“There is a lot of stuff that I did not know,” contestant Dexter Roberts tells PEOPLE.
So what are these unearthed gems? Here are five secrets about the FOX reality show.
1. Host Ryan Seacrest gets a little help to remember the contestants’ names.
While mentor Randy Jackson and judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr. have had trouble remembering how to pronounce Jena Irene’s first name (pronounced “Gee-na”), Seacrest always gets it right. But that may have to do with the fact that the teleprompter spells her name as “Gina.”
Not that Irene minds. “I know if they spell it right they’re going to pronounce it wrong,” she says. “I totally understand. And thank God my name’s pronounced right for once.”
And Malaya Watson took matters into her own hands when her name was mispronounced: “I told them to spell it ‘Ma-Lie-Ya’ because they kept on calling me ‘Ma-lee-ya’ or ‘Ma-lae-a.’ So they put it like that and I’m happy they did.”
2. The contestants sometimes don’t rehearse with the band until the live shows.
“I thought the band would be there the whole time,” Roberts says of the rehearsals. “But sometimes you’re just standing there alone like you were in the [auditions].”
3. The studio is not as big as it seems.
While the stage has been renovated this season to add balconies and more seating, it can seem smaller in person. “The first thing I noticed was that the studio looks way bigger on TV,” says Alex Preston. “That is just crazy to me. And backstage is crazy too, with everyone rushing around.”
4. The contestants don’t always get to sing the songs they want.
For legal, logistical or other reasons, producers veto certain song choices. “The process is way more in-depth than what people think. It’s not just choosing a song and doing it,” says Majesty Rose. “A big part of American Idol is the whole week. That’s why it’s so nerve-racking when you get onstage – your whole week has been leading up to this.”
5. The contestants love their fans – but things can get weird sometimes.
“I’ve been sent some weird stuff,” says Sam Woolf. “Then there was one girl who had a bunch of pictures of her with her tongue out and glued it to a picture of my face. And the producers read one of my letters and he threw it away before I could read it because it was creepy. It was that bad!”
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