Last summer, the night before Candice Glover auditioned for "American Idol" for the third time, she was up all night.
It wasn't nerves
And she wasn't rehearsing to prepare for the next long day of auditioning.
She was just having a little fun with friends.
The St. Helena Island native, her hometown best friend Laquan Fields, Savannah College of Art and Design student Lana Scott and Baltimore native Wayne Wilson spent the night singing, laughing and telling stories at a house they'd rented in Charlotte for the weekend. They knew each other through mutual friends and previous "Idol" auditions.
The house was perfect for the quartet that shared the dream of becoming the next American idol. It had a piano and a guitar so a jam session naturally followed.
"Lana played the guitar 24-7." Fields said last week. "We didn't sleep. We sang all night long."
Think of that night as the calm before the musical storm.
The next day, the four had to be at Time Warner Cable Arena, where they would be surrounded by 15,000 unfamiliar faces. Each had the same goal: perform well enough to make the show.
"They're all strangers, but no one feels like a stranger," Scott said. "Every single person you're walking beside has the same dream."
The road to making that dream a reality is a difficult one that can be filled with heartbreak, rejection and occasional doses of self doubt.
This time, the road was smoother, at least for one of the friends.
Glover became a finalist, got the "golden ticket" to Hollywood, the only one of the friends to be selected for the show.
Those friends couldn't be happier for her. Glover's success sends them an important message.
Being told "no" initially doesn't mean you should give up, they say.
"You can't let one no strike you and leave you not believing in yourself," Scott said. "Candi didn't."
Now, nine months after that day in Charlotte, Glover has advanced to the show's Top 8 and emerged as the front-runner to win season 12.
'OUTSIDE THE BOX'
The hardest round of "Idol" is the one viewers never see.
Watching the audition episodes, viewers might think the thousands who line up are seen one at a time by the famous four-judge panel over a day or two.
In reality, the panel isn't involved until the final audition for the show. The whole process can take weeks -- and more than a little luck.
Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks, for example, initially auditioned in Los Angeles. She didn't make it past the first round so she traveled to Seattle where she auditioned again and got her "golden ticket."
Before winning two Grammys, singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat had auditioned for "Idol" twice. She was rejected in the first rounds and never made it on the show. During her audition, she sang her original song, "Bubbly." The song didn't win her an "Idol" spot but went on to top the Billboard charts in 2007.
For the initial audition, groups of four line up to sing for producers, who read the auditioners' questionnaires as they sing.
"They're judging your singing and deciding if they like your story, too," Scott said.
Some hopefuls sing three lines of a song and are told no; some sing more. On rare occasions, an auditioner is asked to sing another song, as Glover was.
After singing "Syrup and Honey," by Duffy, Scott said, Glover was asked to sing a more upbeat number. She chose Duffy's "Mercy."
What separated Glover from the crowd was this: She wasn't trying to sound like the artist who originally sang the song, Scott said.
"I can't tell you how many people sang 'Rolling in the Deep' and tried to sound like Adele," she said. "You could tell the judges were sick of hearing it."
Glover used the songs to show what she can do as a singer.
"She took a very specific-sounding song with a very specific-sounding melody and used it to show the little things she can do," Scott said. "She thinks outside of the box .... It's what sets her apart."
LOOKING FOR A 'YES'
While Scott and Wilson didn't make it past the initial audition in Charlotte, Glover and Fields were invited back to the next rounds.
But first, they headed home to St. Helena Island, still a little giddy over their early success.
"We went to Charlotte and handled business," they kept saying to one another.
Back home, they awaited emails telling them when and where the next rounds were. A few weeks later, they drove to Pinehurst, N.C., where they again sang for a chance to audition for the show's top judges.
Fields made it to the third round of the process before hearing "Thank you for coming."
Glover made it through to the final round.
This time, much of America was watching.
Judge Randy Jackson called Glover's performance the "best audition I've heard so far this season."
"I know what she's been through to get to this point," Scott said.
In Glovers' previous two attempts to win a spot on the show, she passed the auditions in seasons 9 and 11 only to be cut by the judges in later rounds.
"After the second time I thought they obviously didn't want me, so why should I go back?" Glover said in an interview earlier this month.
But she did, two times, refusing to take "no" as the final word.
"You've got to know there's a 'yes' out there somewhere," Scott said.
'WHAT YOU LOVE SO MUCH'
Glovers' three friends have continued with music in different ways.
Wilson followed "Idol" to the next city, going through the auditioning process again in Newark, N.J., receiving a "golden ticket" to Hollywood, but being cut in later rounds.
Since "Idol," Fields has auditioned for other singing competition shows including "The Voice" and, more recently, "The X-Factor." He is awaiting word on both.
In the meantime, he'll travel to Hollywood this week to watch Glover perform in the Top 8.
He says he's not jealous.
It's not his time yet, and he says he wouldn't want to compete with Glover for the limelight anyway.
"We have a song and a story to share with the world," Fields said. "She's sharing hers right now, and I'll get my chance to share mine one day."
Scott considered going with Wilson to audition in Newark, but instead focused on preparing for her audition for the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
She was admitted to the college, known as the world's leading institute for the study of modern music. She is enrolled this spring and landed her first professional singing gig in an a capella group at Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa., this summer.
Scott says that when a musical opportunity doesn't work out, she never walks away thinking singing isn't for her.
Like Glover, she knows this is what she was born to do.
Besides, she believes it's about sharing your gift with others.
"This is what you love so much," Scott said. "You're sharing it with someone for that moment, and it's a beautiful thing."