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Chelsea Heffernan found out last spring that "American Idol," one of the biggest television shows in American history, would be holding tryouts in Seattle this September. A Mount Si High School senior, Chelsea is an accomplished singer in her own right and thought she'd give it a shot.
"She just decided to do it," said Chelsea's father, Dan Heffernan. "That's the way Chelsea is - she sets her mind on something and goes for it."
Chelsea and her mother, Cindi Heffernan, recently spent a Sunday afternoon in Seattle going through the registration process for the show. Contestants received a bracelet that served as their ticket to the audition.
On Tuesday, Sept. 19, well before the crack of dawn, Chelsea awoke at 3:30 a.m. and dressed in a low-key, classy outfit. She and her mother arrived at Key Arena, the venue for the auditions, at 5:15 a.m. on a miserably wet morning.
They joined 9,000 other Seattle-area hopefuls standing in a very long line in the rain. By 10 a.m. they were inside Key Arena and made their way to their seats.
"The first thing they did was teach us all a song," Chelsea said, "and we all sang it about 20 times while a boom cam randomly filmed everything."
Host Ryan Seacrest made an appearance, much to the delight of the crowd. The atmosphere was positive and energetic, Chelsea said, but at the same time it was very tiring - the anxiety and stress of waiting contributed to the nervousness of the "wannabe" idols.
Chelsea has been singing since sixth grade and has an extensive musical background. A Valley native who has called North Bend home for the past eight years, she has sung in chamber choir and jazz choir throughout middle and high school. Being on the cheerleading squad this year meant she had to drop the after-school jazz choir, but Chelsea is still singing in chamber choir and competitions.
She has taken private lessons since she was a freshman, competing in both individual and group competitions throughout the state for the last four years. She especially enjoys singing Italian operas.
Contestants sang a capella in front of the judges and were able to watch the judging from their seats.
Chelsea sang the country tune "Strawberry Wine" by Deana Carter. "I definitely felt nervous," she said. "The judge was pretty intimidating, but I felt like I did well."
Chelsea did not advance to the second round, and Cindi, an insurance broker, said the end was rather brutal. "It was very ceremonial - they cut your bracelet off [so you can't try out again] and send you on your way." Thirteen hours after she started, Chelsea was back in North Bend.
"I walked away feeling like it was OK," Chelsea said. "I have my whole senior year ahead of me and I have 11 more years [to try out again if I want to]."
From a parental standpoint, Cindi was a bit disappointed with the commercialization of the American Idol "machine."
"I think it's changed, gotten to the point where it's too Hollywood. So much of it was staged. It's all sales-oriented. There were so many good voices they didn't give the time of day to."
Seattle was the last stop on the nationwide audition tour for the show and Chelsea is glad she went through the experience. She hopes to attend a musical conservatory next fall and has her eye on New England Conservatory in Boston. A career in music would be great, she said, but she realizes it can be a hard business to make a living at.
However, Chelsea's 29-year-old brother Josh, a drummer in a band called the Prom Kings that performs in Las Angeles, may prove her theory wrong. He and his band mates recently wrapped up recording a new MTV television series called "24/7" that will air for eight weeks beginning Oct. 18.
Music runs in the Heffernan family and Chelsea says she can't imagine not singing.