Another local musician just made it through to Hollywood Week on the most recent round of American Idol auditions. Caleb Johnson invites friends, fans and well-wishers to a kick-off party at Wild Wing Cafe (161 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, 253-3066) on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m.
Johnson, who plays in local hard rock cover band Rock Bottom, tells Xpress that he actually tried out twice to secure his spot on Idol. The first audition netted positive comments from an Idol vocal coach but “I was so nervous I sang with my eyes closed the entire time,” Johnson recalls. The final verdict following the cattle call as that he was a talented singer but needed to work on his stage presence.
It was Johnson’s mother who encouraged him to “get it together” and try out in another city, so he flew to Austin, Texas where anther Asheville musician — Aaron LaFalce — also auditioned. “I didn’t go on until 4 p.m.,” says Johnson. “I thought, ‘I gotta make Asheville proud.’” He sang Soundgarden‘s “Rusty Cage” (which would become his signature song during try outs) and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” establishing himself as a rare rock singer in a sea of pop vocalists.
After sailing through that round, Johnson stayed in Austin for an additional week for what he calls “the big round” in front of Simon Fuller and other Idol creators. Johnson was told he was “not so main stream,” but it seems it was his stand-out style that earned him a pass to the celebrity auditions in front of Idol judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. “Randy’s cool, but I was more worried about the other two,” says Johnson.
Happily, all three judges applauded his rendition of “Rusty Cage” — Johnson recalls that performance as his best to date “due to all the adrenaline.” He was awarded a golden ticket on to Hollywood Week, the final (and drama-filled) hurdle that determines who will compete for Idol audience votes — and that’s where Johnson’s confidentiality agreement says the story must end. For now. But fans of the show and the local musician can find out what happens next when the season starts on Wednesday. Come out to support Johnson at Wild Wing; his band Rock Bottom will also perform ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s rock covers.
Watch Johnson perform a Led Zeppelin cover with Skinny Legs and All (whose front woman, Jesse Barry, also made it through to Idol‘s Hollywood Week a year ago):