I just read that an American Idol audition bus is making a stop in town next week. As someone who came up rather short in his quest for a music career (more on that below), I thought I could perhaps provide some perspective for young hopefuls who might be interested in auditioning.
It's a waste of your time
No one ever succeeded at a creative pursuit without putting in hard work. The vast majority of people who go to cattle call auditions have not put in the work. If you have, there's no reason to stand around with a bunch of delusional shower-singers. If you haven't put that work in, I promise you that you aren't ready for an audition, anyway. (It's worth noting that while practice is necessary, it's not enough.)
The best part about making music is making music
If you really love making music, you should find some like-minded friends and make music. Or make your own music in GarageBand. Or launch a Kickstarter to fund recording an album. You'll not only have fun, but you'll get better at making music while you're at it. If you want to get famous, I don't have any advice for you, but auditioning at one of American Idol's secondary or tertiary events seems like a long road to fame, anyway. If you're gorgeous or talented enough to get plucked from the Richmond, Virginia, bus tour, I have a feeling you can find some attention another way.
I know you want it
Look. I get it. I wanted nothing more when I was 19 than to become a professional musican. I'm not even sure I'd have gone to college if it weren't for that goal. (I wanted to play trumpet in a symphony orchestra.) But, it's a rare person who's only good at one thing in life. I continued to pursue other interests, like journalism and design, and those interests led directly to my day job. Oh, and guess what, I still play music. I regularly play for a group that draws 3,000+ audience members for free concerts. I'm not making my living playing music, but I am making a living and playing music for people who enjoy it, which, I have to say, is pretty great.
Go out in the world and chase your dreams, you beautiful unique snowflake. Just make sure to do it on your terms. And don't close your eyes to other opportunities that crop up along the way.
For what it's worth, I know plenty of successful musicians, both in classical and popular music, and I can tell you they are all essecially corporations of one, and have to administer, market and manage that corporation. They may get their pay checks from performing, but they wouldn't be able to keep performing if they didn't have other skills. ↩