‘American Idol’ audition bus rolls into Myrtle Beach

Chase Fowler kicked off Thursday’s “American Idol” auditions in the best possible way, as the first to perform and the first to win a coveted spot in the second round of the singing competition auditions.

The 24-year-old Blacksburg native was one of many hopefuls who arrived at the former Pavilion site on Ocean Boulevard around 3 a.m. to greet the “Idol” audition bus for the show’s 14th season. Myrtle Beach is the fourth of five stops the bus is making on the East Coast so area singers can have a shot at getting on the show and making their dreams come true.

Singers who were successful in Myrtle Beach will perform in a second audition — not yet scheduled — before advancing to the third round, where they would perform for the show’s celebrity judges — Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. The next season of “American Idol” will air in January.

“It was almost like I wanted to throw up, but I didn’t,” said Fowler of how he felt while putting his own twist on “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus. “This is the first time I’ve stepped out from things like showcases, and I just tried to take in the moment. I figured if it was going to happen, it would happen.”

Jeremy Cousar, 16, of Charlotte was the second person to move on to the next round, based on his rendition of John Legend’s “All of Me.” Cousar, a rising junior at the Northwest School of the Arts, said he was encouraged to audition by co-workers at Carowinds, where he is a supervisor at Funnel Cake Emporium.

“The people at my job heard me sing and said I needed to audition — it was a last-minute thing,” said Cousar, who said it is his dream to perform. “Honestly, I just want to sing and make people happy.”

More than 500 singers, some with family and friends, were corralled in a holding area by about 6:30 a.m., although others continued to drift in for the auditions, which were being held until 5 p.m. Some were locals, but many had traveled from Columbia, Raleigh and other areas of the Carolinas. Many stood quietly, calming their nerves, while others practiced their tunes, many times being joined by their competitors for a group sing.

“I’m scared — I’ve heard these other people practice, and they’re really good,” said Rachel Walton, 20, of Columbia, who was debating whether to audition with a song from The Band Perry or a classic oldie from Helen Reddy.

Myrtle Beach’s Tyrell Jenkins, 15, practiced near one of the barricades with his guitar by his side. The Socastee High School football player said he plays a variety of instruments and writes his own songs, but until now, “music has just been something I share with myself.”

Jenkins planned to sing his own composition, “Perfect for Me,” which he has posted on YouTube, and said his style ranges from Gospel and country to R&B.

“Whatever my voice can do, I sing it,” he said.

Auditions were held simultaneously at two open tents, where singers competed with the sounds of banner planes, motorcycles and crowds that lined the area from down the boulevard and around to the boardwalk. Producers listened to several stanzas from individual singers in groups of four, then made their selections. While many walked away disappointed, successful contestants, such as Fowler and Cousar, received cheers from their fellow competitors.

Senior producer Brian Robinson, who was one of the judges, said they are seeing amazing talent so far and advised hopefuls to pick a song that represents who they want to be as an artist and to be memorable. He said they look for a great voice, personality and confidence, and it is really difficult to tell people no.

“They have to have the pieces of the puzzle come together in that moment,” Robinson said. “There’s always someone who comes in the door and wows us.”

One example was Alex Preston, who wowed judges on the show last season with his songwriting ability and came in third place, Robinson said. It took Caleb Johnson three auditions to make it to the “Idol” stage, but Robinson, who auditioned the singer last year, said Johnson took the advice he had been given previously and showed great improvement, enough that he went on to win the competition.

This is the third year the show has used audition buses — a second one is making six stops on the West Coast — and an online auditioning process that anyone can access at www.americanidol.com. Online auditions are just as important as those done in person, and it allows the process to be available to as many people as possible, said Robinson, adding that Preston actually began with an online audition.

The folks who waited in line for hours, however, were determined to make their mark face-to-face.

“I actually have a twin, and we sang all our lives together, but she couldn’t get off work today,” said Mary Catherine Axelberg, 19, of Fair Bluff, N.C., adding they had auditioned five years ago for “America’s Got Talent.” “Even though she couldn’t be here, we said this was something we had to do. I’m definitely nervous but just happy to be here, win, lose or draw.”