It's a nationwide phenomenon, but if one city could lay claim to American Idol, it would have to be Birmingham, Alabama. Boasting two of the series' five winners in Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks, and nearly a third in runner-up Bo Bice, the city is clearly the cradle of Idols. But only this year did it get to host auditions for the coming season.
The excitable crowd waited outside the BJCC for almost five hours before auditioning, but the wait wasnâ€™t all bad: They were treated to an appearance by the host of American Idol, Ryan Seacrest (pictured).
Those lucky enough to impress the judges in the early rounds earned a shot at the big guns -- Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul -- and with the trio's approval, a chance to go to Los Angeles. Here's a glimpse of a quartet of contestants who made it through to Hollywood, courtesy of USA Today:
Devin Johnson, 17, of Columbus, Ga. -- A senior at Hardaway High, Devin has already been to the Idol heights... or at least the foothills. He made it to Hollywood last year in the group round, but couldn't advance to the finals. Devin, who sang the Luther Vandross version of "A House Is Not a Home" and the Donny Hathaway version of "For All We Know," said he was much less nervous this time around.
Craig Pullem, 26, from Broadview, Ill. -- This aspirant flew down for the audition to recapture past glory. He made it to Hollywood in Season 4, but lost last year in the Chicago auditions. This year he thinks he has a shot, having passed the first round by singing two showcases for '50s teen star Frankie Lymon, "The ABC's of Love" and "Goody Goody." His goal? To be the fat Justin Timberlake. Seriously.
Heather Reed, 20, of Gainesville, Ga. -- This student at Gainesville State College regularly sings at the Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Ga., before as many as 3,000 people. She found the audition a tougher challenge. "I thought I would relax, but it's a lot easier to sing in front of 3,000 people instead of two," she said, calling it nerve-wracking and exciting." Heather sang Sara Evans' "Born to Fly" and the gospel tune "It Is Well with My Soul."
Jason Qualls, 23, of Birmingham, Ala. -- A photographer/graphic designer, Jason displayed a varied musical palette. He sang Keith Urban's country ballad "Tonight I Want to Cry," The Temptations'" My Girl" and, fittingly, "Sweet Home Alabama." The judges would give hime something to shoot for, he said, asking him to vary the tempo and style.