Every year, thousands of hopefuls audition for Fox's "American Idol," aiming for success. Mexico High School graduate Alicia Smith is one of the lucky ones. Not once, but twice, she received her gold ticket to Hollywood.
Being flown to Hollywood and housed at the show's expense, meeting famous musicians, standing on the Idol stage and making many new friends along the way, are experiences Smith will likely never forget.
The 2008 MHS graduate received her first Gold Ticket to Hollywood in Season 11 and her second in Season 12. She also competed, but did not advance, in a Texas "American Idol" competition when she was younger.
"It was an overwhelming experience to go and audition (both seasons) and to see that many there to audition," Smith said. "I heard a lot of good voices that didn't get passed, and I remember thinking, I hope they see something in me."
Advancing to Hollywood twice, she said, "was so surreal."
Smith, 23, started singing at age eight. She performed mainly in church choirs, local competitions and events. Her family is very supportive of her talent, and encourage her to pursue her dream.
In July 2012, Smith drove from her Mexico home to Chicago, where she joined several thousand people auditioning for Season 12. Her first thought after receiving a thumbs up from the judges to advance was "Thank God." She had to audition again in August to qualify for the trip to Hollywood. Her final audition before the panel of famous judges – Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Randy Jackson, and Keith Urban – was in December.
"Honestly, I got really anxious right before I got there. But the day of the audition was better," Smith told The Ledger. The song Smith sang was one of Etta James' 1960s hits "All I Could Do Was Cry," a song that Smith chose to dedicate to her sick uncle, who later died.
"I love the old R&B and '80s songs to exercise my voice," Smith said. "The older music didn't have all the technology stuff we have today, so what was heard from those performers was pure talent.
"Plus, doing that song for my uncle was a great moment. It meant more to me than just getting my ticket,"Smith said.
Only a handful of contestants are called to audition for what the show calls "Hollywood Week." Smith said she had to go through three auditions to earn the trip, and spent many hours practicing. The feedback she received from the judges, she said, was amazing.
"Mariah Carey inspired me to actually pursue my dreams, and Nicki Minaj thought I carried myself as if I was already an established artist. Keith Urban said I sang beautifully, but Randy thought my performance was nice, but kind of pitchy. But he still said yes," Smith said.
Page 2 of 2 - While Smith still intends to pursue her music career, she said it's unlikely that she will return to "American Idol."
"I don't know if I"m willing to try with them again. Being there, you see a lot of stuff and you learn a lot as well," Smith said. "Instead, I think I'm going to do some collaborations with other artists, work on my own demo and try to put a CD out there so people can start hearing my voice."
Smith said her favorite "American Idol" contestant was Jennifer Hudson. "She is an example of you not having to win to succeed."
"I want to show young people that you can make it far in whatever dream you have by being yourself, without having to conform to what everyone else wants you to be. Don't be afraid to take a chance. Just stay true to yourself and capture your dream."