IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Idol’ finalist gives advice to contestant hopefuls

Mandisa Hundley, a finalist on the fifth season of “American Idol,” shares the secret of her success with people vying to compete on the seventh season of the popular TV show this fall: “Sing like you have never sung before.”
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Two years ago, Mandisa Hundley was one of thousands standing in the pre-dawn darkness behind yellow tape, hoping to get her shot at fame on “American Idol.” These days, the former finalist stands inside the proverbial velvet ropes, giving advice to a new generation of wanna-be stars.

“Honestly, you have about 10 seconds to make a very good impression,” Hundley, 30, told TODAY hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer from San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, where auditions for the seventh season of the show began Monday.

“My biggest piece of advice is to get up there, look at the producers dead in the eye and sing like you have never sung before,” Hundley said. “I’m telling you, you’ve got 10 seconds, so you really have to make an impression right at the very beginning.”

A finalist in season 5 of “American Idol,” the plus-sized gospel singer from Nashville has parlayed her success on the hit show into a modeling contract, a book about her experience entitled “Idolized” and a debut CD, “True Beauty,” set to be released Friday. She was also enlisted as TODAY’s special correspondent for the first round of auditions.

Even though Jordin Sparks was named American Idol 2007 just two months ago, the long audition process — which includes stops in Dallas, Omaha, Atlanta, Charleston, Miami and Philadelphia — is already under way for the new season, which will air in the fall.

Most of those waiting in the pre-dawn darkness outside the stadium were just there for the kicks. The biggest hope of many — 90 percent, Hundley estimated — was to get on TV and at least make the blooper reel.

The judges — Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson — aren’t involved in this first round of auditions, the initial winnowing being done by the show’s producers. With thousands vying for a spot, Hundley said, it’s all about being noticed.

“You can do anything and everything to try to get the attention of the people that are going to be making the final decision, including wearing very interesting costumes,” she said.As an example, she turned to “Idol” hopefuls Joseph, who came dressed in an outsized straw sombrero and multicolored serape, and Juanita, who came in whiteface and mimed the song she sang. Look for them on the blooper reel.

“That is what makes the show at the very beginning,” Hundley said after Joseph sang a bit of his song. “That’s what people really look forward to in the very beginning. They want to see all the people dressed in the funny costumes and just getting out there and having a good time.”

Painful momentHundley might have added that contestants also have to be mentally strong. During her audition, Cowell made some of his patently acerbic remarks about her weight, asking if the show was “going to get a bigger stage this year.”

When she made the cut to the 24 semifinalists, she told him, “You hurt me and I cried and it was painful, it really was. But I want you to know that I've forgiven you and that you don't need someone to apologize in order to forgive somebody.”Cowell apologized on the spot. Hundley said there’s a lesson in what she went through: “Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, Simon, so get it right.”