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The American Idol Audition You Didn’t See On TV

Five COVID tests, four days of quarantining, and one awkward Ryan Seacrest interview later, the time had finally come. My entire life had led up to this moment. Dressed in a black topman suit, shiny black shoes, platinum white hair, + gold irredentist eyepieces in the vein of Bowie, Prince, Gaga, etc., I safely removed my black rhinestone covered mask + giant black sunglasses from my face as I entered the audition room. I nervously introduced myself as PAJAMA JOSH and watched as the judges’ faces turned to utter confusion. I explained how the name is a metaphor for freedom + finding comfort in your own skin because for years, I didn’t feel comfortable in mine. I made my way over to the piano and performed my original song + rap, “Rain Dance.” 

Katy Perry looked at me and asked, “Am I being punk’d?” I was shook. I didn’t know if she asked me that because it was really good and she wasn’t expecting it, or if it was literally awful. We stared at each other silently as we both tried to figure out the right answer. “Yes…, no…” I didn’t know what to say, I was speechless. “Ok, you can rap…it’s cute…but stand on the blue circle and give us something acapella, something serious.” I began to peel off my eyepieces and watched as they twinkled under the bright studio lights before hitting the ground. My heart began to pound out of my chest as I nervously belted out a sub-par rendition of Stand By Me by Ben-E-King. I missed every run. My voice cracked. It was average at best. Katy let out a huge sigh. “When you see someone with a little sparkle of something, do you really put them through?” Luke Bryan began to vote. “Yeah, those vocals were pretty weak that time.” He started to vote and I saw the ship start to sink before my eyes.

As he began to speak, I did the unthinkable. I politely interrupted him and said “Luke I’m so sorry to interrupt. I sing, I write, I play the upright bass. I think I can bring something really different to this show.” Katy looked at me and told me that they needed to go on their lunch break and that they wanted to see me come back “without all of this.” (Meaning my outfit). I left the room in shock, quickly put together a new song + arrangement, and changed out of my outfit. I knew that this was a first in American Idol history and that they saw something in me, but I would have to come back with something substantial if I wanted to win them over. I needed to dig deep.

What became the most chaotic moment of my entire life, only became all the more chaotic as the day progressed. Once I left the audition room, I couldn’t find my room key or even my mind at that point. Eventually, I made it back to my hotel room and ran over to my cheap keyboard I got from down the street on Sunset Blvd. I had no idea what to sing, or how much time I had to prepare, I only knew that it had to be great. 

After spending several minutes (which felt like hours) of trying to figure out which song was going to be my “fight song,” and win the judges hearts, I got a FaceTime call from American Idol Vocal Coach extraordinaire, Nancy Yearing. I went through a few of my options and nothing was clicking. They weren’t “bad,” but they just didn’t feel like “a comeback.” And then, I reached into my pocket and took out an enamel pin with a music note on it and a note that says “Hi Josh, A little reminder to never stop believing in your dreams! Hugs and kindness.” Our co-founder Cynthia had gifted each of our team members with pins representing our dreams. That music note pin brought me comfort when I felt alone and grounded me in my aspirations. At that moment, I figured out what song I was going to do.

While fighting back tears, but not enough to spill over or show on camera, I composed myself just enough to fake a smile and bravely walked back through the giant double doors and into the audition room. Standing in a fuchsia Adidas sweatshirt, drug store leggings, and some beat up red sneakers, I reintroduced myself. “Hi, My name is Joshua Hollin, I’m 23 years old. Thanks for giving me another shot.” “Ok, Josh.” Katy said. “You have 60 seconds to impress us.”

“Copy that. I wanted to choose a song that will hopefully show you a different side, but one that still feels like me. I miss being in the club with my friends, and when this whole pandemic is over, I hope we can all just dance again.” I made my way over to the piano and delivered a power ballad version of Lady Gaga’s Just Dance. While fighting back my tears, I looked all three judges in the eyes while singing every word as if my life depended on it because it did. The camera danced around me as if the lyrics were dedicated to the camera itself. Just dance. Gonna be okay. Click here to check out this re-recorded audio replica based on my audition!

“There it is Josh,” says Katy. “I think you look cool. You don’t need all of that. I don’t know if this is for American Idol, but THAT I could take seriously.” Luke Bryan continued with “When you first walked in dressed like David Bowie, I was a no, no, no, no, no. But after hearing what you just did, I’m a yes.” At this point, the vote was 1-1, and it all came down to icon and music legend Lionel Richie’s vote. 

“Let me ask you a question,” Lionel says. “Are you serious?” I nod and say yes. “Well you better bring your pajamas with you to Hollywood because you’re going through!” Before thanking the judges, grabbing my golden ticket off the wall, and before exiting the room, Lionel left me with this piece of advice. “BE SERIOUS.” #ToBeContinued 

My biggest takeaways from this experience were this: 

  1. Never give up.
  2. Believe in yourself and speak up for yourself no matter how scary it might be. 
  3. Be willing to learn + grow. I learned a lot that day, about myself and about the business, but none of it would have been possible without God, my mom + dad, brother, my friends, the AI team, and my Born This Way Foundation Family. <3

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Josh Hollin

Joshua Hollin (He/Him/His ) is Digital Associate for Born This Way Foundation where he executes digital content in service to the mission of building a kinder, braver world. In 2017, Josh initiated “Channel Kindness Radio,” a recurring podcast series featured on channelkindness.org, which centered around non profit organizations and people who are actively making a difference in their communities. Josh graduated with his Bachelors in Commercial Music Composition from Florida Atlantic University. In the future, Josh wishes to combine his passion for music, marketing, graphic design, and social media in a way that makes a difference. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @PAJAMAJOSH and on Instagram at @PAJAMAJOSH.

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