Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Truth about American Idol Auditions Part 2

Here's the much anticipated part 2 to the generic American Idol story (my more specific story will come in later posts... and later, when the show actually aires, I'll tell you what really happened the way they said it did and what didn't)..  If you haven't read part 1, you can find it here:

As always, here are the rules for this blog:
1) You don't get any more than my name "Maria Saint" - nor do you get any more identifying information about me.... it's bad enough they made me sign away that I would not write about any of this stuff... that's the only reason I can't tell you what songs I sang or post video, etc, etc.
2)  If you have any questions post in comments or e-mail them to truedat504@gmail.com and I will answer in the upcoming blogs.

So, without further waiting, here is part 2:

Days 3 & 4 - The Callbacks

The Callbacks for the New Orleans audition took place at the Hilton Riverside, one of the finer New Orleans hotels.  Callback days were (as mentioned before) on either Thursday or Friday and you were not able to pick your callback date.  You were assigned to either day and you were told explicitly that your date could not be changed so not even to bother asking.  I am uncertain whether the selections for Thursday or Friday were random.  It appeared that they would have been, and that half of the contestants would be taking on Thursday and half on Friday-- just as you see on TV, the judges split the days up into 2, they see both good and bad people on both days.   Whether it was random or not remains up in the air; however, I will mention that of my 40 person group that went through Media Training together, I was the ONLY one who had a Thursday callback.   I can also tell you that the people that all seemed really really really good all were coming back on Friday.

When we left the New Orleans arena on Monday, our golden tickets were taken away and replaced with green tickets-  the green tickets gave us the day of the audition, the time to report (7am) and location, as well as our contestant number.   I showed up at the Hilton Riverside just after 6:15am and there was already a line of about 50 people in front of me.  I am told that of the 6,000 that auditioned at New Orleans Arena, there were 125 that made it through (the news media said 100 but I know that was a very low estimate based on the people that I talked to in my media training group alone).    I am unsure whether it was 125 total or 125 PER callback day.

Many people had tons of family members with them which was surprising because many of them had to drive or fly back again for this callback.  There were very very few people from Louisiana, most were from Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas.  I met people who had travelled from as far as Indiana. The average person had travelled 8-12 hours by car or about 4 hours by plane.  Almost everyone had family, I think there were only about 5 people who did not have anyone with them.  One girl from Mississippi (who had travelled about 2 hours) had almost 20 people with her.  They were very intimidating as they moved from room to room screaming her name.  More on the specifics of contestants in a later post.   The only other specific things I will say about contestants at this moment is that there were a few "bad" people (remember, these are N's on golden tickets), and there were SEVERAL "terrible" singers.  There were many "personalities"  both good and bad,  several guys who were amazingly talented and played guitar and jammed all day, and a few of the "costumed" made it through- including a girl dressed as an Indian (we called her Pocahontas),  Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, and a real life New Orleans Saintsation.  (If you don't know what a Saintsation is, you should be ashamed of yourself, after all the New Orleans Saints are the reigning World Champions of football!)

We all sat patiently in the line from 6:15-7, and around 7:05 when it started moving we were led to a room where we had to show our green tickets and photo IDs for entry.   Eventually we were given stickers that had our contestant numbers on them.  They were small squares.   We were explained the process:  we would be kept in this gigantic holding room until we were moved to a smaller holding room.  We would then make our way to audition for one of the woman producers who is known for being very tough (I believe it was Mel who I auditioned for in the Arena, but I'm not sure).    If we made it by her, we would trade our small sticker in for a large sticker (the one you actually see on the contestants on TV) and we would be led to a larger room with the executive producers.  If we made it past the large room, we would be done singing for the day, and would go to an interview room so they could extract our story out of us, and then we would go home.  Judges would return sometime in late August or September.

In the gigantic holding room, contestants were seated on the left in chairs in groups of 5.  There were probably about 50 groups of 5.    On the right hand side of the room, were the family members.   One at a time, groups of 5 would be led from the gigantic holding room to the tiny holding room.  Family members would have to keep an eye out for where there contestant was going and follow them silently all day long. No one would tell them where the contestant was going, nor was the contestant free to come find/talk to them.

