Ivan Ganchev…Everyday Idol
The year is 1988. You’re an eleven-year old boy waiting in line at a train station in Bulgaria. Your Mother’s face is the only sense of familiarity and yet her smile lacks its usual comfort. You ask her where you’re going and she gives you strict orders to keep your mouth shut. She bends down to your eye level, gently cups your face in her hands and says, “If someone asks you any questions you say I’m with my Mom.”
Years later you find out the true nature of that moment in time. A single mother risked her life and the life of her child for a better future in the United States. False papers were filed stating immediate medical care was needed in treating her son’s disease (the child was perfectly healthy). Sufficient care could only be found outside the country, thus their travel abroad was permitted. This is your mother, the woman who dared to escape communism in search of the American dream.
Flash forward to October 2004. You are standing in line once again, only this time you’re at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Nine thousand people are waiting for their chance to audition for the fourth season of American Idol and YOU are one of them.
Hard to imagine, right? I’d like you to meet Ivan Ganchev.
Owl: Do you remember leaving Bulgaria?
Ivan: Uh yeah, well I remember going to the train and leaving Bulgaria…and I kept asking my Mom a lot of questions like where are we going…and she says “Ok, for right now you keep your mouth just shut and you do not let anyone know anything…ok, if someone asks you any questions you say I’m with my Mom here and you talk to her”…because she was escaping and committing a crime. She could have gone to jail for something like this. My Mom always had a dream to live in America one day. This country seemed like a great country…a country that offered all types of people with different backgrounds and different cultures equal amount of opportunity. And that’s what we do not have in Europe…we do not have that. Europe does not offer everybody the same amount of opportunity. You know…here you go to school, you get a degree.
Geezus, with a story like that…you ARE the American Idol!
[laughs] My Mom wants me to go this year again and she’s like you’re gonna win this year, I know this! We still don’t know to this day why I didn’t advance the 44 because it was so close to the top 24…I was so close!
So are you going to take your Mom’s advice and audition again this year?
Yes, I’ll give it one more try.
What were your first Idol auditions like?
There were 11 tables separated by black curtains. Behind each table sat 3 judges. In front of each table there was a long line of about 20 people or so, who were auditioning section by section. It was very cut throat, they were herding us like cattle. “Section 3 row 1 come down please”…the whole time your heart is just going thump, thump, thump. I cannot explain to you how nerve racking this whole experience was. From day one, I must have lost like 5 pounds…I was extremely nervous.
You performed in front of the celebrity judges on the 3rd day then?
Yes. I sang one of my favorite songs “We Are The Champions” by Queen.
After I sang my song the judges said:
Paula: “Wow, that sounded just Like Freddie Mercury”
Randy: “Props on attempting Queen…tuff song”
Simon: “You must be a professional karaoke singer”
Randy: “Is there such a thing?”
Simon: “I say no”
Randy: “I really liked it…I say yes”
Paula: “I don’t know”
The judges were undecided until Nigel Lythgoe (one of the producers) spoke up from behind the stage…I had no idea he was even in the room. He says to the judges,”Can I say something? I heard this guy sing “Somebody to Love” and I thought he did a fantastic job.”
They let me sing another song (not shown on tv) and decided to put me through to Hollywood!
So out of 100,000 people who auditioned, you made it to the top 44. How did that feel?
It was the most amazing achievement…the feeling was so intense. Music means so much to me. I wish I could explain how music makes me feel…it’s everything…it’s the only thing that has ever made me happy.
What happened behind the scenes of American idol?
Well, when the day came to pick the top 24 I was told to re-shoot my entrance into the judges room. I was called into the elevator which took me up to the room where they waited. When I walked in the room, I sat down and they asked me a few questions:
Randy: “How was your Christmas? How you feeling?”
I began to answer when all of a sudden Paula drops her head down on the table and starts laughing. Then Randy and Simon start laughing too.
Simon: “Ivan, I’m afraid I’m just gonna have to see you again”
So I’m thinking I made it…why else would he want to see me again?
Simon: “You have to go back down in the elevator again…your back was facing the camera”
I was crushed, I was so mad…it was like they had ripped out my heart! So I had to ride the elevator all over again, and come back up to answer the same questions…still not knowing if I had made it.
Simon: “You sure fought like a beaver”
Randy: “What does that mean? Don’t let him talk to you like that”
Simon: “Unfortunately, it’s a no”
Paula: “Can I tell you something. I think you’re an extremely talented kid. What are you going to do after this?”
I told her that I was going to continue and I walked out of the room with a smile.
What’s life like after American Idol?
I work constantly. I work six days a week at Trader Joe’s in Walnut Creek and I have one day off…and on that one day, I play all day long with my band to record. I’m a workaholic…welcome to America, huh?!
- Article by Alison Manuel.