Over the course of 15 hit seasons on Fox, American Idol gave dozens of aspiring singers the opportunity to be seen by millions and to catapult to stardom. That showcase seemed to disappear when the network canceled the competition in spring 2016.
Yet after a season off the air, ABC stepped in to revive Idol, offering renewed hope to a new wave of singers that included Michael J. Woodard. A native of Philadelphia who was studying voice at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood when the new round of auditions were held, Woodard leapt at the chance to be seen and wound up placing in the season’s top five finalists out of thousands of contestants nationwide.
Woodard is currently reaping the rewards of that success as part of the American Idol Live! national tour, which will reach the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Friday. Speaking from a tour stop in San Antonio, the 20-year-old Woodard exuded a hard-won sense of joy and confidence as he spoke about how the year with Idol has changed his life.
“I always knew about the show, but I was scared because I knew that it would be a one-in-a-million chance, and I’d already suffered from a lot of rejection previously,” says Woodard. “But thank God I had Jesus, and my mom really encouraged me. As I walked into the audition, she said, ‘You have nothing to lose.’ ”
“I thought, this is my dream and this could be the thing that propels me towards it,” Woodard continues. “I think that was the most nervous I’d ever been for anything. When you watch my audition, you can sense the nerves. My voice was shaky, but I knew I got that far and if I make it past this it’ll be crazy.”
Woodard’s influences range from Michael Jackson and Tina Turner to Whitney Houston and Brandy. He began performing at the age of 5 and knew he wanted to pursue music as a career by the time he was only 8 years old.
He won the singing competition series Majors & Minors on the Hub cable network and has performed on stages across the country, including the historic Apollo Theater, the U.S. Open and the National Black Caucus, as well as a rally for then-President Barack Obama. Woodard moved to Los Angeles after being accepted to the Musicians Institute and eventually auditioned for the American Idol judges by singing the Ed Sheeran song “Make It Rain.”
“The most surprising thing is that I think, at that time, I would be surprised at how I was able to be myself,” says Woodard of his season-long experience. “It was so easy for me to be myself, having nothing to lose, literally. I didn’t care about the outcome of anything as long as I was being myself. I’m not as surprised now because I know who I am. I never looked at it as a competition, ever, because I was doing what I loved every day.”
Friday’s show features multisong performances by the top seven finalists of season 16, who also include Cade Foehner, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Catie Turner, Gabby Barrett, Jurnee and Maddie Poppe. Also along for the show are Kris Allen (winner of season 8) and the band In Real Life, which has made a splash with three hit singles since winning the 2017 ABC reality competition Boy Band.
Each of the seven singers performs four songs over the course of the show, mixing solo performances with duets and singing as a group. Woodard’s spotlighted songs include the showtune “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, “Titanium” by Sia, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and the theme song from Beauty and the Beast.
“The next goal is a record deal because the tour is when you start to have yourself really introduced to the world,” says Woodard. “American Idol trains you and sends you out into the world. I want to be the biggest and greatest to ever do it, and I thank Idol for that chance.”
American Idol Live! comes to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., on Friday, Aug. 3, at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 805-449-2787 or visit civicartsplaza.com.