A Day at the Theme Park Formerly Known As MGM Studios

I have been reading about Star Wars Weekends ad naseum on my Facebook news feed
the past few weeks. I’m a fan of Disney World’s Facebook page and as punishment
they spam me every day hyping their events, hotels, and restaurants. I finally decided
to take the plunge and see what this Star Wars Weekend was all about.

We arrived at Hollywood Studios just after high noon. This June day was blistering
hot and the air was drenched with humidity. I felt sweat beading on my back and
forehead the very moment I left the comforts of my ice cold car in the parking lot.
With Star Wars Weekend signage everywhere, I was excited about what awaited us beyond
the turnstiles in the park. We made our way through the gates and into the park
and…nothing. Same old Hollywood Studios as ever except there was a little girl dressed
as Padme wandering around with her parents. What a letdown. I knew the heart of
this event would be at the god awful Star Tours ride, but I wanted to make sure
that I had the Aerosmith ride FastPassed for later. So we went that direction first
and took care of business. Still, I wondered what all the fuss was about if this
event was only being held where a Star Wars themed area already exists. Hey
kids, it's Mickey Mouse Weekend at the Magic Kingdom! We wandered
the park, braved the heat, ogled at the candy store, and searched in vain for this
so-called Star Wars Weekend.

I love you, Hollywood Studios Candy Store. 

I love the Florida heat. I crave the soupy humidity. This past winter sucked and
lasted what felt like an eternity.
It couldn’t warm up soon enough. Mother Nature, however, has a wicked sense of humor.
She withheld the heat this year until you were begging for it. And finally, the masses
pleaded for a little heat to save them from the frigid winter. “Oh, you mean THIS HEAT,” said Mother Nature as she turned the Heat knob to 11. "AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAaaaaaaaaa!" Evil bitch.

This June afternoon was hot as balls. British tourists were melting into little
Wicked Witch of the West puddles everywhere I looked. I was pissed that there was
no Star Wars anywhere to be found, which only made it feel hotter. On our way to
the Star Tours area, we passed by American Idol: The Experience. The attendants at the gate
excitedly waved us in with promises of cushioned seats and an air conditioned escape
from the Venus-like, oppressive heat of a Florida summer. Well, Hurricane season anyway—summer’s
still not for a few more weeks.

With my clothes drenched in sweat and feet aching from wearing my Vibram Five Fingers
for the first time in months, we took the bait. I felt as if I was walking into
a trap—like a hungry stray cat, lured in by the sweet smells of fresh Meow Mix placed
suspiciously inside a wire cage with the door left invitingly open. I had no doubt
that, in exchange for my weakness, I would soon be singing on stage in front of
200 complete strangers. However, I cast my fears aside and found a seat next to
an Australian dude wearing a Crocodile Dundee hat. I want to
live in Australia just so I, too, can wear that hat.

I’m a complete sucker for cheesy theme park shows. I love them. The ridiculous scripts,
the hammy overacting, the obligatory bit featuring badly synched dialogue between
the live host and a pre-recorded video of a B-list celebrity, the forced smiles
of actors that have to put on this exact same performance 20 times a day. It’s all
part of the charm. This was the first time I had ever seen American Idol: The Experience;
it easily ranks up there as one of my favorite theme park shows of all time.

The Experience simulates how it feels to be live on the set of American Idol while
it airs. The set itself looks amazing and about how I imagine the American Idol
set would appear in real life—only smaller. The cast are obviously doing their best
impression of their real life counterparts. The guy who does Ryan Seacrest looks
somewhat like the real thing, but much more like Steve Zahn from Joy Ride. The judges
include a “dawg” dropping black guy who does a decent impression of Randy Jackson,
a blonde chick who sits in the middle that plays a slightly less drunk and far more
constructive Paula Abdul, and finally some mope who plays a grumpy, idiotic, American
version of Simon Cowell.

The judges. Sorry for the poor quality of the pics. My camera battery was dead so I had to use my cell camera 

I spent the entire show trying to decide if the “contestants” were real or if the
whole thing was a work. My conclusion was 2/3 of the contestants were real. The
first contestant was my pick as the plant. This girl had no family or friends in
the crowd. She looked overly touristy with her Space Mountain t-shirt, bright green
shorts, and pink and white kicks. The girl was the only contestant with no bio or
any real background information. She just got advice from a video of Jordin Sparks
right before she sang a lazy, halfhearted rendition of “Walking On Sunshine,” which
has always sucked no matter who sang it. Needless to say, she got blasted by the
judges and didn’t seem the least bit fazed. Shenanigans!

Survey Says? This contestant was fake! 

The next contestant I am conflicted about, but my vote goes to him being real. His
bio was current. They talked about his graduation from a local high school the week
before. He appeared the right age and seemed to have a few friends in the audience.
My only issue was that he wasn’t nearly nervous enough. The kid looked like the
type who would be a nervous wreck on stage. He hid it well. I was about to call
bullshit on the entire show until this kid started singing “What a Wonderful World”
and did this bizarre circling motion with his left hand through the entire performance.
Even the judges called him out saying he was casting Harry Potter spells. They quickly
backtracked on the statement when they realized that Harry Potter is owned by that
“other park.” I was starting to truly love this show.

Until the judges ragged on him for the Harry Potter spell casting movements, I was leaning towards calling him fake, too. 

