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Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Big Country sends three to Idol finals in L.A.

By Brien Murphy
Reporter-News Staff Writer

Three singers with Big Country ties described their weekend in Austin as “excruciating,” “nerve-wracking,” and grueling enough that “it made me just sick to my stomach.”

And they received good news.

Singers Coffey Anderson, Solisa Shoop and Adrian Washington will leave soon for Los Angeles after successfully impressing American Idol judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson.

The singers will join about 150 other contestants who advanced past thousands of other would-be TV stars at auditions in seven cities.

“You’re thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m this far. I’m one song away from going to Los Angeles or going home,’” said Anderson, a 23-year-old Bangs resident.

American Idol aired last summer on Fox. After starting with 10,000 singers and videotaping their auditions, performances and triumphs or failures, the show gave Kelly Clarkson of Burleson a recording contract and concert dates. Her first single, A Moment Like This, briefly topped the Billboard magazine singles chart.

Anderson, Shoop and Washington advanced to the Los Angeles rounds after five days of waiting, hoping, worrying, and waiting some more in less-than-ideal conditions.

“I had to stand in line for … 25 hours total. I was wearing high heels,” Shoop said. “… We had to sleep outside in line. There were 3,600 of us sleeping outside. You wake up with feet in your face.”

The auditions began Wednesday at an Austin hotel in front of show producers. Some singers warbled only a few notes before having their dreams dashed. Others auditioned twice more before learning their fate.

The final 200 or so sang Sunday for Abdul, Cowell and Jackson, who decide which singers reach the finals.

Shoop, an Abilene resident who turns 21 Friday, sang a Latin-tinged version of Donna Summer’s Last Dance. She was surprised when the usually caustic Cowell convincingly said she was what American Idol wants, while Abdul, normally nurturing and encouraging, waffled.

“I was like, ‘Could you please hurry up? You’re scaring me,’” Shoop said.

With Jackson in her corner, Shoop was in. She remains an Abdul fan.

“After it was over, I asked if I could touch her hand, and she put both hands out and said, ‘Of course, you’re so precious!’” Shoop said. “I said, ‘You’re so precious, too!’”

Then Shoop promptly tripped on a rug and tried to exit through a locked door — with cameras rolling.

“I have nothing to hide,” she said.

Anderson’s audition with Stevie Wonder’s Lately went more smoothly — and more predictably, with Jackson and Abdul voting yes, and Cowell saying, “I’ve heard better.”

Anderson, who won the Abilene round of American Idol sponsored by KXVA-TV and KHYS-FM, said the Austin auditions wracked his nerves.

“In Abilene, we were supporting everyone and having fun, and it was about having a good show,” he said. “In Austin, it was more bittersweet. We were there six hours a day for three days, and you knew where everyone was from and all their stories. … But you think, ‘If you go, I may not go.’”

Washington, 23, an Abilene High School graduate who lives in Round Rock, felt more at ease than some singers because he auditioned for American Idol last year and knew what to expect.

After a year of rehearsing, strengthening his voice (judges last year called it “mediocre”), and studying tapes of the show, he felt confident — until learning he would have to spend the night outside.

“I was shocked I could sing the next day,” Washington said. “If I’ve been out in the cold for an extended period of time, my voice is nothing. But God blessed me.”

All three singers got the good news Sunday, and will soon leave for Los Angeles. Before Anderson leaves, he will become a father. His wife, Ashlie, is due to deliver a daughter any minute.

Although none of the singers has been guaranteed to perform on the show — the next round will cut the 150 singers to 30 — Shoop said producers said cameras will roll almost immediately after the singers arrive in Los Angeles.

Lacy Spano of Abilene advanced to the Austin auditions, but was not invited to Los Angeles.

Contact leisure writer Brien Murphy at 676-6760 or murphyb@reporternews.com

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