College student part of American Idol crew

Noel Fridgen was not allowed to take any photographs while she worked for American Idol, but she did get a staff T-shirt.

Noel Fridgen, a communications major at Penn State University Park, will watch the 11th season of American Idol a little more closely when it airs in January. That's because she was behind the scenes for the callback auditions in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28 and 29. She served as one of 28 production assistants, charged with monitoring the contestants and their families, making sure everyone was where they needed to be at the right time.

Fridgen, 22, became aware of the opportunity last summer, when a PSU college dean sent out an email that AI was looking for local help. She applied but never heard back. Preliminary auditions were held July 15 at Heintz Field when thousands of young people sang for producers. About 100 were invited back last week to try for a golden ticket to Hollywood.

"I completely forgot about it," said the senior. Then, a week before the final round of auditions, she was sitting at the table in her apartment. Her phone rang at 5:30 p.m. It was Brian from California, calling on behalf of American Idol. Could she work for two days the next week? She had until 9 p.m. to respond. She quickly received permission to use her roommate's car for the two hour and 40 minute drive from State College. She lined up a place to stay in Pittsburgh, discovering it helped to have Greencastle friends going to school in that city. She told her five professors why she would be missing class, and they accepted her excuse wholeheartedly. She tried to find a sub for her part-time job, but finally a middle manager said he would clear it with the boss. She called Brian back with a yes.

Fridgen was cautious on sharing any information about her time at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. She had signed a 15-page Confidentiality Agreement spelling out rules and responsibilities, which included what she could say to the media. Nothing could compromise the integrity of the show.

The experience

She reported to the center at 6 a.m. on Wednesday and 8:30 a.m. Thursday, putting in 13 and 12-hour days, respectively. During the course of auditions, she was introduced to Norm Betts, a senior producer. She also talked to an older British man. A fellow production assistant was in awe that she spoke to Ken Warwick. Fridgen had no idea who he was, but a review of AI's official website names him an executive producer of FremantleMedia North America. Fridgen also had lots of contact with Patrick Lynn, a supervising producer, and saw Nigel Lythgoe, president of Big Red 2 Entertainment.

But that's not what her friends wanted to know about. Yes, she saw AI host Ryan Seacrest, frequently, since cameras were shooting him nearby both days.

"The first time he walked by, I was trying to play it cool, but I thought it was human decency to acknowledge him," she said. "I smiled at him and he greeted me. By the second day I wasn't starstruck any more."

Seacrest became just another guy, and he always said 'good morning' or 'hi' to her.

Fridgen also saw the judges: Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, and made eye contact with Steven Tyler.

She appreciated the opportunity to do something not everyone gets a chance for, to see what goes on in the production of a hit TV show.

"It will look good on my resume'," she added. "I will always be able to tell people I did this."

She will get a check in the mail soon, but it will likely be minimal compared to the value of the experience.