Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Truth about American Idol Auditions Part 8

What I haven't told you... yet

The reactions
After each person auditioned, they'd walk out of the double doors back into the room where the family (if there was one) was waiting for them outside.  Of course they'd jump and scream and react appropriately, and the entire thing would be filmed.   What you should know about this:
1)  The family is told exactly where to stand
2)  The family is told exactly what to do
3)  If the families reaction is not good enough (or too good),  they have the reaction repeated so that they can film it from a different camera perspective.   They also make suggestions, like "wave your signs,"  "pick him up and spin him,"  and they are told over and over again to be as energetic and enthusiastic as possible.  People were scolded for just saying "yay" or "congratulations".
4)  All of the other families and contestants (who are sitting between 5-50 feet away)  are not allowed to clap, cheer, scream, talk, or make any noise whatsoever.  They do this because they don't want you to know those people are there.   Think back to my drawing of the double doors with the two potted plants and the row of chairs in front of the door with the first row of contestants and the however many rows of contestants and families behind them.  When you see the contestants running out of the room with the ticket, did you see anyone else around? Nope.   Isn't that slightly odd?   Yep.    Now, in their defense I did not make the very very last round, so they may have moved everyone to a separate holding area by then, but I know they still keep that area roped off (or silenced) to minimize background noise and cheering.

Shock and awe
One particular reaction that I'll never forget is this particular kid was Japanese, and he made it through.  His father was a little heavier, and stockier, and very excitedly put his hands out and stomped his feet a few times.   They asked him to do that over and over, louder and louder with his feet, and slower and slower.  Eventually he looked like Godzilla.  You get the idea.  It didn't take long for them to get the perfect footage, just by saying "oh, can you do that again?  why don't you REALLY stomp those feet this time!"      That memory will always haunt me and everytime I see them showing somebody doing something ridiculous now (clapping, screeching, doing a penguin imitation, whatever), I'm always secretly wondering if a producer or production person asked them "Hey, you know what would be neat? Can we get you twirling around like a little ballerina?  Okay, great!"

Creative editing
You probably already gathered this already from virtually all of my past posts but this is so important I'll say it again.  It's obviously been edited.    The audition process took 4-5 days, they condensed it to one.  People are wearing the same clothing past the point that deodorant can help them.  Songs that were sung in private, separately with just one camera person in the hallway, or for the executive producers make it to the reject reels and make it look like they were sung for the judges.   The reason the screen is behind the contestants head is so they can very easily  "cut and paste"  footage from that room.   You know the screen, the one that I said is purple this year (it looks hot pink on screen, I discovered tonight),  and has different Idols heads (sometimes leaving out Reuben Studdard), that's the screen in question.  The reason it's so blurry and graphic is so that you won't notice if someone is in a slightly different spot between takes.   And I've said it before, but I'll say it again,  other than the shots where the judges are dancing, hugging, or sometimes (as we saw tonight) even stripping with the contestants,  you will NEVER see judge and contestant in the same frame.   It goes from contestants head to judges head to contestants head to judges head.  This is so they can cut and paste different pieces of audition.  I'm unclear on whether they re-film some things if they come out poorly, or just go back and use footage from the Executive Producer rounds.   I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they do not use footage from the Executive Producer rounds, (because that's sort of unfair even though they tell you they might), but
it's no accident that I had so many cameras in my audition.  They say it's so that they can "screen test you and get a feel for what you will look like on camera,"  -- but if that was true, they'd just look at the footage once they had it and if you didn't show up well, get rid of it.   They waste so much money on other footage at auditions I find that extremely hard to believe.
The locations were obviously patched together.   People from New Orleans know that the escalators contestants were coming down with their families and golden tickets are NOT in the New Orleans arena, that was Hilton Riverside hotel.  And the room with the view of the river and double doors with golden handles is a room called River, on one side of the Hilton Riverside.  The holding room that contestants were shown running back into to show their golden ticket to other contestants after their audition is called Compass, and is on a completely different side of the hotel.  It is nowhere near the River room.  So why run them back in there?  Just to get the reaction of the other contestants to their golden ticket?     Some of it makes no sense.  I would love to be able to sit in on one of their production meetings to find out how and why these decisions are made.  One thing is for sure, they'll never let me do that now!   Ha!

The exit interview
After my audition I walked out with no golden ticket (which was fully expected), the cameras and fake Seacrest were there to greet me.  What I mean by this is that there was an exit interview, just like you'd have if you were actually in the judges round of the show.  You come out, Seacrest asks how you did, what they said,  comments about things that happened in your audition, etc.   Even though neither the judges or Ryan Seacrest were at my final audition round, they still had this exit interview.  They said it was yet another way to screen test us and see how awesome we looked on camera.   The peculiar thing about this interview was that you were asked questions by this production person (I called him fake Seacrest)  or the camera men, but fake Seacrest was never seen on camera.      Because I had no one there with me hooting and hollering, I knew my exit interview would be rougher than most.  I was prepared.  I noticed a couple of things, 1) as stated before these people were asking you questions but not visible on camera,  2) the questions they were asking were very leading,  and 3) the questions they were asking were designed to bring out emotion in people.