For the first hour or so, no one was moved at all and the energy and excitement in the room was contagious.  We were explained the rules, we all cheered, we met each other.  People played guitars (some way too often),  and we also learned the song that we would all have to learn.  It was "Billionaire" by Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars, and let me tell you, I don't ever want to hear that song again for as long as I live.  We were given printed out sheets of all of the lyrics (including the rap), and immediately everyone started singing it as loudly and originally as possible.  Amazing that some didn't blow out their voices.    We were told that the reason we were given this song to learn is that if we made it to the actual show and were given one or two days to learn a song choice they would want to be assured that we could do it.  I'm pretty sure it was to tape us all singing it to make that ridiculous compilation of people singing the same song privately, some good, and some bad --- but we won't know for sure until the show airs.  Having watched the show for 9 seasons, I'm pretty sure I'm right.    Blogging audience, I present, exhibit A:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riodgm3u4H4&feature=related           That's also why the poor saps forget the words so much, because they have literally JUST learned the song hours before.  What's also interesting is that the judges faces in that clip are clearly edited in after the fact-- it's not really what they were watching.... because the judges weren't even there!   Watch it again and tell me if you see the judges and the contestants together in the frame- I bet you $100 you don't.

So... now that we've solved the mystery of why the contestants never know the words to "THAT song"  and also the mystery of why sometimes the contestants are wearing different clothes when they are singing that song (even when they instruct you to wear the same clothes back to everything)  it's also become amazingly clear why you see a contestant walk into the judges room, sing, and walk out of the judges room (usually through the wrong door) but never sing that song!   Mystery solved.  Back to the grand holding room.

So, we've been given "Billionaire" - we are all waiting learning it... and there are at least 10 different cameras coming up to each person within 2 inches from their face and focusing there for at least 2-3 minutes.  Some camera men want you to sing your song as you practice, some want you to mouth it, some want you to talk to your friend beside you, but most just want you to sit there quietly looking nervous, which by the way is the MOST unflattering thing you can do.   And the toughest.  But you do it, and you wait... and it's still a jovial time had by all.

Pretty soon your group is taken (the five of you and whatever family you may have) to the smaller holding room which I'm told was joyous and fun for other groups but for whatever reason felt like Guantanamo Bay when my group was in there.  That was probably the tensest hour I've ever spent in my life.   No one talked, no one said a word, occasionally someone would whisper or turn their headphones loud enough to where you could hear them.   No guitar playing, no singing....  just sitting and waiting.  There were three or four production assistants with the American Idol t-shirts, cargo pants, and clipboards (also headsets and microphones) who were watching us.  It felt like we were in trouble and were waiting to see the Principal.  The mood was tense.  We were also hungry as it was now probably about 10:30 and we hadn't eaten anything.  We also could only drink water if it was an American Idol sponsored water (a coca cola product, like Dasani or Vitamin Water) -- otherwise we had to remove the label and keep the bottle (because they are all shaped differently) far from view of the cameras.   But the conditions weren't TERRIBLE, just tense.  And we waited.

That's it for tonight kids....  tomorrow I'll go into the producer room, and the executive producer room.  That is, if they don't catch me and stop this blog first!
If you are reading, please comment.  If you have friends that may be interested in this, please share.   I'm putting my ass out on the limb sharing this with you readers and mainly it's because I don't want anyone else to face the same humiliation and camera trickery that I did, unless they fully expect what they are getting into.   And I want others to know that when they laugh at someone for not knowing the words to a song, they might not realize that the person just learned the words 50 minutes ago.   But that aside, I also like to think this is an interesting tale.  So, if you're reading, please comment and whether you enjoyed it or not, please pass it on.

Until tomorrow!

-Maria Saint

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The truth about American Idol Auditions

So, having just finished auditioning for American Idol Season 10 (to be aired in 2011).... I can tell you the following things.    This summary of my experience will hopefully help those of you who are thinking about auditioning and don't know what to expect, as well as being informative for those of you who aren't auditioning but perhaps have always wondered.   I'll probably get in trouble for writing this, but I really don't care.  Please pass it on as quickly as possible so as many people get to see it before it gets removed.  The Jersey City and Austin auditions are both coming up very quickly.  And, spoiler alert-- just like you wouldn't go underground at Walt Disney World, if you don't want to ruin your perceptions of the show's magic, don't read below!

