American Idol Returns to Alabama

Alabamians will have another chance at becoming a part of the state’s long and respected musical history when the spotlight shines on the Shoals at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame on Sept. 7 with auditions for a new season of “American Idol.”

The Shoals will host auditions for the singing competition television series that ran between 2002 and 2016. This time, ABC will host the series for 2017-18, with entertainer Katy Perry as judge.

Alabama has supplied some of the show’s most successful contestants who went on to successful entertainment careers – Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice, and Ruben Studdard.

The music history of the Shoals is as enchanting as it is enigmatic. What is it about this area that conjures up such respect and rapture? Amidst the grandiose antebellum homes and cozy home-style restaurants, there is an air of prestige and legend.

Many believe that the Shoals are somehow ‘magic,” and one glance at the area’s rich history will explain why. Music produced here in Alabama has echoed across the country and the world.

Much of this legacy can be attributed to the musical genius of record producer Rick Hall. Raised in Franklin County, Hall began his music career as vagabond with a guitar and rose to recognition in the lofty heights of recording history.

Hall set up FAME Records and the studio in Muscle Shoals in 1961. His dedication and passion for music led him to produce a series of stereo-shaking hits, positioning Alabama as a vital player in the music industry. Hall was nominated for a Grammy as Producer of the Year in 1970, and retains his title as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music.”

In 2015, Hall and the FAME recording studio band, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section dubbed The Swampers by southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, received the BCA’s prestigious Chairman’s Award.

“Rick Hall and the Swampers put Muscle Shoals on the musical map and built what is known as the Muscle Shoals Sound,” said 2015 BCA Chairman Marty Abroms, president and managing shareholder Abroms & Associates P.C. in Florence. “The legacy of FAME Records is one that will last for generations.”

The fantastic 2013 award-winning documentary, “Muscle Shoals,” features Hall, The Swampers, the Muscle Shoals Sound, and FAME.

Hall’s FAME recording studio created the blend of Southern soul called the Muscle Shoals Sound with such hits as Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and Grammy award winner Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man.” Franklin described her Muscle Shoals’ recording as the “turning point” in her career.

The siren song of the Shoals has drawn musical legends from Etta James to the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, Little Richard to Otis Redding, the Osmonds to Jerry Reed, the band Alabama, Mac Davis to the Gatlin Brothers, Bobbie Gentry, the Gregg Allman Band, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Jason Isbell and Drive by Truckers, the Tams, Black Eyed Peas, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Cher, Bob Seger, Traffic, The Staple Singers, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Boz Scaggs, and Jimmy Cliff.

Both FAME and The Muscle Shoals Sound studio remain active.

Hall of Fame Manager Dixie Griffin said part of the museum attests to the effect “American Idol” already has had on the state. “We showcase Ruben, Bo Bice, and Taylor Hicks – two winners and Bo a first-place runner-up with the show,” she said.

Part of Alabama’s musical history is its success on “American Idol.” Throughout the series’ history, Alabama has had two winners, Studdard and Hicks, two runners-up, Diana DeGarmo and Bo Bice, and four other finalists, Paul McDonald, Jess Meuse, C.J. Harris, and Dexter Roberts.

With the Alabama auditions taking place Sept. 7, Griffin expects “American Idol” will once again have an impact on the state, particularly the Shoals area and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

“This is going to be huge for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Tuscumbia, and the area,” she said. “Many people coming to audition will stay overnight, tour the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, eat in our wonderful restaurants, and shop. Everyone will profit from the auditions being held on the grounds of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.”

Show producer Melissa Elfar said it is a joy to hold auditions in towns with a rich music history, “and the Shoals fits the bill.” The Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel estimates that 2,000 musicians will attend the auditions.

Elfar had a few tips for musicians interested in trying out: Pick a song you like and know how to sing, don’t be nervous, be confidant, make eye contact. Performance is a big part of being able to deliver any song, so perform it well, she said.

Maybe the biggest impact will be the attention “American Idol” will bring to the Shoals and its contributions to the national music scene, the Alabama tourism department said.

The Shoals is the birthplace of W.C. Handy, known as the “Father of the Blues,” for not only writing some of its great standards but spreading the knowledge of the blues to musicians throughout the world, and of Sam Phillips, who founded Sun Records and revolutionized rock ‘n’ roll.

The Music Hall of Fame is at 617 U.S. 72 W, Tuscumbia, AL 35674. Visit for details on specific audition locations, full eligibility requirements, submission forms, terms, and conditions.

[author title=”About the Author” image=””]Jalen Drummond is a student at the University of Alabama. Drummond is a summer intern at BCA and is majoring in political science.[/author]