Did American Idol Just Skip Austin, Texas in Season 5 and Pretend That Other Cities Were Austin?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: In Season 5, American Idol skipped Austin, Texas and just pretended that auditions in other cities were their Austin auditions.

One thing you have to get out of the way right off the bat is how, exactly, American Idol auditions work.

Often, the audition process has to be arranged around the schedules of the judges (presumably mostly Simon Cowell’s schedule, as he seems to be a bit busier than the other judges), so when you see the judges judging contestants, it is not even necessarily the same day as when the big group shots happen outside.

The way auditions work is that the main judges don’t even get to see contestants until they have been seen by a group of 10-12 American Idol producers. Simon, Randy and Paula only see about 100 or so contestants any given time.

A nice aspect about this system is that it is easy to break things up that way. If the judges are not available, you can screen out the 100 or so contestants and have them return the next week when the judges are available and have them audition in front of the judges then. On television, with editing, there’s no way of telling the difference.

Of course, sometimes, when you do this, things get in the way – stuff like, oh, I don’t know, a massive hurricane?

In August of 2005, the South of the United States was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, particularly Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Due to the influx of refugees in Texas, the first round of auditions in Austin could not see the judges in Texas.

That’s also why intended Memphis auditions suddenly became Greensboro and Las Vegas auditions – because of Katrina.

So the contestants that made it past the producers in Austin were sent to various other cities (perhaps just one, perhaps multiple cities – I don’t know for sure) and they performed for the judges THERE, and on the broadcast, they were just labeled as having taken place in Austin.

Like Jason Horn…


The show used some trickery to make it appear as though Simon Cowell WAS in Austin, but he was not.

Here’s Idol producer Ken Warwick discussing the issue:

We didn’t mention it on air, to be honest, because we thought it wasn’t a big deal. The truth of the matter was that those were the auditionees from Austin. That was the Austin audition. And to be absolutely honest, I’d forgotten about it until it was brought up a couple of days ago that we’d actually done that. It was not deliberately done to mislead anybody; it had nothing to gain by misleading people in that area.

It’s quite different with everybody who was in Austin that wanted to audition did audition, and those that got through, generally did get through. But now because they’ve got to meet the judges, they’ve got to go through a different city. It was just one of those things that we didn’t think was a big deal. We’d have nothing to gain by making it look like we’re in one place when really we’re in another. As far as we were concerned, that was the Austin audition. And it was. There was nobody from any other city there, it was purely the people who got through from Austin. And all the initial rounds were held in Austin.

So first off, to the people who think that they just faked the Austin auditions period, obviously, they did have auditions in Austin.

So that’s that – but at the same time, they DID lie about parts of the auditions being in Austin when they were not.

In the end, though, I think Warwick is pretty convincing – if it is all the people from Austin, it basically IS the Austin audition – it is just held off-site because of a freakin’ HURRICANE. I think we can cut Idol a little slack on this point.

The legend is…

STATUS: False (with some Truth mixed in there)

Thanks to Logan Martin and Ken Warwick for the information!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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