Behind-the-Scenes of American Idol Season 13

Disclosure: American Idol invited me and several other social media savvy women to Los Angeles to screen the first episode of Season 13 and get a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood Week. All travel and accommodations were provided. No other compensation was received. 

*all photos, except where notes are © Stacey Nerdin

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Coming out of a hair appointment on Tuesday, December 10, I checked my social media accounts (like I often do after more than 30 minutes away from my phone) and was surprised to see this Tweet:

American Idol Season 13 tweets invitation to Stacey Nerdin

Spam? Joke? It came from Idol’s verified Twitter account, and I saw at least a few similar invitations sent by them to other women on Twitter. What was this all about?

I messaged them my email address, and was later amused to receive an email signed by Ryan Seacrest (um, yeah, like *he* really wrote it…thank you to Ryan’s support staff!), inviting me on an expenses-paid trip to Hollywood for behind-the-scenes access to American Idol and a taping during the show’s Hollywood Week. The email included a hint that many had been invited and perhaps not all would ultimately be flown to the set, so I replied with my relevant information and hoped for the best. Just a week later, I was on a plane to Los Angeles!

This was my 3rd trip to Hollywood, but my first chance to take in any of the local flavor. I was ecstatic to stroll along Hollywood Blvd, and gave a little cheer at finally seeing the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood Blvd

Idol put us up at the Roosevelt Hotel, a historic Hollywood fixture reported to be both haunted by old Hollywood stars *and* frequented by today’s hottest celebs. I saw neither ghost nor star during our stay, just a lot of very old tile and a famous pool (painted by artist David Hockney).

roosevelt hotel hollywood

Our first night in Hollywood culminated in a meet-and-greet with execs from American Idol, Freemantle Media, and PR firm Zemoga. After talking with them briefly, we watched the first 2-hour premiere of American Idol Season 13, which will air this Wednesday, January 15 (with a 2nd two-hour premiere on Thursday, January 16). I can say with all honesty that I laughed, cried, and was thoroughly entertained. So entertained that I came home and wrote Four Reasons To Watch American Idol (Again).

The next morning we packed ourselves up and headed over to the Dolby Theater, home to not just the Academy Awards, but American Idol as well. We went straight into the belly of the building, which seemed like a network of normal rooms and corridors, until you noticed these little gems posted on the wall:

Jennifer Lopez Dressing Room American Idol Season 13


Harry Connick Jr Dressing Room American Idol


Judge Lounge American Idol

After peeking into empty dressing rooms and chatting with busy producers, we settled in for a nice lunch in the Judge Lounge. Just as we were finishing, we had an awesome surprise visit from American Idol Season 13’s newest judge: Harry Connick, Jr.!

Harry Connick Jr American Idol Season 13

{photo credit, upper right: Theresa Santoro}

Harry was incredibly warm, kind, and generous with his time. He talked with each of us individually, shook hands, took pictures, and then spent a long while answering our questions and talking to us about his plans and his hopes for Season 13 of American Idol. He ended our time together by passing out personalized autographed CDs, and I was excited to see that we managed to make an impression on him with our visit as well.

Harry Connick Jr Tweets about meeting us American Idol Season 13

After the excitement, we headed to the Dolby Theater stage, first stopping to see where the contestants wait for their turn and get themselves ready with hair and make-up.

backstage where contestant prepare American Idol Season 13


Backstage where contestants do their own hair and makeup American Idol Season 13

{photo credit: Theresa Santoro}

We even had an impromptu run-in with the judges in the hall! (Note the security guards on the left, Ryan’s general excitement at being seen, and Jennifer’s less-than-thrilled “What’s going on here?!” body language.)

Judges in Hall American Idol Season 13

Walking out on the stage at the Dolby Theater was a particular thrill. Of course I was excited to be on the set of American Idol, but more than that, I got a rush thinking about all the stars who had been on that stage, or who had sat in those seats, and all the Hollywood history made because of the Academy Awards.

The Dolby Theater American Idol Season 13

Lights on the Dolby Theater stage

American Idol Season 13 sign on the Dolby Theater stage

spotlight on Dolby Theater stage American Idol Season 13

I got caught in the spotlight!


seats in Dolby Theater American Idol Season 13

We were then led through a unique hallway, specifically built as a secured path for Academy Award winners to be whisked from the stage, straight across a breezeway into the nearby Loews Hollywood Hotel to be interviewed by the press. How awesome to be walking in their steps!

Dolby Theater to Loews Hotel American Idol Season 13

We were finally seated in the audience of the Dolby Theater, to watch live as they taped Hollywood Week’s “Group Day” of American Idol Season 13.

Stage at the Dolby Theater American Idol Season 13

If you’ve watched the show, you may know that Group Day is when the singers – most of them young teenagers, all of them strangers to each other – get thrown together to learn a song most of them have never heard, add choreography and harmonies, and then perform it for the judges.

It was nerve-wracking to watch as some of the performers forgot lyrics, made obvious missteps, and simply lost their nerve. And yet other performers soared. I got goosebumps at the talent I saw that day. We’re not allowed yet to say which favorites we’re rooting for – and in fact, we don’t even know their place in the show at this point – but I know I’ll be keeping my eye out for several people when the show starts this week.

Before we were whisked away at the end of our 24-hour trip to Hollywood, we got to see the judges together – bantering, laughing, and giving genuine instruction and critiques to the contestants. Together with Ryan Seacrest (seen below on stage, the judges in their seats), I think the judges are going to help bring fresh life to American Idol Season 13, and I’m excited about the direction the show is taking this year.

During a break in taping - Ryan Seacrest on stage Judges in seats American Idol Season 13