Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

One local guy’s ‘American Idol’ experience

Note: Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian, a student writer for The Bee, is in San Francisco this week tracking her husband, Westley, as he auditions for the upcoming season of “American Idol.” She’ll be filing guest blogs for The Beehive.


It’s a “no” for Westley.

After about eight hours of waiting he got his 30 seconds in front of two judges and they turned him down. But he hasn’t lost his smile or his love of singing.The process went something like this:

After all the contestants had entered the stadium and found their seats they filed down to the field one row at a time. Once on the field, groups of four contestants sang one at a time for a pair of judges behind one of ten tables.

If the judges said “no,” the contestant walked off the field through the fence, had his wristband cut and was sent on his way.

If the judges said “yes,” the contestant walked across the field to the dugout where they waited for an interview. If they were still liked after the interview, they were asked to sing again (contestants were asked to be prepared to sing up to three songs). And then if they were still liked after that they came back for another interview. If it was a “yes” after all of that then they were invited to sing for the TV judges sometime in September.

So, Westley is on his way home to continue singing and writing music.

Well, 5 a.m. came way too early. But we made it. I discovered that the primary reason the staff asked everyone to be there that early was so they could get a lot of footage of sleepy-eyed but excited contestants early in the morning.

We spent around 2 hours waiting in front of the main entrance for AT&T Park, camped out with thousands of other singers and supporters. The crowd certainly was colorful–from a girl in a superman leotard to a young man in maroon velvet.

The production crew egged the crowd on with a megaphone and requests for cheers and chants while the camera captured it all.

They didn’t actually start letting people in until after 7 a.m. Westley has found his seat by now and will spend the rest of the morning warming up his voice and mingling with other contestants.


After exploring San Francisco for the better part of the morning, Westley and I went to AT&T Park to get me registered as a guest for the auditions. No long lines today. But unfortunately the American Idol staff told us that since I wasn’t with my husband at the time of his registration I would be unable to watch the auditions as a guest.

We did get some useful paperwork that outlines what Westley is allowed to bring into the stadium as well as what time he should get to the entrance…that would be 5 a.m. (yikes!)

So, the plan for now is that I will go with him to stand in line in the morning and hang out until he goes inside. Then I’ll either wait around for a bit or head home, depending on what time it is. He promised to keep me up-to-date on what happens inside and, of course, on how well his audition goes.

I think he’ll do well (maybe I’m a bit biased). He’s been humming his audition song–”Her Eyes” by Pat Monahan–all day.


The audition process for “American Idol” began Tuesday in San Francisco with a long line of thousands of weary singers wrapped around AT&T Park.

For one in particular, my husband Westley, it actually began around midnight as he drove from our home in Clovis to the stadium where he joined an already well-formed line full of participants eager to register.

Westley auditioned last year at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, so he knew what to expect for the most part. There are two days of registration followed by one full day of auditions on Thursday.

Since we came to the city in two cars and I joined him much later Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t register Tuesday but will go Wednesday and get a wrist band in order to be allowed into the park for the audition day.

From what Westley has shared so far, the group of contestants this year is quite talented and … well … we’ll just say “diverse.” It should be quite an adventure to watch as it all plays out. One thing’s for sure: the audition process is not at all how it seems on TV.

Pictures and video to come.

Responses to "One local guy’s ‘American Idol’ experience"

pk says:

Inquiring minds want to know:
Who: Name of contestant (Rakis-Garabedian or something else), history, etc.
What: Talent, history of same
Why: Back story
How: Work experience, talent experience….
Thanks for sharing!

Stephen says:

Other inquiring minds want to know:

How many times does the auditioner sing before actually getting to the celebrity judges? When do the producers start getting background info on the contestants? Certainly not until they’ve gone through much of the process, right?

Do auditioners have to sign any sort of confidentiality agreement before they get in to see the judges?

Either way, I hope your sweet Westley makes it!

Westley's Mom says:

His number one fan wishes him luck. We are all praying for him and hoping he makes it.

Natalie says:

Go Westley! We are excited to hear how it goes!

Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian says:

Westley Rakis-Garabedian grew up in Fresno and Prather and then moved to Clovis about two years ago.

He started singing in church plays when he was a teen and has continued to develop his voice. He led worship at Auberry Nazarane Fellowship for about five years.

Currently, he’s working more on writing songs but sings whenever he can.

He’s been in carpentry since he was 15 and currently works and Saint Agnes Medical Center in the maintenance department as a senior craftsman.

Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian says:

Contestants are asked to have up to three songs prepared. They start at a table with two judges and then continue to an interview if it’s a “yes.” They sing again after the interview and if it’s still a “yes” and go through second interview if they are still liked. After all of that, if the judges still say “yes,” then the contestant is invited to sing for the TV judges sometime in September.

Contestant get a questionnaire at the time of registration. It asks questions pertaining to the contestant’s background, hometown, singing style, etc. However, the judges don’t look at that paper unless you make it through the first audition.

Contestants sign a release form and hand it in at the first audition. In regards to a confidentiality agreement, Westley did not have to sign one but I’m not sure what the contestants that made it past the first audition are required to fill out.

Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian says:

Thank you to everyone for all of your support and encouragement!

Dale Stewart says:

I feel sorry for the people that have to jump through so many hoops just for a chance to possibly get a chance to audition. There are other easier, less expensive and more pleasant ways to get on a stage and learn the craft.