Walt Disney World wants to capture the look, vibe and popularity of the nation's most-watched television show with its new American Idol Experience, a daily singing competition at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The attraction, now in its "soft-opening" stage with a sporadic schedule, officially debuts Feb. 14. Here are ways it will incorporate elements of the Fox TV show (like that mean judge) and where it will stray (no train-wreck singers allowed).
Who can be a contestant at American Idol Experience?
Studio visitors at least 14 years old may request an audition. Participants will sing -- a cappella -- a song of their choice for a Disney casting director in a dinky room. Those receiving thumbs-up must then prepare one of 113 pre-approved songs for a producer, who selects the contestants to sing for audiences.
They will aim for diverse musical offerings, said casting producer Mark Catlett. For instance, a show with only power ballads might be avoided.
Where will the performances be?
The park's 1,000-seat Superstar Television Theater has been thoroughly rehabbed for the production, said Laura Offerdahl, entertainment attraction show producer. There are new seats, carpet, audio systems and a tricked-out stage designed by Andy Walmsley, who also created the television show's set. And, yes, there's Coca-Cola product placement.
How often will shows be staged?
A: Disney will launch with seven preliminary shows of about 25 minutes each, but that may be adjusted, Offerdahl said. Each show will feature three singing guests, and the winner of each will compete in the day's finale.
What's the top prize?
A: The finale winner earns the Dream Ticket, which essentially acts as a FastPass at a future audition of TV's American Idol. Too old to be on Idol? The Dream Ticket can be transferred to another person.
What about those judges?
There will be three judges critiquing the performances, and they have been cast according to the Idol model: the hip music industry insider, the sympathetic one and the "tell-it-like-it-is" guy (but not a Simon Cowell impersonator, noted Offerdahl). Audiences are encouraged to boo judges if they disagree. "It's not a very Disney thing, but it's all right," she said.
The true judges are the audience members, who pick winners with voting devices built into the seats.
But hasn't the American Idol phenomenon peaked already?
"It is still amazingly popular," Offerdahl said. "There are people who are just jazzed about that whole brand."
What about the very bad singers so popular on the TV version?
"We're not really going there," Offerdahl said. "Those really bad, terrible train-wreck kind of things that make for great television, we don't think make for a great Disney stage show."