So you’ve made the decision to try out for the sixth season of “American Idol.” Congratulations. Your choice in career paths is almost as ridiculous as Simon Cowell’s choice in clothing.
But before you consider an “American Idol” audition you should realize a few things. One, you’re in for hours upon hours of waiting, all for roughly 15 seconds of actual singing in front of people who are not Randy, Simon and Paula. Two, your chances of actually making it in front of Randy, Simon and Paula are slim to none, and way closer to none.
Three, if you do make it in front of the Big Three, chances are the self-esteem you’ve spent a lifetime amassing will be handily destroyed in a matter of seconds. And even if you make it past that obstacle to somehow sneak into the actual competition, your chances of actually becoming America’s next Idol are virtually nonexistent.
Now if all of that naysaying hasn’t deterred you, read on.
Just so you know, this article won’t spend much time discussing the rules and general details of the auditions, like what cities they’re taking place in and what paperwork you need to fill out beforehand. All of that is available here on the rules section of the “American Idol” website.
Instead I’m going to tell you the kinds of things the “American Idol” website won’t tell you about your audition.
I know these things because I covered “American Idol” season five from the very beginning to the Top 12 for my newspaper. I even got to go to the Top 12 party in Los Angeles. Yippeee! That was fun. Now onto the audition process…
This is where it all begins. Usually “American Idol” holds auditions in seven different cities, strategically spread out across the country. No matter where you live, chances are you’ll be relatively close to an audition location.
Now the first audition is basically a cattle call. You will be one of thousands of people who arrive at some large venue with one goal: Make it big. Most of these people are extremely determined. Many of them have been singing or performing for most of their lives. Few people make the trip to an “American Idol” audition on a whim.
At this preliminary audition, you will most likely be waiting outside of a large venue like a stadium. There will be metal barricades set up, and long lines of hopefuls in between them. It could be raining out. In fact, at our local venue last year, it was. So be prepared for less-than-perfect weather at your audition.
This year the rules have changed slightly, so you can’t camp overnight inside or outside of any of the venues. Most of the auditions begin at 8 a.m., but in most cities you can’t line up before 6 a.m. And even if you are in line by 8 a.m., there’s still no guarantee you’ll actually get to audition.
If you live far from the venue, your best bet is to stay at a nearby hotel the night before and plan to arrive to the audition sometime after 6 but before 8 in the morning. And if you live close by, plan to leave plenty of time for traffic to the venue. Lots of traffic. Last year about 12,000 contestants came to the auditions at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Ma, just south of Boston
, to give you an idea of what kinds of crowds these auditions attract.
During this first audition, keep in mind that you will be singing in front of the show’s producers, not the show’s Big Three. This doesn’t mean it’s any less important, but if you were looking forward to catching a glimpse of Randy, Simon and Paula at the first audition, it’s not going to happen.
You will only have about 15-30 seconds during your audition to impress the producers. They take in about three people at a time so it’s basically a drive-thru version of an audition – in and out. Very quick. You don’t have a lot of time to make a first impression.
Keep in mind that looks obviously do matter, so you should look your best. Emphasis on YOUR best. Don’t try to fit in with some style you think “American Idol” will like. Instead, be you, to the fullest. Look attractive, but your version of it. A good look could sway a judge who’s on the fence about you. An over-the-top appearance could make them cringe and shoo you away when they otherwise might have said “yes.”
Of course, you could always make it through to the next round as one of the gimmick contestants, but I wouldn’t take the chance.
FYI, according to the “American Idol” website you’re not allowed to wear any clothing that reveals tattoos, has designer names, sports teams, or any other logos or brand names, or bears the name or likeness of a celebrity, living or dead.
Now, a note about song choice: The song you sing is almost as important as how you sing it. Pick the wrong song for your vocal range and it will spell disaster.
Also keep in mind the producers will be hearing some popular songs hundreds, if not thousands, of times. So try to pick a song that is unique and well-suited for you. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a song that no one else will sing, but if you come up with “Fallin'” by Alicia Keys as your best bet, go back to the drawing board. That song is performed about 8,472 times at the typical “American Idol” audition.
Have a main song and two or three backup songs ready in case the producers ask you to sing something else.
