Story by Chris Graham
Ayla Brown has a confession to make – she’s not all that fond of Simon Cowell.
“Simon is an interesting person – because you know he’s always going to say something to criticize you or put you down,” said Brown, who just missed making the final 12 on this season’s “American Idol.”
The high-school senior – who will play basketball at Boston College next fall – said the show’s creator and lead judge “almost never says anything” to make “Idol” contestants feel good about their place in the vocalist competition.
“Every time I was up there, I almost expected something bad to come out of his mouth – which is kind of sad,” Brown told the “ACC Nation” radio show last week.
It’s not that Brown had a bad experience overall on “Idol.” She qualified for the on-air portion of the competition after making it through a tryout at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. “There were 13,000 people waiting in line. I waited for two days just to get past. And finally, after that day, there were about four other processes to get into the top 24,” Brown said.
“You fly out to L.A., you try out in front of the judges, you have Hollywood Week, you’ve got the Green Mile. This has been going on for me since August. It’s been almost seven months since this first started for me,” Brown said.
Being an athlete – Brown was a 2005 McDonald’s preseason All-American at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass., where she is the all-time leading scorer, male or female, in school history – “helped tremendously” as she made her way through the competition, she said.
“You’re put in a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re all competing for a spot. And you need the endurance, the strength, and you need to learn how to deal with people, all during Hollywood Week – because they keep you up late at night, and there are a lot of things that you just need to have in order to succeed. I think being a basketball player and being an athlete helped so much,” Brown said.
Being a basketball player – Brown is a six-foot tall small forward – also helped her get attention on the “Idol” stage.
“(Host) Ryan (Seacrest) would apologize to me during commercial breaks and say, ‘Ayla, I am so sorry that I’m so short.’ And I’m like, ‘Ryan, it’s OK. I’m just wearing three-inch heels because they match the outfit,’ ” Brown said of her height advantage over the 5-7 Seacrest that was readily apparent in their televised one-on-one interviews.
Having to think about things like matching heels to her outfits was a new issue for Brown to have to deal with.
“I had never purchased so many heels before this competition,” she said. “I’m an athlete. I’m into sneakers and flats – and never thought about dressing up. So this was definitely different.”
Brown told the “American Idol” audience that she had grown up a tomboy. “I have become almost both people now – the tomboy and the girl who goes to the mall and buys new clothes,” she said last week. “Because with all of the appearances that I’ve been doing and all the time that I’ve been on camera, I almost didn’t have enough clothes to wear to vary it up – so now I have to buy clothes so I’m not being repetitive on camera.
“I actually just went to the mall today to buy some new shirts just to vary it up,” Brown said during the “ACC Nation” interview. “But I am definitely still a tomboy. I love being in sweats and being comfortable. So … yeah. I’m kind of both.”
Brown is clearly still disappointed with not making it further in the competition.
“It was so unexpected. I wasn’t expecting at all to be eliminated that night,” said Brown, who was voted off the show on March 9 following her performance of Natasha Bedingfield’s ”Unwritten.”
“Based on the polls that I had seen, I had been in fourth place almost every week prior to that evening. I just wasn’t expecting to get eliminated – and I felt as though I had worked very hard to get where I had gotten,” Brown said.
Cowell said on the air that he felt that Brown’s failure to impress “Idol” voters had been related to her song choice. Brown said she had chosen the song not realizing that “it would have been as big of a risk to take” as it appeared to be afterward.
“So I was just so disappointed in myself,” she said of her display of emotion on air the night of her elimination from the show.
“Definitely the athlete in me showed – because when you work so hard for something, and you make it to that national championship, you want to win so badly,” Brown said.
The good news is that she has BC and Division I college basketball to look forward to.
“I think that I’ll fit in very nicely to the program,” Brown said. “This is something that I’ve been working toward since I was in sixth grade. I’ve been working really hard to be able to play at a school like that. It’ll definitely be a hard transition going from high school to college – and the level of intensity and focus that you need to have. But I’m really excited – and I really think that I’ll be a good addition to the team.”
In the meantime, it’s back to life and back to reality for Brown – a would-be “Idol” who is still only 17, a fact that her mother helped remind her of recently.
“My mom had me doing house chores the other day. I was like, ‘Wow, I haven’t done this for so long,’ ” Brown said.