These days, it’s more than just college students who are hooked on the big question mark that still hangs over the remaining contestants of American Idol.
Eastern alumnus Rod Snyder (’02) is also a faithful viewer, but for other reasons; the current contestants used to be competition.
Snyder, who formerly sang with Angels of Harmony, had never taken voice lessons but was always told he had a good voice.
When the first American Idol show aired in 2002, he was prompted by friends and family to audition to “just see how far [he could] make it.” At the time, singing was no priority for Snyder.
“I was trying to think about my career,” he said.
For this political science major and former SGA president (’00-’01), thinking about a career ended up paying off. Snyder started off with a bang by running for the West Virginia House of Delegates in May of last year.
When he lost to John Doyle, Snyder “suddenly had free time overnight.” Friends took advantage of the opportunity to give Snyder the final shove to audition for American Idol in D.C.
Snyder arrived at the D.C. Convention Center at 5 a.m. on a Tuesday morning that August. His duty: waiting.
“I had to camp out and wait with 21,000 other people on a concrete floor,” he said. “I just slept there.”
Finally, on Wednesday at 4 p.m., he got his chance to sing I’ll Be by Edwin McCain in from of a panel of associate producers.
“Basically you get 20 or 30 seconds, and if you don’t impress them in that amount of time, you’re done,” Snyder said. Fortunately for Snyder, 20 seconds was enough for his judges, and he moved on with the other 199 semi-finalists.
The next day, after being interviewed, Snyder performed before the show’s executive producers. He was again asked to return, this time before judges Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and the infamous Simon Cowell.
That Friday, Snyder’s current political involvement as a lobbyist for CropLife America proved to be a bonus.
His private life, both at home and at the office, soon became even more public when he was chosen as one of the ten contestants to be profiled for television. The result: his own paparazzi for a day.
Saturday finally came, and Snyder made his brave appearance before the panel of three with guest judge Mark McGrath, lead singer of Sugar Ray. No sooner had he finished singing than Snyder was told he was going to Hollywood. The news caught Snyder off guard.
“I didn’t expect [to go that far],” he said. “I was absolutely terrified; it was nerve-wracking.”
He credited some of his success to his musical involvement at Eastern.”My vocal ability just really improved because of my time in Angels of Harmony,” he said. “I think often about how much that helped me.”While at Eastern, Snyder produced his own CD, with the help of some friends. The album, which appeared on the campus bookstore shelves, sold out at 500 copies.
Though he has not been very musically involved since then, Snyder was still one of the 42 contestants to be given a November ticket to California. Until the appointed departure time. “I just played the waiting game,” Snyder said.
In early November, Snyder got word of the next audition and treated himself to a new wardrobe and voice lessons.
“I felt maybe I should brush up a little,” he said.
The remaining 193 contestants of the 100,000 nationwide auditioners gathered and met one another in Los Angeles.
“I knew the competition was going to be intense,” Snyder said, “but I couldn’t believe the talent when I got there; it was amazing.”
Snyder was placed in group one, the first to audition at the Orpheum Theatre, while group two took a tour around L.A.
Snyder’s group had the morning to practice their songs chosen from a list. Snyder worked on Unforgettable by Nat King Cole and Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love with a pianist and vocal coach. And he explored the stage a little.
When it came time to perform, Snyder was surprised to find that the judges were actually much friendlier than they appear on TV.
“All along they’d been joking with me about becoming the next American Idol or American President,” Snyder said.
Snyder first performed Crazy Little Thing Called Love, but not as well as he’d hoped.
“I totally botched the words under the pressure of the situation,” he said, adding that he forgot several lines of the lyrics. “I had a feeling when that song was done that I was pretty much toast.”
Snyder felt he “really nailed” his second song, Unforgettable, but that it was not enough to pull him through.
“At that level [in the competition], everyone’s too good for you to make a mistake,” he said. Snyder was then taken back to his group where his fate was revealed to him.
Cowell told Snyder he had “good news and bad news.” The bad news was that Snyder was going home; the good news was that he would be returning to his political career.
“He was easy on me,” Snyder said. “Simon’s notorious for being pretty harsh, so I was pretty lucky.”
Despite having made it as far as he did, Snyder was disappointed.
“I did not feel like I gave my best performance that day,” he said. “It just happens so fast that you can’t even really catch your breath.”
The most of Snyder that was aired was a shot of him coaxing his roommate out of the bathroom. But the entire experience, Snyder concluded, had a celebrity-surreal quality.
“It really feels like you’re walking into your TV screen,” he said.