently (at BMG) outside of the Pop Idol framework.

Before we knew it, Pop Idol took off within a month and Simon Cowell became the biggest TV star in England, so when the meeting was moved once again to January of the following year, Chris and I laughed and politely thanked Simon's assistant.

Although, I have to admit, Simon was the most charming, warm, gracious gentleman, so every time I see the really nasty Simon on American Idol, it makes me smile... He was far from it when I met him, and to be honest, I don't for a second believe he's changed that much - but it's a great TV personality that surely achieves its goal for what it is.

Fond memories, though, I always smile when I remember my Idol experience... Didn't regret it for a second, but on second thought, I don't think I would have signed up for it now, even though it was fun and exciting at the time - and adventurous, too!

So, my dear friends, I did American Idol before it was American Idol - in fact, before it was even on air :-) All the more to tell the grandchildren!

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