So, for your reading pleasure, my entire American Idol audition experience:

DAY 1- The wristbands/tickets

 I auditioned in New Orleans, and like any other city, the first two days are held at a large arena sized stadium.  Although the show makes it seem like everything happens that one day, you probably already know that isn't the case.  What I didn't realize; however, is that there is one day you have to wake up early (usually by 6 or 7am) just for the sole purpose of showing up and getting a wristband.  If there is any day you choose to show up super early and "camp out", make sure that THIS is that day.   Once you get your #  this day, that sets your # for the following audition, so if you want to audition early get to this date early.  Also, make sure to bring your drivers license -- you will not get a wristband without one.   It's also helpful to bring your birth certificate, passport, student ID, etc...   as long as you have a picture of yourself on something as well as something with your date of birth on it.  I used just a drivers license and was fine.      After you wait in line (anywhere from my 1 hour all the way up to 6 or 7 hours)  and show your identification you receive a wristband and a stadium ticket (just like you'd get if you were going into a football game or concert).   You get a few pieces of paper with rules and regulations and once you get your wristband, ticket, and papers, you go home.

DAY 2 -- The Cattle Call Audition

Day 2 is the day where the masses audition.   Usually the call time is about 5am, and most people will get there about a half an hour to hour early.  Even though it is not necessary to camp out for this one (because you already have your ticket which decides your order number), I highly recommend getting there at least an hour early for three reasons.  1) The earlier you are in line the earlier you get into the building, which in cities like New Orleans or Austin means a lot in the heat and humidity,  2) Parking, etc becomes a nightmare after awhile  and 3) and most importantly -- you miss out on all of the fun by not being there early.   All of the news media (both local and national) walk the line, people are camped out and playing games and musical instruments, camaraderie begins to develop, you make friends, and you get to participate in all of the Idol fun and games.    Nothing really happens until the sun starts to come up, and then the Idol fun and games start.  This is when they film the front of the line (complete with screaming),  a guy named Patrick (one of the producers) stands on a ladder and tells you to shout things like "Welcome to ____!"   and "This is the ____ city!"  -- whatever your audition city is famous for.  You'll shoot these things a few dozen times and act generally excited.  And for what it's worth, it's a lot of fun.    Around 7 or 8am they start moving people into the arena.

When you arrive into the arena, you go to the seat and section that is marked on your yellow ticket.  In New Orleans for instance,  there were people in sections 103, 104, 105, all the way through 126.  They start with the people in the first section and move around in a consecutive number order.   The bottom sections go first followed by the 2nd level and 3rd (if there are that many people).   They do check tickets so don't cheat.   When you get into the arena and everyone is settled (if you have to use the restroom this is an excellent time for this), after awhile they do some more town cheers "New Orleans is the best!  Who Dat"   or whatever they choose for you to say.  You may also sing a town-specific song.  If you watch the show and see the parts where the entire stadium is singing the same song, this is where that part is filmed.    

After all of that stuff is done,  it then begins to move into the actual auditions.   Unlike what you may assume from watching on TV, you are not whisked away into some other room to perform privately for a judge or producer.  You audition on the stadium floor in front of God and everybody.  In groups of four.  So, how it works is that they set up ten tables of two producers each,  with curtains in between each table, but you can see all of them from any seat in the arena and you can see what's going on.  Occasionally if there is a belter on the floor performing, you can hear too!    One at a time, each arena section is escorted to the floor where waiver forms and tickets are collected.  Once on the floor you are split up into groups of four.   One group at a time is led to a table on the floor where each of the four people will take their turn singing for the two producers.  At that point, the producers will either cut them (and cut off their wristband), or keep them (and give them a golden ticket).   There is no going back to find your friends or family after this.  You are swiftly escorted to one door to the "Winner's Circle"  if you are free, or to another door that leads directly outside if you've been cut.   More on that in a second.

