An old cliché states that first impressions are the most important. And if you have one shot to impress Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith and bona fide rock god, you better not disappoint.
Robbie Rosen didn’t.
"Beautiful,” Tyler said after Rosen, 17, sang his arrangement of the Beatles song “Yesterday” for American Idol judges Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Tyler at the start of the season for FOX's hit show.
The Merrick teen and son of Matt Rosen, a social worker at in Malverne, had waited for hours to earn his right to sing for the celeb judges at the Prudential Center in the Newark, NJ. He had one shot.
“Crazy, mad vocals right there,” Jackson exclaimed, as if he were trying to rally an entire studio audience into uproarious applause.
But the only one in the room was Robbie Rosen. And he had just earned a trip to Hollywood.
Rosen recently spoke to Patch to reflect on his journey to the spotlight.
“It’s pretty much what I thought going into it, just hours and hours waiting on line,” Rosen said of his first Idol audition, speaking from his home in Merrick. “Just seeing that there were thousands of people that you were eventually going to compete with, at first you kind of just think, 'Man, how am I ever going to get past these people?'
"At the same time, you also believe in your own ability, and just put the other people aside and think, 'Ya know, if I just do what I do, I’m gonna get past them.'”
That was Rosen’s initial reaction. And then the grueling audition process began, which included three rounds of preliminary auditions with producers and executive producers, which he said were just as important; fail the preliminaries and you’re done.
Having made it through the initial tests, his first “real” Idol experience in front of the judges was an emotional and exciting moment.
“I wasn’t really intimidated by [the judges], because after watching the show and dreaming about this, it was more surreal than scary,” he said. “I was just so excited by it that it pretty much just took over my nerves.”
He made it through to what he now calls his favorite round, Hollywood Week, where he arranged all of the songs for his solo and group numbers.
“Every performance is something new, which was really interesting for me,” he said. “I got to work on different songs, I got to play the piano, I got to learn music that I didn’t really know before, and so it really helped me as a musician too.”
Having made it through some of the tougher cuts and garnering fans throughout the country, Rosen’s Idol career would end on March 3 in a broadcast full of “drama like we’ve never seen before,” to quote the show's host Ryan Seacrest. The drama he referred to was the new wild card initiative, in which the judges had the opportunity to keep a few of the singers that didn’t earn enough votes to stay on the show.
Based on his previous performances, Rosen felt that he was favorable in the judges’ eyes, and even though he had an off-night the evening before, he was confident that the rest of his work would give him the clout needed to sing one more time.
Of his wild card performance, which was "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" by Elton John, he said, “I feel like I really brought it home and gave it all of the emotion, and hit all of the notes that I could possibly hit in one song.”
In the end, they chose three other contestants over Rosen. Long Island cringed, and Rolling Stone magazine ran the headline “Robbie got Robbed.”
Regardless of the outcome, Rosen is still appreciative and reflective of the opportunity. He said that if he was given the chance to continue, he would have taken full advantage by demonstrating his range and singing “a really contemporary song” the following week; a change from the ballads he had sung up to that point.
“I feel like I could still be in it now, depending on what America thought of me,” he said. “Thinking about it now, here watching the show, they’re all really talented. The judges had a really tough decision that night. The top 13 out of 24 are amazing singers. I think it was meant to be, but at the same time I definitely feel like I could still be there if given the chance.”
Rosen has been a musician his entire life. He was told by his parents, mother Loren and father Matt, that he was singing before he could speak, and has been writing music and playing piano since he was 8 years old. This season, American Idol lowered the age of eligibility, and at age 17, Rosen, a junior at Calhoun High School in Merrick, saw it as an opportunity to pursue his dream.
While understandably regretful of not being able to continue, Rosen still looks at his time on the show and early departure as a blessing in disguise. Since he’s been back, he’s performed several times in public, been recognized around Long Island and even had a day named in his honor - the village of Merrick, Rosen’s hometown, dedicated April 16 as “Robbie Rosen Day.” At the ceremony, he was given a plaque, recognized by elected officials, and performed a few songs to a very appreciative crowd.
“Coming back here I’ve gotten to sing – not in front of millions – but I’ve gotten to sing at [Nassau] Coliseum for [the charity] Sophia’s Cure, I got to sing for the legislators, and just a lot of different things are coming up," he said. "I get to support great causes, where if I was out there, yeah it’s great to be in the competition, but it’s a whole other world when you get to use your gifts for a purpose.”
Rosen’s original song, “Make it Through,” which he performed at Nassau Coliseum for the charity Sophia’s Cure, is on YouTube, as well as about 25 other videos of him playing piano and singing some of his favorite songs. His YouTube channel is titled robbierosensings, and he can be followed on Twitter @robbierosenlive.
As a high school junior, Rosen is dealing with what is typically the number-one stress-inducer for the typical motivated teenager around this time of year - SATs and AP exams. Coupled with his love of baseball – he plays for his high school team – and maintaining his straight-A average, the average 17-year-old might crack under these pressures not to mention having a budding musical career. Yet Rosen finds a way to balance his additional commitments.
“I’m handling it well," he said. "I feel like, I’ve always wanted it to be this way. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always expected myself to do these kinds of things, and it’s going just the way I want it to. It’s really cool just having people come up to me and say ‘Robbie, I love what you did on the show’ and just appreciating what I do in music.”
Although he hasn’t determined what his exact focus will be in college, he is certain that it will have something to do with music. Idol gave him a head start and exposure to millions of fans, followers and music industry professionals, but he said that even without the show, his aspirations would be the same.
“I’ve always had this dream of just doing music as a career,” he said. “If Idol didn’t happen, it probably would have just been the same, just going after my dream.”
While he attempts to situate himself back into the life of a regular person (“If that’s possible”, he quips.) the countless fans and spontaneous rounds of applause he receives in public are potentially derailing those plans.
“I would say I’m just a regular kid but with a drive in many different areas,” he said. “I love music, but people don’t know the whole side of baseball, and I’ve been doing that for years, and years, and years. Also, I’m in school, and that comes really before anything I do. So, I’m definitely still a kid like any other, but I really push myself in many different areas.”
He may be building a music career for the long term, but his immediate goal is clear.
“A state championship would be really nice,” he said. “Idol and a state championship; I probably couldn’t ask for more than that.”