W.Va. lobbyist also competing for a spot on 'American Idol'

February 06, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.VA. - At 6-foot-6, lanky Rod Snyder tends to stand out in a crowd.

But will he be able to rise above the hundreds of thousands of other wannabe stars who auditioned for "American Idol"?

Snyder's not saying.

"That is all still confidential," said Snyder, 24, who lives in Shenandoah Junction and works as a lobbyist in Washington.

In a conversation filled with laughter, Snyder recently recounted his experience connected with the popular television show on Fox, in which amateur singers compete to be named the next "American Idol."

The show's fourth season is under way, with episodes scheduled to run Tuesday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday at 9 p.m.

A pillow on concrete

For about 36 hours last August, Snyder called the concrete floor of the Washington Convention Center home. With a pillow, he camped on the floor from 5 a.m. on a Tuesday until he was able to sing at 4 p.m. the following day.

Spending the night on the floor was the best way to gain an audition, since 21,000 other hopefuls also were jockeying for a spot before the microphone.

Once Snyder had his chance, producers showed an interest in his political background - he ran for West Virginia's 57th District House of Delegates seat last year, but lost in May's primary election to incumbent John Doyle.

A camera crew came to his Jefferson County log cabin and his office in Washington, filming segments of his life.

Snyder works as a lobbyist for CropLife America, a Washington trade association that lobbies for agricultural businesses.

Although friends had been trying to coax him to audition for the show, he decided to do it only after he lost his campaign bid. Plus, he said, auditions were offered for the first time in Washington.

"It was kind of on a whim," he said.

By the time it was over, Snyder had spent four days in Washington for one show-related matter or another.

Facing Simon

His final audition was before the show's judges - Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and a guest judge, Mark McGrath, lead singer of the band Sugar Ray.

He chose to sing "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain.

Surprise replaced the nervousness he first felt about facing Cowell, who is notorious for being harsh on singers.

"You go in with the notion that he's going to be scary," Snyder said. "He was actually really nice."

Cowell expressed concern about Snyder's vocal strength, but the other three judges supported him. He needed three of the four to concur for him to be named one of the nation's 190 semifinalists.

Jackson said he liked Snyder's voice and offered him a suggestion to hold his notes longer. McGrath said he liked Snyder's personality and believed he would do well in front of the camera, while Abdul simply said "yes."

The judges even joked with him.

"They asked me if I wanted to be American Idol or American president," he said.

His response?

"I told Simon I'd prefer to do both," Snyder said. "I think I've got time to do both."

Manifest Destiny (Or, go west young man)

Snyder eventually was named one of 190 semifinalists and was flown to Hollywood in November for an all-expenses paid trip to again sing for the judges.

For that performance, Snyder was given a list of songs from which to choose. He opted to sing Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" and a revised version of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

Snyder said he was pleased to make it that far. Whether he made it any further cannot be revealed.

If Snyder was named one of the show's 24 semifinalists, he will be flown back to California to begin appearing on live episodes later this month. Those 24 contestants then will be whittled down to 12 finalists.

He said his political campaign might have been a benefit.

While on the election trail, Snyder had to speak to groups, participate in debates, do interviews and appear on local radio shows.

"I felt very comfortable in front of the camera," more so than he probably would have before running for office, Snyder said.

A worthwhile ride

His musical roots extend far back.

"I've been singing as long as I can remember, my whole life," Snyder said.

In 2001, he recorded a demo album and sang an original song on the floor of the West Virginia Senate.

The following year, Snyder graduated from Eastern University near Philadelphia, where he studied political science and served as president of the student body.

After graduating, he joined the government affairs department at CropLife America and has lobbied on federal and state issues for nearly three years.

He currently serves on the executive board of the West Virginia Young Democrats.

Because Snyder travels four hours every day to and from work, he hasn't been able to watch every episode of "American Idol" so far, although others have been watching.

"I get reports every day," Snyder said. His segment and auditions have not yet appeared on the show.

One of the taglines for the show is "Who's Next?" Even if Snyder is not next, he said it's been a worthwhile ride.

"It's been such an incredible experience," he said.

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