First Person: My ‘American Idol’ Experience, by Siobhan Magnus

The 15th and final bittersweet season of American Idolis underway, and all season long, Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks will be inviting alumni from the series to share their stories. This week’s essay is by Season 9’s Siobhan Magnus, one of the coolest (and most footwear-obsessed) ladies ever appear on the show? Here, she recalls all the shoes that took her down her unique Idol path.

It was roughly 7 a.m. on a January day, and I hadn’t slept a wink. The previous morning I had narrowly escaped blizzard conditions on Cape Cod and barely made it to Logan Airport, where I sat, crying pathetically in the terminal. It was the first time I had ever traveled alone. Now I was in another world, Planet 75 Degrees and Sunny Every Day L.A. I felt like the weird kid at school all over again.

It was the first day of filming for Hollywood Week. We had been split into two groups for the next round of solo auditions. I was in group two, so I had the rest of the day off, but first I had to show up to film a group shot of all the excited contestants storming into the Kodak Theatre. The night before, my clothing-based compulsions were making it rather difficult to decide what to wear. We had been told to wear the same outfit over the next two days for continuity purposes, which made the decision even more serious. Over the phone, my boyfriend helped me decide on a pale blue vintage satin and lace dress, which belonged to my mother. For some completely insane reason, my brain fell out of my head long enough for me to also decide to wear a pair of towering, four-inch platform, Jessica Simpson SLINGBACK HEELS, the likes of which I had never successfully or safely worn in my life.

I attached my giant Boston Marathon number 60381 to the front of my dress and proceeded with caution to the hotel lobby, where I bumped into two other contestants. The three of us were nearly late, so we rushed outside onto Hollywood Blvd.

Then it happened. In slow motion, my heel began to wobble. It felt like I knew I was falling for about an hour before I finally hit the ground. The complete strangers I was with awkwardly asked if I was OK, and I had no choice but to take off the treacherous shoes and continue barefoot (disgusting, I know) to line up in front of the Kodak. We made it in the nick of time without being spotted as being late. I tried to get in line as discreetly as possible.

One of the producers, Patrick Lynn, began to explain what we were about to film. Then I looked down. By now there was blood dripping from both of my knees, all the way down to my ankles. I looked around at all the other beautiful, tan, well-made-up girls, and I couldn’t have felt more embarrassed. Then Patrick looked at two other girls who were holding their heels in their hands and said something like, “Yeah, that’s cute if some of you hold your heels so you can run up the stairs…” Then he looked at me, made a sort of sour face, and said, “But not too many people should do it.” I could feel a thousand eyes burning through me. Honestly, I just wanted to go home. We filmed running up the stairs into the theater maybe four or five times before I finally got a chance to sanitize my tired, bare, dirty feet.

The next morning, I disregarded the request for outfit continuity and instead wore my favorite shoes at the time, a pair of black-and-white Demonia wingtip Mary Jane platforms I bought in Salem, Mass. I wore those shoes early on for the show as many times as I could get away with. I have always had a stubborn obsession with my shoes that is hard to explain. I can’t really sing or walk in heels. I need to feel grounded. Stemming from childhood obsessions with the silhouette of the members of KISS and the Spice Girls, and a crush on the protagonist of the video game Megaman X, the only shoes I ever really wanted were platform boots.

As I progressed through the show, I had more opportunities to find shoes I felt comfortable in. It wasn’t easy, though, and I was often pressured to wear shoes I abhorred. My first major victory with our stylist Soyon An was after I picked out my Betsey Johnson dress for “Paint It Black.” She had me try on a few pairs of little heels, until I told her I couldn’t do it; I needed boots. We went to a thrift store and immediately found a killer pair of beat-up combat boots with thick soles, and she dyed them darker red. I felt like a million bucks. To this day I think that has a lot to do with why that was my best performance!

One week I was rehearsing my song and the stage manager Debbie Williams wanted me to start at the top of the stairs, but the stylist had given me some heels with no tread while she looked for other shoes I would be happy with. I couldn’t safely make it down the stairs (which had no railing), and Debbie grew frustrated. I don’t know if I should be proud of this, but I am the first ever AI contestant that the stage manager set rules for what kind of shoes I was allowed to wear on set! It was a little embarrassing, but after that I got to choose some of the coolest Dr Martens I had ever seen!

I got a little better at walking in wedges. I wanted to feel feminine, like the other girls on the show. By the season finale, I was dancing with Christina Aguilera and the other girls in a pair of fierce, studded black Steve Madden wedges! It was fun to try, but they still weren’t “me.” Then, we started rehearsing for our tour, and we were told we each had a budget for three stage outfits we would be wearing all summer. I remembered one of the most glorious pairs of boots I had ever seen in a boot shop on Melrose. I used half of my whole budget (so worth it) to purchase the boots that the shop owner described as “indestructible”: knee-high black leather platform New Rock boots with straps going all the way up and spikes all the way down, with metal reinforcements at the toes. I cannot begin to tell you how I felt when I first put them on. It was like the Power Rangers transforming into their stronger robotic forms. They were my Giant Growth card from Magic the Gathering – wearing them was like gaining +3/+3. In those boots I was an Anime Rockstar Road Warrior Astronaut. Thrashing around the stage in them lead me to write the poem that became the title track of my first solo album, Moonbaby.

I have since procured a handful of other pairs of outrageous and fabulous platforms, but that pair will always remain especially dear to me. They helped me push through the loneliness and confusion of that tour, and in my opinion helped me blossom into the kind of performer I am today. Thinking back to those Jessica Simpson slingback heels makes me laugh. That was the only time I ever wore them. I think my little sisters used them to play dress-up a few times. I bought them before I knew who I was. I appreciate them as a symbolic reminder that it is always worthwhile to be true to yourself rather than try to fit in at your own risk. And should the Apocalypse arrive during my lifetime, keep an eye out for me, wandering down some dusty, abandoned highway, with a katana I will have learned to wield expertly, and my indestructible metal and leather New Rock boots.