Abigail Day began singing with a passion at the age of 3, when she wielded a kitchen whisk like a microphone and belted out her favorite Dixie Chicks tunes.
But until Wednesday, the 17-year-old from Cornish had never attempted to sing over the roar of a passenger jet and the blast of a Casco Bay ferry horn.
“The horn made me jump,” said Abigail, minutes after her “American Idol” audition on the Maine State Pier in Portland. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
More than a thousand would-be singing stars were in the same boat as Abigail, not knowing what to expect, at the auditions Wednesday. It was the first time in the 12-year history of the star-making Fox TV show that auditions had been held in Portland.
Many people stood in line for five hours or longer to sing just a snippet of a song, 10 to 30 seconds long, for two of the show’s producers seated at a table under a tent. The few who were lucky enough to get a thumbs up from the producers will get to audition again, at a place and time to be determined, and may end up on “American Idol” when the new season airs in January.
Past “American Idol” winners and finalists have gone on to become major music stars, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry.
The twisting line of people outside the tent had a party feel to it, with some folks holding umbrellas for shade and many playing instruments and singing with contestant hopefuls they had just met. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” proved popular.
Some in line talked of wanting to be on TV, of wanting to be a star. Abigail talked more about the power music has over her and how it drew her to the audition.
“Music is just what I’ve always wanted to do,” Abigail said around 9 a.m., after she had been in line for about seven hours. “When I have a bad day, music is what gets me through. It always helps.”
Abigail’s “American Idol” odyssey began in darkness at 1 a.m. when she, her friend Miranda Mastera of Hiram, and their mothers drove an hour to Portland. When they got to the pier, no one was there. They saw two security guards sitting in a car and asked them if they were in the right place. They were.
They sat on benches for a while, shivering because they hadn’t dressed for the nippy overnight temperatures. They grabbed the official first spots in line by the time other people started gathering around sunrise.
Abigail read for a while, sitting on the cement surface of the pier. She prepared by singing her audition song, “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, and by drinking a lot of water. Her mom, Traci Fiandaca, carried a canvas bag filled with water bottles, power bars and cough drops.
The girls met several music-minded young women in line. Lucy Williamson, 15, of Gorham brought her ukulele and strummed while others in line took turns making up lyrics. Lucy’s dad, Rob Williamson, works near the waterfront and checked in on his daughter from time to time. The girls talked about their schools, about music, about what being on TV might be like.
“Just standing in line I’ve been thinking, ‘Somebody might be filming me right now,’ ” Lucy said. “But I’m not worried, I’m not going to do anything crazy.”
By the time “American Idol” crews had set up two audition canopies, near the “American Idol” bus, Abigail admitted to exhaustion.
Producers brought three or four singers up at a time. Abigail, Miranda and Lucy were called up to the audition tent together. They high-fived each other quietly just minutes before their auditions.
Miranda, 16, went first. She sang Christina Aguilera’s “Bound to You.” She was cut off by the producers before her 30 seconds was up.
“You had your eyes closed?” her mother, Tammy Mastera, asked afterward.
“I always sing with my eyes closed,” Miranda answered.
The “American Idol” producers were clear – they were looking for people with strong personalities that would show up well on TV. A strong voice is important too, but a good voice without that personality won’t cut it, supervising producer Robert McLeod had told reporters.
“We are, after all, a TV show,” McLeod said.
Abigail stood with her hands folded in front of her, waiting her turn. When she began to sing “I See Fire,” the wind blew strands of hair into her mouth. Then came the roar of the plane. Then the blast of the ferry horn.
Both girls, like most singers before them, were told they would not advance. Of the 60 or so people who had auditioned before Abigail and Miranda, only two had been accepted for the next round. At the end of auditions, “American Idol” staff wouldn’t say how many people had advanced overall.
The first person to win a producer’s approval and advance was Tom Emerson, 26, a Wells native who sang a song he wrote called “Weather Withstanding.” Emerson said the producers didn’t tell him what they liked about his performance.
But Abigail and Miranda were told what the judges didn’t like.
“They told us our voices were beautiful, but not strong enough,” said Miranda. “It might have been nerves. I was more nervous than I thought.”
“I wasn’t nervous,” said Abigail.
Tammy Mastera encouraged the girls to take what they had learned and try again another time. Abigail, a high school senior, said she needed to focus on going to college. She might want to study music therapy.
But first, after standing in line since 2 a.m., the two girls mostly wanted to eat.