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