Here's an example.  Someone comes out of the room.  A normal person might ask, "How did you do?"
Fake Seacrest would ask, "You look really upset.  Tell us why you're angry."
Big difference, right?

So my strategy for exit interview was as follows:
a) Begin each answer just like a man who's in trouble with his wife/girlfriend.  By repeating the question first.
b)  Say NOTHING that can be taken out of context
c)  Say EVERYTHING without raising my voice
d) Smile always
e)  If possible, make every statement as "unairable" as possible (without being rude or mean).

I was quite proud of myself.  I was asked something like, "You have no golden ticket, does that make you really really upset?"    and I responded  "Why would you think I'd be really really upset just because I have no golden ticket?  This was a wonderful experience and I'm proud of myself."   At another point they asked me if I would come back and audition again and I just smiled sweetly and said "I can't because I'm too old.  I would love to, though.  I sure will think differently about it when I watch it on TV though!"

Following contestants out
 I haven't seen much of it this season, but in past seasons there are always a few contestants (always the bad ones) who are followed out of the arena/hotel/conference center whatever.  They are shown walking through the corridors, down the escalators, out onto the streets, and sometimes all the way to the parking lot!   They usually are mouthing off at the cameras, flipping them the bird, crying, or displaying some other kind of equally ridiculous behavior.  I was always so angry at these people for behaving this way and hogging the attention of the cameras for so long, even after it was clear they weren't going to have a shot on the show.

In New Orleans, there was this one kid who was really sweet, but really not a great singer.  He went in, was told he was bad, and left.  He came outside and gave a respectable exit interview.  He was with his Mom or Grandma who was a little nuts, and he was a little off also, but he was nice and respectful.  He was obviously trying very hard not to cry.  They just kept badgering him and asking more questions, faster, and faster.  At one point fake Seacrest and camera man were practically double-teaming him.   He became overwhelmed and knew he was going to cry so he just lowered his head, said "Thank you"  and walked away.  I was so proud of the kid.  But low and behold, camera man (fake Seacrest stayed to torment the next victim, or maybe to apply some fake Seacrest hair-gel) took off walking after the kid, still asking him questions.  He just lowered his head even more in shame, sunk his shoulders, and kept walking.  He did not flip off the camera.  He did not scream.  He did not turn around.  He didn't do anything he shouldn't have done.  He just kept walking.  And they followed him down the escalators and out the doors as he tried to hide his tears.   When I saw that I had tears to hide as well.  I'm not trying to be over dramatic here, I know the kid knew this was a possible outcome and risk-- I just don't see the need to follow someone who is not purposely doing anything for attention.  I'll never forget that dude- if you are out there please message me!  I'd love to buy you a drink.

That's it for this round... stay tuned for post #9, coming up soon.


  1. I'm still loving it. Great writing.

  2. i'm loving this blog!! and shame on them for badgering the nice boy that didnt make it!!

  3. I appreciate the psychological analysis of the interviewing techniques and your carefully thought-out responses. Very well done!!!

  4. Great blog Maria Saint! I keep thinking of the book "Hunger Games" as I read this haha!

  5. I'm confused! Are you saying that they didn't even have the judges chosen when they held the New Orleans Auditions?! Someone posted your blog on FB and I'm glad they did. SO interesting!

  6. This is the first time I ever read a blog like this (to be honest I found it by accident while looking for an image of the Idol Golden Ticket). I own a very small production company and have been involved in relatively big (one time) jobs for TV and can tell you, it is very evil! Your post was very interesting to say the least. I've always watched Idol from a videographer/editor's point of view; never knew the facts you stated, but I sure knew something was up. It is TV though, so (playing devil's advocate) I understand the reasons behind how (and why) they do things.

  7. It's all about making good television - if the producers don't get reactions out of contestents, they'll make (or force) the contestents to have those chilling reactions.

    Face it, the public doesn't want to see bland TV, we want to see contestents be emotional, emotional to the point of breaking down - be it in full fury of anger of not being chosen to continue, or in full emotion of being chosen, happiness at hoping that could in fact be the next "american idol".

    Little do they know that during Hollywood week, their chances are slim. This year we didn't even get to see most of our favorites get the boot - the first night they just cut and cut without showing us that much at all. I missed out on seeing many of the people they highlighted in the first couple of shows. What happened to them? Were they really that bad? Or did the producers set them up to fail right away - were the the so-called "K"'s, sent to Hollywood, but cut right away in favor of all the "Y"'s???

    Will we ever find out? I guess not....

  8. "It's all aobut making good television"... wow.. does that justify everything? I'm sure people would tune in for all sorts of degrading content. How about following people from a funeral, asking them if they missed their recently deceased loved ones. Good Television is very nearly an oxymoron.

  9. The irony of it all is that there are MORE than enough people who are WILLING to make asses of themselves to get attention and TV time. IF the producers were straight up with people from the beginning, I have no doubts that they could say "you're awful and we're going to portray you badly, but you'll get TV time... are you okay with that?" and still get hundreds of willing volunteers. It's the fact that they lie the whole way through the process and then show people at their worst moments. It's really sick. Fortunately this year, they're doing less of humiliating people and more of letting Mariah and Nikki humiliate themselves.