A long line of young musical talent gathered outside the Santa Barbara Veterans’ Memorial Building on Cabrillo Blvd. Friday morning, each eager to become the next American Idol. The singing competition TV series stopped by Santa Barbara for its Bus Tour auditions, an initial try-out for the show’s producers before the televised rounds where contestants sing before the show’s three judges.
Friday’s auditions marked the show’s first held in Santa Barbara since program was revived on the ABC network in 2018, and according to publicist Courtney Hummel was part of an effort to make the Bus Tour auditions “more personal” by visiting the hometowns of the show’s judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan. At one point a cardboard cutout of Ms. Perry, a Santa Barbara native, was flashed for the cameras beside the long line of hopefuls as they waited for their turn to sing.
As the line started to move, the News-Press caught up with several singers, each expressing a combination of excitement and nervousness. Some were locals like 24-year-old Natalie Espinoza, a Santa Barbara High School graduate currently studying music at Cal State San Marcos. Ms. Espinoza said she had prepared a rendition of Billie Eilish’s “I Don’t Wanna Be You Anymore,” one of her favorite songs that she thought would be perfect for the audition.
“In these auditions they tend to look for range and it’s fairly rangey. It can be really low and it’s also really high neck voice, as well as I think stylistically it shows off the kind of genre that I’d be interested in,” she said.
18-year-old Westmont College freshman Sara Sivulka was also among the local talent. Originally from Serbia, Ms. Sivulka is a lifelong “American Idol” fan and expressed gratitude at the opportunity to finally fulfill one of her long-held ambition.
“I’ve been watching American Idol’ all my life, so I’m glad I moved to America and now I’m doing this,” she said.
While many standing in line could be seen strumming acoustic six-string guitars as they warmed up for their auditions, Ms. Sivulka had a ukulele to for her rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.”
Many in line traveled for the audition, in some cases all the way across the United States. This was the case for 17-year-old Carolina Zapata, a singer-songwriter from Naples, FL. When asked what made her decide to travel so far for the audition, Ms. Zapata said it was entirely her father’s idea.
“He pushes me to try my best and he wants to help me, so that’s why,” she said.
While many had prepared covers of popular artist’s songs, Ms. Zapata decided to sing an original number called “Why,” believing that it would make her stand out and be a genuine expression of emotion.
“I feel like everyone is always doing popular artists’ songs so I’m not trying to go with that trend, and I’ve always loved songwriting because it comes from the heart, it expresses my emotions, and it’s a way that I can deal with everything that I’m feeling,” she said.
Despite all their efforts, most departed the Veterans’ Memorial Building without proceeding to the next round. Some were visibly disappointed, even in tears. Among the lucky few to proceed to the next round was 23-year-old Hunter Gibson, one of several North Hollywood residents who traveled to try out. Speaking to the News-Press just after he had gotten the good news, Mr. Gibson said he was “on cloud nine.”
Growing up singing rock and metal music, Mr. Gibson said he wanted to give the producers a performance that was authentic to who he is, incorporating singing, screaming, and a mixture of both with a version of My Chemical Romance’s “Famous Last Words” and a soon-to-be released original song called “Again.” Should he find success on “American Idol,” Mr. Gibson hopes to promote his music and bring rock music in the style of Nirvana, Blink 182 and My Chemical Romance back into the mainstream.
“We need to hear more emotional music that can help us relate with life, and that’s the songs I write about … People need to hear they’re not alone,” he said.
Mr. Gibson will now proceed to a new round of auditions, the next of which will be before Ms. Perry, Mr. Richie, and Mr. Bryan. He called them “iconic legends” and hopes they will love what music he has to offer.