The final contestant had a loud, raucous cheering section that all looked like male
and female versions of the contestant at various stages in life. I safely assumed
they were family. She sang a pretty damn good version of “Black Velvet.” After she
sang, my wife swore that she had seen her perform at the Daquiri Deck in St. Pete.
I was sold and so were the judges who lavished her with praise. Except the Simon
Cowell wannabe who was trying too hard to be an ass. He begrudgingly gave some backhanded
compliments, but just came across as an idiot who knows nothing about music. Simon’s
mean, but he is usually dead on with his criticism.

The contestants and the host. The girl on the right won. She sounded pretty good! 

After the performances we all got to vote using the buttons on the armrest. I
voted for the third contestant. At the end, they reveal the results with all the
suspense and buildup of the actual show. The first contestant was all but
rolling her eyes at the whole charade. There’s no doubt that she sees this act
several times a day. My third contestant won and her family went wild. This was awesome!

Supposedly they have this show going all day and the winning contestants face off
in the finale later on. We later passed by an area called American Idol: The Audition
Experience, which confirmed my conclusion that at least one of the contestants,
probably two, were real. I later found out that the daily winner gets a reservation at the next real American Idol tryout—they get to skip the first line. Sometime this summer, I’m heading back to see a few more
of these shows and sit in on the finale. Theme Park Formerly Known As MGM Studios,
you have a winner!

Which brings me back to Star Wars Weekends. What a scam! We left American Idol:
The Experience and made our way to Star Tours. What did we find? A couple of cosplayers
dressed up as Darth Vader and some Storm Troopers dueling little kids in quick,
rehearsed lightsaber battles. Fun for the kids, I guess. We hit the Star Wars gift
shop, which was at least three times more packed than usual. Chewbacca was outside
in the sweltering heat, posing for pictures if you were willing to stand in line
for 30 minutes. There was nothing more to Star Wars Weekends than what you can find
at any nerd convention in America—only the merchandise costed twice as much and
there was less selection. I was tempted to create a dual bladed Sith lightsaber
in the Build-Your-Own Lightsaber part of the gift shop, but once again, I was dissuaded
by the long line.

The only Star Wars Weekend picture I took. It was a half-assed picture, just like the event. 

We circled the park a couple of times and found various smatterings of mini Star
Wars events here and there such as Darth Vader posing for pictures and Minnie
Mouse dressed as Princess Leia. We still had an hour and a half before the
Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster FastPass was ready. There was also supposed to be a Star Wars parade
later and a martial arts demo by Darth Maul, but we decided the park was
way too packed and it was too hot, so we left to spend some hard earned cash on Japanese
candy at Epcot’s World Showcase.

Star Wars Weekends was a letdown, but I guess if you’re
not the type to hit a nerd convention and want your picture with Darth Vader, then
it works. I just wouldn’t go there specifically for the event. It’s like the Magic
Kingdom advertising a “Pirates of the Carribean Weekend” and then just having a
Jack Sparrow imitator sword fight with kids outside the ride. Oh wait, I think they
have actually pulled that scam, too.

Comments (8) Trackbacks (0)
  1. As an aside, the horrible Simon Cowell imitator only served to heighten my fear that American Idol will not survive his loss. Any British guy they find will be accused of being a bad imitation of Simon. The criticism will only be worse for an American. They need someone who is already well known. Somebody brings a big personality and is not afraid to ridicule or compliment contestants and come across as honest and likeable to the audience. My pick is Quentin Tarantino. This is probably asking too much, but he went far beyond the call of duty when he was a guest judge a few seasons ago. Instead of just showing up and throwing out a few canned lines, he actually offered some great criticism, showed a love for the show, and was the best judge of the night.

  2. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, American Idol lost me as a follower. However, if they brought Quentin Tarantino out as a judge, I just may have to tune in for a few episodes. How about Howard Stern? He knows his way around the music business. I am willing to bet that the producers would have their hands on the bleep button though every time the guy opens his mouth. He might give invitations to some of the hotter female contestants to ride his Sybian machine.

    • Howard Stern would make a great judge as well. These are guys who will never be accused of imitating Simon and they also know what they're talking about. Good suggestion.

  3. Who likes the Florida heat?!?!? Moron. Thanks a lot for pissing off Mother Nature. I was perfectly happy to have a nice cold Winter, Spring, heck even Summer and Fall. Why couldn't we have a Summer with a high of 70? Next time try going to the park for grown-ups: Universal Studios! Let me know how the Harry Potter area is…

  4. Funny write up. I find the whole American Idol thing a scam anyway since they steer everything towards the main stream. Other than the rides, I found that Hollywood Studios is a bore. We went years ago with the girls when Brother Bear hadn't been released yet. We did the animation tour and actually found that very interesting since they were making that animation movie there in Orlando. I actually find Epcot the best Disney park and the only one that serve alcohol. It is great for New Years.

    • Epcot is our Go-To park. When all else fails, there's always somehting going on in the World Showcase there. I like MGM. It has the two best rides out of any Disney park and the shows are pretty cool, too. American Idol: The Experience is definitely going to make me go there a few more times before our passes are up. I love Magic Kingdom for all the nostalgia, but it just takes forever to get in and out. Plus, we're usually the only couple there with no kids, which is kinda awkward.

  5. Agreed. At Magic Kingdom you run the risk of getting run down by baby strollers, as well. Children are evil. Crazy stroller moms are worse. I'm glad you didn't build your own lightsaber. I think 3 just might be enough to ward off your enemies. LOL.

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