JULY 21 – TOP 10 NIGHT

It’s a normal summer evening in the heart of the city-hot dog vendors and french fry trucks hawk their wares to pedestrians making their way to a ball game at the SkyDome, harried-looking business types chat on cell phones en route to Union Station, and sidewalk artists sketch portraits for eager passers-by. On Front Street, a block away from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, an unfamiliar noise pierces the normalcy of the night. Screaming. High-pitched, mostly female screams, loud enough to be heard within a kilometre’s radius, echo from a line-up over one hundred strong in front of the John Bassett Theatre.

While this particular night is the first time the lineup has formed, the sound of screams and cheers will become familiar to any who frequent the area on Wednesday and Thursday evenings over the next two months. It is a queue of eager fans, some local, some from as far away as Vancouver, carrying glittery signs and decked out in t-shirts proclaiming their love for ten young people who have recently been plucked from obscurity across the country to become instant celebrities. They all have one goal as they shriek themselves hoarse with enthusiasm-to land coveted free rush seats to the hottest ticket in town, Canadian Idol 2.

With the Idol formula having proven successful across the world and our own offshoot of the franchise gaining steam in its second season, garnering over two million viewers a week for CTV, CI has become more than just a glorified karaoke show. With tickets that sell out within seconds each week and an ever-growing rush line as evidence of its popularity, it has become something closer to spectacle-a summer carnival of lights, cameras, and ongoing vocal drama.

By mid-September, the country will have a new Idol, but for many fans that follow the show with fanatical devotion, it is the journey it will take to get there that is the more fascinating part of the tale.

AUGUST 4 – TOP 8 RESULTS NIGHT

Angela McInnis, a 21-year-old student, drove into the city from Barrie and was in the rush line at 1:00 p.m. in hopes of scoring tickets. While her younger sister Marianne, 15, is a huge fan of frontrunner Kalan Porter, the teenaged cutie from Medicine Hat, Alberta, the older McInnis sibling made the trek specifically to catch her favourite, 23-year-old Joshua Sellers, in action.

“I don’t vote much, but I love him,” she gushes. “I try voting every week and there are just too many busy signals to deal with. I got in maybe 20 votes for Josh, and six or seven for Theresa [Sokyrka].”
Sellers, the only Ontarian in this year’s Top 10, is the lowest vote-getter of the week and is eliminated at the end of the night’s results show, leaving McInnis both devastated and determined.

“Next week, I’m voting for two straight hours for Theresa,” she vows. “There’s no way I’m letting her go so easily.”

The following Wednesday night, the McInnis sisters log 325 votes between them. Neither Porter nor Saskatchewan’s folk-chick Sokyrka, 23, land in the dreaded Bottom Three, and both Angela and Marianne feel the time they clocked voting was time well spent.

This is how the show works – with each elimination, voters are thrown into a frenzy, made to feel personally responsible when their favourites go home. Each time a contestant is declared safe, every person who dialed even a single vote for said competitor feels vindicated, and as the stakes grow higher each week, the frenzy grows. A single vote in the first week of competition turns into five votes the next week, twenty the week after, hundreds by the time it reaches its midpoint.

This is exactly the pattern CTV hopes to foster, triumphantly boasting of voting totals that have frequently passed the 3 million mark this season. Draw ’em in, make ’em feel like they have a say, and, in the end, deliver a product that will hopefully make viewers part with their money as easily as they parted with two hours of frantic voting time each week-it’s the Idol formula, and as simple as it may seem, it works.

AUGUST 18 – TOP 6 RESULTS NIGHT

Last night, the Idols paid tribute to Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot, and tonight, as the remaining six contestants sweat over who will be eliminated at the end of the hour, CI will feature an Idol franchise first. Porter, Sokyrka, and their four Idols-in-arms-Elena Juatco, 19, Jacob Hoggard, 20, and Shane Wiebe, 21 (British Columbians all), and a lone contestant left representing the Maritimes, Newfoundland’s Jason Greeley, 27-will take the stage to perform Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” while accompanying themselves on instruments. It is an interesting step forward for the show, an attempt to prove the kids on stage are artists in their own right instead of modern-day Star Search equivalents.

First, though, the excited crowd in the packed theatre must be prepped by senior producer Sue Brophey, who waltzes out on stage in leather pants, ready to repeat a schtick that’s become old hat over the course of the season. She dances, she claps, she even has her own theme music-there is definitely a herd mentality in the audience, ready to scream and applaud virtually anything.

And if they are sheep, Brophey is the shepherd. Her loud, deliberately ditzy manner of rallying the masses is an art form, calculated down to the last details. Each week, she runs through a quick list of dos and don’ts-don’t chew gum on camera, don’t take pictures, and if you’re sitting with someone you shouldn’t be seen with, get out now, ’cause you’re all going to be on camera!-with the same tag lines tacked on as jokes, and each week, the audience complies, laughs at her jokes, and claps on cue.
“I think it’s kind of creepy,” Sarah, a young fan who preferred not to give her last name, says. “It’s like, they could do anything on stage and people would give it a standing ovation. I’m not like that. I only stand when something is really good.”

Indeed, one wonders if the theory would prove true with contestants less talented than those left on the theatre stage. One of the more mystifying aspects of the season has been the rise of the ever-hyperactive, lip-pierced Hoggard, a cross between Our Lady Peace’s Raine Maida and an early 20th-century vaudevillian. With wacky antics that included dressing up as Paul Anka one week and Ziggy Stardust the next, Hoggard has, strangely enough, won over legions of teenage fangirls despite having one of the weakest voices in the competition. Only in Canada, eh? Viewers of the more staid, belter-centric American Idol would have fainted at the sight of him in eyeliner and a blue lycra unitard.

In the end, though, it is both the artistry and the oddities of our contestants that makes CI just a little bit different-the infamous Simon Cowell would never approve.

SEPTEMBER 1 – TOP 4 RESULTS NIGHT

Elise Trinh is one of many Idol fanatics who have made their way to the rush line more than once over the course of the summer. The 20-year-old Sheridan College illustration student has become engrossed in the show’s ongoing drama since the start of the season, and has been lucky enough to earn rush tickets four times. With distinctive posters featuring anime-style chibi cartoons of the Idols, Trinh has turned her own artistic talent into a means of watching others her age pursue a dream.

“I tried to think of some catchy phrase to stick on a poster and that plan quickly failed,” she explains when asked how the idea for the cartoons came about. “The idea of drawing the Idols just came naturally after that.”
Not only has she spent hours drawing posters featuring her cartoon versions of the Idols, but she has also chronicled her Idol experience on a website (www.ki-su.com) that features both her illustrations and snapshots of her meeting the Idols.

“Holding up a poster and non-stop screaming can get tiring after a while, but I’ve met a lot of wonderful people in the rush lines,” she reasons.
It is, after all, an experience, something both the Idols and their fans have shared over the summer. While the contestants have dealt with the stress of competition and the ups and downs of instant stardom, their fans have been on another kind of emotional roller coaster. Fandom is fleeting in this day and age of reality television, but for now, Idol fanatics stand by their favourites, and-as CTV ups the hype on its hit-by the show itself.
“The whole experience has made this summer one of the best I’ve had in a long time,” Trinh says sincerely. “I’m not ready for it to end yet and I’m going to feel so lost once it’s over.”

Watch for the finale of Canadian Idol September 15 & 16 on CTV.

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