From Summer’s mom, Lynne Dale: Summer and I recently got back from the trip of a lifetime! In an amazing feat of persistence and determination, family friend Donna Morgan Hoffman, arranged to send Summer (and me!) to see American Idol LIVE in Los Angeles! Donna said, “Summer has put so many smiles on other kids faces, I wanted to put a smile on hers.”Mission accomplished, Donna!”
A week ago Tuesday, we began our incredible journey. We had lots of drama leading up to our departure, including a surprise overnight at the hospital the night before we left and more blood transfusions the very morning of our departure. But we managed to get packed and out the door on time.
At the airport, we were treated like royalty. Our pilots gave Summer a personal tour of the cockpit. They even made an announcement over the intercom, introducing Summer to the other passengers. So many people came up to us and said encouraging things.
Arriving in Los Angeles was exciting, as Summer had never been to California before. She loved seeing all the palm trees. A car service picked us up and took us to the beautiful Marriott Renaissance in Hollywood. The manager there upgraded us to an executive suite with two king size beds! We were thrilled when we opened the curtains of our 17th floor room and found a view of the Hollywood hills, including the famous Hollywood sign!
The next day, we were surprised to get a call from none other than Michael Johns, an American Idol runner up in 2008. We had been big fans back then, and it was so cool to hear his Australian accent coming through the phone. A personal friend of Donna’s, Michael surprised us by volunteering to come to our hotel home and serenade Summer! He brought his guitar and sang two songs, including one he wrote called “Heart on My Sleeve.” Summer was absolutely thrilled! (She has now downloaded that song off ITunes and listened to it about 800 times!)
Then it was time to get ready for the big show! Donna had managed to get us VIP tickets to the dress rehearsal as well, so we arrived at the studio early. When we got there, Idol staff greeted us and escorted us to our seats. They put VIP passes around our necks which entitled us to go pretty much anywhere we wanted.
Both Summer and I were surprised by how small the studio was in person. The cameras make the space look enormous, but it’s not. It’s really a much more intimate setting than you’d think.
We got our first look at Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, who were already in their judging seats. No sign of J Lo; another woman was sitting in for her during the dress rehearsal. We learned that Ryan Seacrest was feeling quite ill, and we all decided it was not a smart idea to introduce him to Summer. Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, standing in for Ryan, was escorting the Idol hopefuls through their paces. Everything went smoothly. Clearly Idol is a well-oiled machine.
We had about 45 minutes between the dress rehearsal and the actual show. On our way to the green room, we ran into Randy Jackson and walked with him outside. He could not have been nicer. We all chatted awhile, and Summer and Randy posed for a picture.
As we re-entered the building, there was Steven Tyler! Immediately, he gravitated to Summer, put his arm around her, and popped a piece of walnut into her mouth. Summer, simultaneously laughing and choking, said, “What if I were allergic to walnuts?” Steven shot back, “Well it’s a good thing you are not.” Then he kissed her on the cheek and insisted they pose for a picture with their tongues sticking out!
After that bit of fun, Summer and I would have been happy to go home and call the visit a roaring success! But our escorts were not done showing us around. They took us on a small, private elevator. As we boarded, I realized that Nigel, the excutive producer, was riding with us. After he got off, we heard someone else on the elevator say, “Was that the boss?” The answer back: “Yes, the big boss!” We got off on the third floor and were taken into a large makeup room where all the Idol finalists were busy with last minute preparations.
There we met the final five contestants. We are such big fans of all of them, and it was so very cool to meet them in person. Phillip, Skylar, Hollie, Joshua, and Jessica!
Back in our seats, we spent the next two hours completely fascinated with the show unfolding before us. It was truly magic the way it all worked. Ryan made it onto the stage, but it was clear to us that he did not feel well. Yet, he did his job well, and I bet no one at home knew how sick he felt. While Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson got up and walked around during the commercial breaks, J Lo never left her seat and was swarmed by makeup and hair people any time the cameras were not rolling. Toward the end of the show, Summer whispered to me, “I can’t believe we’re really here.” I knew exactly how she felt!
After the show, we got the added bonus of watching Katy Perry tape her performance for the next night. It was so exciting to see her in person! What energy that woman has!
Michael Johns found us and took us over to the judge’s trailers where we saw Randy Jackson again and got to meet former 2007 Idol runner-up Blake Lewis! He’s the guy who was famous for his Beatboxing.
By the end of the evening, Summer was so exhausted that we went straight back to the hotel where Summer proceeded to sleep for the next 16 hours!
The next day, Donna arranged for us to have VIP passes to Universal Studios, where Summer met Shrek and had her caricature drawn!
Next we were treated to a fabulous dinner at the restaurant called Wood Ranch Grill, owned by Alex Benes, a former ABC News colleague of Summer’s dad, Al Dale.
On Friday, we reluctantly packed our bags and flew back to Atlanta. Summer has decided she wants to move to Los Angeles and become a big star – of some sort!
Many thanks to Donna Morgan Hoffman, Elizabeth “Beppy” Walton, Shelby Taylor, Brendan Wright, and many Keller Williams colleagues who used their connections and checkbooks to help send Summer on her most excellent American Idol Adventure! You are all the BEST!