There’s no doubt that Spring Grove’s Brooke and Leah Barrettsmith had the adventure of a lifetime competing on Fox’s hit TV show American Idol. Before we explore their experiences, here’s a brief overview of how the show works in case you’ve never seen it.

Before landing a plane ticket to Hollywood, a contestant must first spend three days of grueling auditions in a major US city chosen to host preliminary auditions. The producers of American Idol are well aware that the show’s success relies as much on the talentless as on the talented. Many people tune in just to see a contestant judges goofy to the point of tears or to see the contestant’s angry reaction to being sent packing. For example, in this year’s show, two male twins are featured because they speak very openly about the judges and are verbally protective of each other. Another contestant named “Cowboy” jumped on the judges’ desk to sing part of his song.

The camera focuses as much on the expressions of American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson as it does on the contestants. Cowell’s scathing comments are now ritual and crowd pleasers. Abdul and Jackson regularly criticize Cowell. Sometimes the talent of the contestants is so obvious that the three judges can barely contain their laughter.

Contestants must be US citizens and between the ages of 16 and 28. This year, 16-year-old contestant Kevin Covais revealed that talent transcends age. At the opposite pole is the prematurely graying 28-year-old Kevin Hicks, whose unique voice could carry him to the final.

The top 24 semi-finalists are removed from public contact as an isolated jury. He must take drug tests. Some contestants have been disqualified during the show for failing these tests. All contestants must sign a contract that prevents them from using cell phones, except for family and emergency calls and the Internet, where they can talk about the show in a chat room. They may not watch news programs on television, listen to radio programs, or read newspapers. TV fans take over phone voting right now. The judges are consulted and comment on the performances but they no longer vote at this level.

The “finalists” are the last 12 contestants. The drama builds after weeks of more eliminations until a single contestant is chosen as the winner.

Brooke and Leah Barrettsmith’s adventure began on a crisp September day in 2005. They arrived at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago at 5:00 am escorted by their father, the Rev. Scott Barrettsmith. “We needed to be there early enough to get a good spot in line,” Brooke said. Nearly 20,000 contestants auditioned in Chicago that day. Some of them were from New Orleans because that city was chosen as an audition center, but Hurricane Katrina swept it away.

The contestants were herded into Soldier Field in groups of 300. Brooke and Leah wanted to audition together, so they held hands. “Don’t separate us!” they told American Idol employees.

Only 300 applicants survived the first day. Brooke and Leah were relieved to be one of them. “There were thousands of totally depressed people there,” Scott said. The Barrettsmiths spent the nights at a nearby hotel. “We literally got the last room available,” Scott said.

Days two and three were just as hectic as the first. The executive producers of American Idol told the Barrettsmiths the “necessary personality” to move forward. “I had no problem showing personality,” Brooke said. Brooke befriended Mandisa, a semi-finalist from Tennessee. “I can tell you are a Christian,” said Mandisa. “Girl, let’s pray!” When told that Leah was planning to sing a Christian song called “Blessed,” the producers said they preferred secular songs. “They didn’t want to show favoritism,” Leah said. However, during the audition, Leah sang “Blessed” anyway. “I was having trouble with my first pick and I stopped and switched,” Leah said.

“We asked to go to the audition together,” Brooke said. In an unusual move, the producers allowed that. In a televised interview, Leah said, “I believe in my sister and she believes in me too, so I love her and we’re going to do this together as much as we can.”

For the first time, Brooke and Leah faced now famous American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.

Brooke opened and sang a short section of her song Shoop Shoop. Then Leah’s blood. Randy told Leah, “I like your voice, I think you’re good. I’d say yes to Leah.” Paula Abdul said, “I think they’re both talented and different in their own way, so I’m going to say ‘yes’ to both of them or ‘no’. Simon said, ‘Well, I’d say ‘no’ to both of you.” There was a short silence Then Randy said, “We have a dilemma, judges.” Simon said, “I’m going to apply Randy’s ‘yes’ to both of them, so now it’s up to Paula. Paula said: “I love my sister. I love the fact that you’re here together supporting each other. I think they both need to work, but they can work and get back to Hollywood.” Brooke and Leah reacted with gasps of happiness and a big hug. Meanwhile, Randy said, “Welcome to Hollywood, sisters, sisters!”

Brooke and Leah told the producers about Richardson’s corn maze. Sensing a good story, the producers sent a camera crew to Spring Grove to film the sisters playing in and around the corn maze. “Filming lasted about 10 hours, including dinner with the crew,” said Brooke. “All of that for a two-minute segment.”

in Hollywood

The next stage of auditions began on December 4 in Hollywood. “About 200 people out of tens of thousands came to Hollywood,” Brooke said. Brooke and Leah made the trip without parents or relatives. They spent the first day touring Hollywood with half the contestants, while the other half went through auditions. They wore distinctive American Idol tags to promote the show in Los Angeles. They stayed in a hotel, two to a room. “The show didn’t skimp on accommodation,” Leah said.

Both were successful in their first audition. At the second audition, Randy told Leah, “You didn’t bring it in today. It’s the end of the road.”

Leah was surprised by the action. “What you see on TV is not always the way it really happened,” Leah said. ‘They do a lot of editing to make the show more dramatic. When I was singing, for example, it seemed like the audience was bored and quiet on TV. Actually, the audience was cheering and clapping as I sang it through!’ “At another point, you see Leah on TV as if she’s reacting to the negative decision. “That shot was totally taken at another time and edited out in space,” Leah said.

The show puts the contestants into small groups for one segment. “I don’t know why they make us sing with a group,” Leah said. “It really has nothing to do with why we’re there. I think they’re trying to put a lot of stress on the contestants for the television cameras. They’re very strict. You better not be a minute late for a meeting. They treat you like dogs.”

Brooke backed up Leah’s concerns. “They love the crying and the drama. They love to scare you,” Brooke said. “Sometimes the judges act totally. They seemed to be faking it.”

“I think they’re pushing for a guy to win this year,” Brooke said. “They’re focused on male talent.”

American Idol rules say that a contestant cannot be professionally signed. The show forces contestants to sign a contract that restricts their professional activity for a full year. “We’re on lockdown until August,” Brooke said.

Leah will soon be moving to Nashville to continue her singing career. “I’ll do more mainstream music,” she said Leah.

Brooke is committed to staying in the Christian music scene. “Christian music is much more relevant now,” Brooke said. “My career has improved. God used American Idol to change me. Now I’m even more into music ministry.”

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