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Chasing Idol Dreams
Whitefish native Ethan Thompson featured on American Idol
American Idol contestant Ethan Thompson, originally from Whitefish, auditions in Boston in September. - Credit: Michael Becker / FOX. © Copyright 2013 FOX Broadcasting Co.
At the end of last summer, Ethan Thompson was pursuing his music dreams in Boston, playing a show at a restaurant, when a couple of people in the audience asked an innocuous question.

“They asked me if I was doing Idol,” Thompson said, referring to the American Idol auditions scheduled for Boston the following week.

Within days, Thompson, 23, went from playing a relatively small venue to being on stage at arguably the largest talent competition in the United States. American Idol is now in its 13th season and attracts millions of viewers each week who vote for their favorite contestants.

The show is responsible for the careers of pop stars such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks and Phillip Phillips, and tens of thousands of people audition each year with the hope of being next.

Thompson, who was born and raised in Whitefish and graduated from Whitefish High School in 2008, was familiar with the show, of course, but hadn’t really considered auditioning until that moment at the restaurant.

“I thought ‘I’m here, they’re here,’” Thompson said, adding that American Idol auditions are rare in Montana, so he hadn’t pursued it before.

Thompson was in Boston for the auditions because he had recently graduated from the Berklee College of Music, after spending a semester in Los Angeles and two years at the University of Montana.

Music is the career he’s chosen, and he thought auditioning for a huge talent show like American Idol couldn’t hurt.

Thompson went to the early September audition and was told he had made it to the round where he would be performing for the judges – Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., and Keith Urban.

“I was definitely nervous,” Thompson said. “I’ve been performing a lot. I thought I’d be comfortable, but then you go into the room and there’s three people there, three people who you’ve seen on TV.”

He added, “I don’t think I had my contacts in because I thought I’d be less nervous if I couldn’t see them clearly.”

The first song he played was a cover of another artist’s work, which he readily admits he wasn’t entirely comfortable with because he didn’t feel emotionally connected to it.

The judges noticed.

“They told me they felt like it was gimmicky,” Thompson said.

But he got another shot, and decided that he would play one of his original songs. It was what the judges were looking for, he said, and they all agreed that Thompson will move on to the next round of the competition, which will take place in Hollywood in upcoming episodes.

When the judges like a contestant, he or she is awarded a ticket to the next round, where they will face off against all the other accepted contestants, and the group is culled through various competitions for the semifinal round of TV show, when the audience can call and text in their votes for performers.

Getting three yeses from these judges is a feat in itself, one that Thompson didn’t immediately grasp after the successful audition.

“It was definitely very strange,” he said. “I never quite process things when they’re happening, it’s always in hindsight. Your mind kind of accepts it later.”

Thompson’s performance for the judges was part of the American Idol Season 13 prerecorded premiere on Jan. 15, and Thompson was back in Whitefish for it. He was in the valley for a week of vacation on his way to Los Angeles, where he was headed to pursue other aspects of his music career.

While American Idol might be a major stepping stone, Thompson said he doesn’t want to put all of his eggs in one basket and he’s recording an album and starting a Kickstarter project.

He said audiences can expect a solid show this season, with talented and good-hearted people appearing onscreen. As for himself, Thompson said he intended only to perform his original songs for the competition.

“All I’m going to do is originals from here on out, and if I get out doing originals, that’s all I can do,” he said.

American Idol is shown on the FOX channel on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. For more information about Ethan Thompson, visit www.ethanthompsonmusic.com.
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