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Alaskans overcome connectivity challenges to pursue “American Idol” dreams

From Jennifer Hudson to Carrie Underwood, the television show ‘American Idol’ is known for launching the careers of successful performers. Four musicians were in Nome (September 6) in hopes of being selected to audition live in front of celebrity judges in Los Angeles, California.

This year, ‘American Idol’ hosted virtual open calls in all 50 states. Alaska’s open call was on August 14. Alaskans were able to select a time slot and audition for the producers or submit a video online. However, many in western Alaska continue to face broadband connectivity issues due to a cable break.

KNOM announced the collaboration with ‘American Idol’ on August 3. KNOM staff traveled to eight Bering Strait villages of Savoonga, Unalakleet, Koyuk, Brevig Mission, Shishmaref, Golovin, St. Michael, and White Mountain to record submissions for western Alaskans. According to Melissa Elfar, the show’s Senior Producer, this was the first time ‘American Idol’ had people flying out to record videos of auditions. 

Western Alaskans with reliable internet connection had the opportunity to submit pre-recorded auditions to KNOM’s website, which was open until August 21.

Elfar and the ‘American Idol’ team reviewed dozens of submitted auditions and selected four performers to  advance to live online auditions in Nome. Contestants auditioned one-on-one with the ‘American Idol’ production team in Los Angeles online, performing two different songs.

The four contestants appeared as special guests on KNOM’s Wednesday morning show, where they shared their audition experiences, creative processes in music production, and their aspirations for the upcoming competition. Three of the contestants brought musical instruments to accompany them during their audition. 

Kipnuk resident Martin Paul played a traditional Yup’ik drum during his online audition. He’s recently taught yuraq, or Yup’ik drumming, at a camp in the Y-K Delta community of Aniak. Paul said he hopes this opportunity leads to more teaching requests.

“It was such a great feeling at the end of that entire camp. These kids that I taught were literally singing by themselves and they were confident enough to do that and something about that really touched me. I’m hoping that I will get more opportunities to teach yuraq or even perform.”

Chad Callahan was the only contestant who performed without an instrument. The Nome resident said he’s loved music since taking Mr. Horner’s choir class in seventh grade.

“I’ve always loved singing, but I’ve never really pursued it for anything. This is the first time that I’m going, you know, hard in trying to sing for something other than just in the shower.”

Like Callahan, Makiyan Ivanoff’s musical journey began young. He began playing the guitar when he was 11 in his home community of Unalakleet. 

“I just wanted to be like the big kids that were playing guitar. I tried to learn from them. I just thought it was really cool. And it’s, it’s just a fun thing to do. It’s good, it’s a good hobby. Just to pass the time and express my feelings.”

Selma Casagranda recently became comfortable with performing her own music, and performs it frequently in her hometown of Seward at the farmers market. She began writing her own lyrics at the age of 12, and said writing allows her to connect with music on a deeper level.

“I used to hate performing, but it’s now that I have my own work, it feels a lot more meaningful, and I’m able to connect with performing in a different way now.”

Both Ivanoff and Casagranda auditioned with guitars.

KNOM thanked those who auditioned in a Facebook post, adding that the station anticipates partnering with ‘American Idol’ again in the future. The Nome auditions are the last step before the live auditions in Los Angeles. Contestants will be notified of their audition status by the end of the week, according to Elfar.

Photo at top: “American Idol” contestants pose in front of KNOM sign (Photo by Ava White)

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Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.