While you're waiting for your section's turn to audition (in my case it happened around noon, other people weren't as lucky--  it could take HOURS depending on your number and how many are in front of you) there are a few things to do.  You can sit in your chair and worry, read, talk, etc.,  you can watch the auditions on the floor (many people do this and count the # of golden tickets that are being awarded, or decide which judges tables they think are the "hardest' to get past),  you can go get some stadium food like hot dogs and hamburgers, or you can do some of the events they have set up in the outer hallways of the arena (in my case there was karaoke and free hairstylists available from Garnier Fructisse).     Or, you can wander around and listen to the music that is EVERYWHERE-- people practicing in the bathroom, singing with their friends in the corners,  sitting in the stairwells playing guitar,  which is pretty cool, actually.

Once you've been cut, you go immediately home- but if you're not cut you go to a Winner's Circle.  Besides the intense feelings of elation and joy you experience when you enter the Winner's Circle (and it is really cool to watch people watch you and know that they're wondering how you got your ticket and that they are so jealous) -- it's VERY important to note a few things.   Look at your Golden Ticket.  You won't read this anywhere but here and it took me a long time to figure this out.   I'm not positive of this but I'm pretty positive based on days and days of asking people and trying to figure it out.   Your Golden ticket will have some "Markings" on it that the producers and staff use to code you.    The first mark is a letter, either an N, a K, or a Y.    The Y means that you are a good singer, a yes, and will likely make it all the way to the final round if you play your cards right.  K I call Keeper, and it is also a mark of a good singer.  K's are not as impressive as Y's but is good nonetheless, and anything good is good, right? N's are another story.  N's are no's and it basically means you are bad.   You're not a bad person and you may not even be a bad singer but in the idol world you are a bad singer to them and that's what you're going to be made to be.   Take my advice carefully:  if you're an N and you want to see the process and you're okay with the fact that you may be humiliated and that's alright with you, then by all means, take the chance-of-a-lifetime experience.  You might even be able to change the judges minds later on down the line.  But, I promise you, if you are marked as an N, they already have their minds made up about you and it will not change.  If you make it through to the end you will be presented unfavorably.     There are a few other marks on your ticket that are worth mentioning.    Stars are special and are given VERY rarely.  I'm not quite sure what they mean, it's either a "Producer really likes this person and would like them to go all the way to Hollywood"  or "there is a special story about this person, we need to feature them."  I'm not sure of that, but either way, it's a good thing!    Also, there is a spot on your ticket for the names of the two producers who saw you, and a comment for their notes.  The cameramen will walk around later and look for people who have notes written- that's how they decide which people to interview and feature in between auditions.

After you look at your ticket, they will make you take a snapshot with your contestant number (which has the N or the K/Y attached to the end of it)  and fill out some paperwork.  General address/name information, a  questionnaire "tell us why you auditioned?", etc,  and also a paper where you can freely write about your life story. It's how they know what to focus on and who to do the stories on where they visit your hometown.  After you fill out all of that paperwork you'll have a mini-interview with a producer (who will collect the paperwork and highlight the important parts), and you will have to sit through a public relations presentation where they tell you you are not allowed to tell anyone that you are in the competition or post anything to facebook, livejournal, blogger, etc, nor can you talk to the press.  If you do you will be disqualified.  This makes sense- they don't want people to know the result (Ashley Green made it) before they even see the television show- it ruins the ending a little bit.   So, just beware of this... there were people in my Winners Circle group that actually finished with PR training, left the arena, and posed for pictures with newspaper photographers-- and gave their name.  Clearly they didn't listen to a word of the training!  Don't do this or you will be disqualified.       After you finish the paperwork and the PR training, you're given a piece of paper that instructs you to come back for a callback which is 2-3 days after the original audition date.   If you're from out of town this really stinks, and this travel isn't paid for.  In New Orleans for example, the wristband day was Saturday, the audition day was a Monday, and the callback was either Thursday or Friday.... so people who travelled from out of town either had to make their vacation longer by 4 days or fly home and back within 2 days time.  Keep that in mind.  But it's the way it is, and it's nice to go home and get to go to sleep after the excruciatingly long day 2  (and celebrate!).  There are two callback days and you are randomly (at least I think it's random) assigned to either one of them.  You cannot ask them to switch your callback date and have to stick with whatever one they give you.

That's it for Day 1 and Day 2.  Day 3 will be in a later post.  Please comment if you're reading or found this helpful so I know if it's even worth writing.   If you have any specific questions you can e-mail me at truedat504@gmail.com  or find me on Twitter @truedat504

Until later,
Maria Saint