When American Idol alums Jeremy Rosado and Shannon Magrane stepped into a conference room at the Tampa Bay Times office last week to talk about the show's upcoming 12th season, they hadn't seen each other since August — despite that they both call the bay area home.
The occasion was a viewing of footage from Idol's new season, circulated to TV critics and screened in advance at select theaters nationwide. Before long, the two singers fell into an easy camaraderie, forged by a year of riding the Idol train together.
Both were cut before the show's Top Ten. Rosado, 20, of Valrico, was the first to go among the top 13 contestants. Tampa resident Magrane, 17, who swears she was the 11th person to audition for Idol's 11th season during the show's cattle call audition in Savannah, Ga., made it to 11th place.
But they have experienced something few others have: The thrill and pulse-pounding fear of facing more than 20 million viewers on American Idol's live stage.
"People don't understand just how much we worked," said Rosado. "It's like Music Business 101; a crash course on the life of a pop star. It makes you question, 'Do I really want to do this the rest of my life?' "
Of course, when Magrane and Rosado competed, the show's judges were singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, longtime judge/producer Randy Jackson and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, who made a lewd joke about the Blake High School student in front of her father, ex-baseball star-turned analyst Joe Magrane. This season's judges are quite different: pop diva Mariah Carey, rapper/singer Nicki Minaj, country star Keith Urban, and experienced judge Randy Jackson.
"I know exactly what they're thinking right now," said Magrane, after watching a montage of auditions from New York City and Chicago that featured a Cuban immigrant now living in Naples whose debilitating stutter vanishes when he sings. "The most important thing is to be fearless. Even if you're not fearless, you've got to seem fearless."
Rosado suggested fans pay attention to which singers open and close each episode. Last season's winner Phillip Phillips closed out the auditions episode in Savannah.
Both Rosado and Magrane said because of the show's legendary contingent of tween female fans, they knew Phillips would likely do well. (In the early footage from this week's shows, Rosado predicted Griffin Peterson as this season's winner.)
"It is so tough on women," Magrane said. "I kept saying 'girl power, girl power.' But you had all those little girls dialing for Phillip and Colton. … It's those Justin Bieber fans who are dialing in and crying."
That dynamic may grow worse this year, given the strife between the show's two female judges. Late last year cellphone video surfaced of heated arguments between Minaj and Carey, and Carey even told journalist Barbara Walters she hired extra security. Both women tried to sidestep the question during press conferences last week, but clips from this week's episodes show Minaj picking fights with little reason and making faces when Carey is complimented by auditioners.
"When I watch these shows and someone says yes to a person who clearly doesn't deserve it ... I want to jump through the TV," Minaj said during a press conference last week. "I didn't like it when people would be overtly passive about the talent. We're really here to do a job, and I don't want to be here if I'm not going to do it."
The judges' passion made a difference for Rosado, moved into the show's Top 13 by Lopez. "I knew there were points where, maybe not the judges, but the producers were probably ready to get rid of me," he said. "But I knew that, no matter what happened, (Lopez) would always be there to fight for me."
These days, Rosado is working on a new album of crossover Christian music and touring with actor Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side) in a charitable project. Magrane just recorded the theme song for Tampa Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13's Good Day Tampa Bay morning show, while also recording her own material.
Rosado had simple advice for this season's semi-finalists: "You gotta cherish every moment, because when you're on our side, you're going to miss it," he said. "Absorb everything, pick the right songs, and, like Shannon said, be fearless."