February 14, 2012
By Jack Marcus
Class of 2012
At first glance, Andy Street might appear to be just a small-town music and drama teacher, a talented but unassuming instructor who is beloved by his students and fellow faculty members at the Lower Campus of Ojai Valley School.
But take a closer look.
Since December, OVS’ very own drama coach has been a key member of the production team for America’s top television show, American Idol
. The phenomenal performances staged each week by the contestants in Hollywood are a direct result of Mr. Street’s diligence and devotion to them as vocal coach and stroke mentor.
Mr. Street and three other vocal coaches are training contestants who passed auditions held in various states around the country and who were sent to Hollywood to compete for the American Idol
And the week before Idol
goes live, Mr. Street will be playing the piano on stage for the last 40 contestants. Twenty finalists will go on to compete for a $1 million cash prize and a major record deal.
It’s not just a big deal for the contestants. For Mr. Street, who has long been an American Idol
composer behind the scenes, this year has provided a breakout role working hands-on with the contestants and being a key figure throughout the popular television series.
“They have a camera crew following me around,” said Mr. Street. “It's quite weird really. I have to constantly remember I am being recorded and have to watch what I say.”
Mr. Street is no breakthrough artist. He came to the United States nearly 19 years ago, bringing with him a master’s degree in music composition and hundreds of hours of experience in directing musical television.
Since that time, he has become a heavy hitter in the music television industry, composing music for shows such as Strawberry Shortcake, Angelina Ballerina
and So You Think You Can Dance
He also composed for the show Hats off to Madeline
, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Animated Program.
But composing was not enough for Mr. Street.
He came to OVS in 2007 to teach elementary and middle school students in the basics of acting and stage play, and to direct both the elementary fall play and the middle school spring musical. He also directs the orchestra, and hopes to inspire in his students his own love of music and theater.
Since coming to OVS, Mr. Street has also helped start a six-week summer performing arts camp, which has staged adaptations of Cats
, and other well-known musicals.
But for all the work he has done, he remains as modest as ever.
“He’s a big wig,” said music teacher Lisa Gordon, who works with Mr. Street to stage the Lower Campus musicals. “He’s much more important than he says he is.”
This year, Mr. Street is directing the musical South Pacific
while still working on American Idol
. And he’ll be done taping the live shows in time to once again direct the summer camp program at the Lower Campus.
Colleague and friend Mandy Beverly, who worked in the professional costume industry for 15 years, has worked side-by-side for many years with Mr. Street on the costumes for school plays.
“I enjoy Mr. Street’s imagination and spontaneity – we think alike and have a lot of fun during the creative process,” she said. “Perhaps the reason we all (students and adults) love working with him so much is he’s really just a big kid at heart and connects so well with everyone.”
Going from directing school musicals to directing contestants to perform while being watched by the whole country – and being on TV himself – is a huge change for Mr. Street, who is more comfortable behind a piano than in front of cameras.
“I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would, mainly because of the people I work with,” he said.
His new position on American Idol
brings back old faces. Mr. Street was asked to come work on the show by executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick.
“Its actually an English show!” Mr. Street said of Idol
. “I worked with them both 25 years ago back in England.”
Mr. Street’s official title is vocal coach and stroke mentor for the contestants. He works tirelessly behind the scenes with his partner, Michael Orland, teaching songs to all the contestants each week. Leaving the studio at midnight would be an early night for him.
“It’s quite sad when contestants are eliminated,” Mr. Street said. “You get attached and I spend many hours with each to learn their songs.” American Idol
judges select contestants during auditions across the country. The show swings into high gear when 200 or so contestants arrive in Hollywood for the final cuts.
That’s when Mr. Street gets his hands on them. After working tireless hours, and trekking from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for each new competition, only 40 remain. Each of the four vocal coaches mentor 10 contestants in preparing for the final competition before the show goes live. Of the 10 that Mr. Street worked with, eight made it to the finals, and one step closer to becoming the next American Idol
“The job is high pressure, I work many hours,” he said. “But the thing is there is nothing quite like live television, being watched by 30 or 40 million people.”