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TELL CITY - Shasta Simpson had no intentions of driving three hours straight to Nashville late at night July 14. But to make it to Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville before 5 a.m., that's exactly what she would have to do. If she arrived after 5 a.m., she would not get a wristband and would not get a turn on stage in front of an American Idol producer.
The only problem was trying to decide whether she wanted to go or not. The 24-year-old Tell City resident, who said she has always loved singing and music, wasn't sure if she wanted to go audition.
"Everybody's been saying that I should do it. And finally I figured, you know what, I might as well give it a whirl. I don't have anything else to lose,” she said.
After receiving a text message from a friend at 10 p.m. about the audition, she jumped in a car with a friend, Elise Pittman, and made her way to Nashville and, she hoped, an audition for the popular talent show. When they reached the city, Simpson said they barely had time to get settled before they had to rush to gain a spot in line. It was the early morning hours of July 15 when she received her purple wristband, which would quite literally ensure her a ticket to perform.
"You get a ticket with a section and a seat number and that's how they did it. They start in order, by section number. I was in section 305,” she explained.
And then it was just about waiting.
There were no glamorous private rooms to practice in; Simpson simply had to stand in a hallway with all the other contestants and warm up with everyone listening.
"Hearing everyone else sing, it intimidated me so much. They were all so good. But Elise told me I don't sound like them, but my voice was different and unique and I never thought of it that way,” she said.
As she was practicing, she said people started to notice her. While she was on the phone with her mom, Linda Simpson of Tell City, one woman even asked her to continue to sing because she had sat next to her just to hear her.
"That actually calmed my nerves,” she admitted.
Simpson was one of more than 16,000 people who auditioned, the second largest turnout in American Idol history. Four contestants would be ushered on the stage at a time and given the opportunity to show their talent by singing for 15 seconds. When her turn came around 6 p.m. Thursday night, she was so nervous, she began at the beginning of her song - her own version of Elvis Presley's "Treat Me Like a Fool” - instead of in a spot that showed off her vocal skills the best.
"I have terrible stage fright ... I was so nervous at first,” she said.
But the producer didn't stop her. When she had finished the entire song, something Simpson said rarely occurs in the early audition stage, the producer asked her to sing another. Simpson said she was shocked.
"When I stopped, he just said, 'Good, nice. I want you to do another one.' They hardly ever, ever pick people to do two songs at that part of the auditions.”
She had nothing prepared for a second song, she told the producer, so she began to rattle off songs to him she knew. "I said 'how about 'At Last,' but he said no, he wanted to hear something with a beat. So I chose "Ain't Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations. ”
After she finished the number, the producer told her she wasn't what the show was looking for at the moment, but advised her to come back and to keep trying.
"Just to know that a producer of American Idol likes the way I sing and wants me to keep going, that's winning,” she said. "I saw him put a star by my name and that was exciting.”
Even though she wasn't given a ticket, she said there is still a possibility that she could get a callback if not enough contestants are found. "But I'm not really thinking about it,” she said. "If they don't call me back, I'm not going to worry about it. Just knowing that I have a talent (is enough).”
Simpson smiled brightly as she talked about how the experience changed her and helped her with her confidence.
"I feel more confident,” she admitted. "It was really hard for me to sing in front of people. But now I can just belt out a song just like that. It gave me a different outlook on myself. I'm even thinking about entering the Schweizer Fest Talent Show.”
Simpson, a 2004 graduate of Tell City High School, has been a part of five Schweizer Fest musicals and was a member of the TCHS chorus for two years. But she said no matter what happens, she would like to keep singing as a hobby.
"I don't want to get bored with it. It's just something I love to do,” she said.
But if she should get a callback, she will make sure she isn't labeled as someone from southern Indiana, Evansville or Louisville, Ky.
"If I do make it, they are going to know where I'm from. People will know I'm from Tell City,” Simpson said.
Whether that call comes or not, Simpson said she will take the producer's advice and continue to show off her talent.
"When a professional says that you're good, it's just like okay, now I know I have some sort of a talent,” she said.