Lake Forest teen wins ‘American Idol Experience’
Morgan Fitzsimmons-Cohen holds the dream ticket she won in "The American Idol Experience" in Walt Disney World. The competition marked her singing debut. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 26, 2013 3:16PM
LAKE FOREST — No one can say Morgan Fitzsimmons-Cohen doesn’t have guts.
The 14-year-old eighth-grader took a dare during the recent Deer Path Middle School band trip to Walt Disney World and signed up to compete in “The American Idol Experience.”
In her singing debut, the Lake Forest dancer and alto saxophone player won the top prize — a free pass to try out for “American Idol,” without waiting in line.
She talked with the Lake Forester about her life-changing experience.
Q. What prompted you to try out for The “American Idol Experience?”
A. I’ve never been much of a singer, but my friends were pushing me to try out. It was supposed to be a joke, but they ended up really liking me.
Q. How did you decide which songs to sing?
A. I auditioned with “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. I’m not really into R&B, but I like that song. I sang four or five times after that. Eventually I sang The Jackson Five song, “I Want You Back.” That’s the song I won with.
Q. What was the experience like?
A. It all went really quickly. Once I was told I was going to be on the show, they slapped me into hair and make up. The joking stopped once they told me I was going to be performing for a bunch of people, like 700. I first auditioned around 11-ish in the morning. It was dark, like 7:30 or 8 p.m., when it was over. It took up a big chunk of the day.
Q. Were you nervous singing the first time?
A. Once I got on stage, my friends and school were cheering for me. I had fun once I got up there. They had the words on a wall in back of the room where the audience couldn’t see them. It was kind of like karaoke. That provided a little more comfort.
Q. Did you ever expect to win?
A. I was really surprised, especially because in the final round all the people I was up against were really good singers. It was a great feeling, a really great feeling.
Q. Was “The American Idol Experience” like the TV show?
A. They try to make it as much like the real show as possible. At the end, they took all the contestants on stage. There were four of us that they lined up. The host picked out two girls and said, “I’m sorry, you didn’t make it.” So it was just me and another girl left. The lights dimmed and the host had a golden envelope in his hand and announced that I was the winner. Everybody started screaming, about 20 pounds of confetti rained down from the ceiling and the judge gave me a big hug. It was a huge, grand thing. It’s supposed to be exactly like the real show and it was.
Q. How did your friends react?
A. Oh my gosh, they all started screaming and tried to climb on stage to come and hug me. After it was over and they took me backstage and took a picture of me with the golden dream ticket and gave me a whole packet. I thought maybe I’d get ice cream with my friends. But when I got outside, there were like 40 screaming girls running toward me. There were all these girls from my school in huge clump. Hey just tackled me with hugs. It was a hug-fest.
Q. What is the dream ticket?
A. If I audition for the show, I have to be 15, it gets to the front of the line. I’ll be 15 on July 4.
Q. Will you use the ticket?
A. It would be an amazing experience. It would be tough not to go after all that. I might sing that same Jackson Five song, “I Want You Back.” It’s a really fun song.