Detroit warms up to 'Idol'

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

They made it through their audition cities, they made it through Hollywood, now they've got to make it through the Motor City.

In a new wrinkle for "American Idol's" 14th season, the year's Top 24 contestants have to battle it out on the road, and on Thursday that road trip brought them to the Fillmore Detroit.

That's where "Idol" taped the first of two rounds of Detroit competition, with the season's Top 12 guys and Top 12 girls hitting the stage in front of around 300 fans. The episodes will air Wednesday and Thursday, and "Idol" returns to the Fillmore March 4 and March 5 as the Top 8 guys and Top 8 girls —based on viewer votes — fight to make it to the season's live episodes and back to "Idol's" home base in Los Angeles.

Judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban were on hand Thursday, along with host Ryan Seacrest and mentor Scott Borchetta. Contestants took on songs by Train, Meghan Trainor, Twisted Sister, Nick Jonas, Pink and plenty more. One performer did a Keith Urban song, which she played on an accordion. Urban loved it.

The female contestants cheered on the guys from the audience, and vice versa. Fans got to mix it up with the judges, and some even nabbed selfies with the stars. Somewhere in the mix of 24 singers was the next "American Idol."

"It was awesome that they brought 'American Idol' to Detroit," said Emily Daniels, 18, of Farmington, who attended the taping with her friend Lizzie Cadicamo, 18, of South Lyon. The two stayed for both tapings and loved the atmosphere and watching the show come together.

Amanda Damico, 20, of Warren got to shake hands with Urban and chat with Lopez and Seacrest during the taping. "It made me love 'Idol' even more," she said.

The Detroit round comes as producers are looking to give contestants as much experience as possible prior to the start of the live shows. That includes traveling and performing in different size venues, not to mention experiencing the chilling reality of Detroit in the dead of winter.

"Detroit just made sense because of its huge music history," said Trish Kanane, one of "Idol's" executive producers. "Rather than saying, 'let's just go to Vegas' or something, this is a music place, so it made complete sense to come here."

Over the years, "Idol" has featured many Motown-themed weeks for its competitors, and auditions were held here for the show's second and thirteenth seasons. Additionally, Detroit is one of "Idol's" best markets, ratings-wise.

"People here really like 'American Idol,' so we really like Detroit," Kanane said.

Lopez, now in her fourth year as "Idol" judge, says the road trip is a fun twist on the "Idol" formula.

"It breaks up the routine," she said. "It makes it fun for America, having a different audience than just the 'Idol' audience in L.A. And I think it's great for the contestants to perform as much as they can and in as many different venues as they can. It says something. It says that you have to play to a different crowd; that's definitely a part of being a performer and a recording artist and a live touring act, so it's a good training ground for them."

Borchetta, who will sign the "Idol" winner to his Big Machine Records — home to a little artist named Taylor Swift — said he's hoping to find a star who's going to make a mark.

"We've gotta push the envolope," he said. "Nobody from these shows, any of them, want their winners to not be relevant. So that is my No. 1 priority, to come off of this show with a real act that's going to be on Big Machine Records that you and me are going to talk about next year and you going, 'man, congratulations.' That's the conversation I want to have."

"Idol" isn't the only Fox show hitting Detroit this week; "So You Think You Can Dance" is taping episodes at the Fillmore Monday and Tuesday.

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