Also keep dance moves to a minimum. Better yet, eliminate them altogether. Choregraphy is not going to get you to round two. In fact it’s probably a sure way not to get there. Feel the song, yes. Move your body as you see fit. Don’t stand there like a paralyzed robot.
But do not become the sixth member of NSYNC while you sing a ballad by Celine Dion. The judges want to hear your vocals first and foremost. Everything else should support and add to that.
Now if you do make it through this long wait, get the audition and make in onto the next round, congratulations. Here’s what to expect next.
Round two of the “American Idol” auditions will be held in a slightly more intimate location, in or near the city you originally auditioned in. Again, you will still be auditioning in front of the producers, so there will be no Big Three sightings that day. Slightly different rules apply to this round as far as when to arrive and how to check in, which will be given to you if and when you pass the first round.
You will get slightly more time with the producers in this round because there will be far less people to audition, but not that much more time. You still have to bring your ‘A’ game and look sharp. Beyond that I really don’t have much advice. Once you get into that room, you’re just going to have to conjure up that same magic that got you through the first time. Remember the tips about song choice and dance moves, or a lack thereof.
Now on the unlikely chance you actually do make it past this round, you’re in for…
Round Three: The Big-Time
Now round three isn’t really the big-time, yet. But you will be auditioning in front of Randy, Simon and Paula, so if nothing else you’ll have that feather in your cap. This round includes about 100 to 200 contestants from each city. The auditions take place in or near the original audition city.
In Boston last year they were held at a rather upscale venue and there was definitely a buzz in the air. TV cameras were everywhere and Ryan Seacrest was busy interviewing contestants. Some people came out of the audition rooms looking dejected and forlorn. Others came out screaming maniacally, obviously going on to Hollywood.
This is the round where you need to step up your game. Whatever you were wearing before, get a better outfit. Get a hairstylist, or someone really good at doing hair. Get someone who knows about makeup and put them to work. At this level everyone is pretty talented. You’re going to have to be the total “American Idol” package – voice, looks and personality.
Now obviously the judges are looking first and foremost for talent. But they’re also looking for someone to appeal to a mainstream audience. And that doesn’t mean you have to be boring or typical, or perfect. Just look at Clay Aiken. A lot of times the Big Three are looking for something slightly spunky and atypical that might spark interest in the crowd.
Now if you “bring it” at this audition and they like what you’ve brought, you’re onto the Hollywood Round, sort of like a boot camp where 100+ contestants are whittled down to the Top 24, or whatever number “American Idol” decides on to compete in the performance section of the show.
Keep in mind that to make it to Hollywood you only need two out of three votes from the judges. So if Simon says no, which he probably will, it’s no big deal, as long as Randy and Paula like you.
And even if you don’t move on, hey, at least you made it that far, and you might make it onto the infamous “American Idol” audition footage.
The Hollywood Round
This is the final step before actually making it onto the performance episodes of “American Idol.” All of the contestants that got the green light from the Big Three in each of the seven audition cities will be here. The competition will be stiff. You’ll stay, not surprisingly, in Hollywood, and (if past years are any indication) in a posh hotel, and you won’t have much communication with your friends or family.
You will be extremely busy, as you will be rehearsing, competing, sight-seeing, making friends, and possibly getting eliminated in this round.
At this point I don’t really have much advice for you besides keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you’ve made it this far they obviously like what you have to offer, and it’s just a matter of consistently doing your best.
As a final note, when I attended the “American Idol” press conference in Boston last year after the third round of auditions, the judges couldn’t use the word “talent” enough. Yes, the audition footage shows emphasize the quirky, the strange and the downright bizarre, but those are the contestants who are used for their comedic appeal and then cast aside.
What the judges (and producers, during the initial audition rounds) are looking for on “American Idol” is someone who brings something unique and captivating to the table. Obviously they’re looking for someone who can appeal to a large audience, as this isn’t “Southeastern Florida Cribbage Association Idol.” So before even embarking on your audition you’d be wise to objectively assess your own talent.
Don’t be one of those contestants who sounds like a dying weasel but postulates about conspiracy theories when they get rejected by the judges. Ask yourself honestly if you really are good enough to be on a national singing/performing competition. Record yourself, if you haven’t already, and then listen back and see what you think. Compare it to what you’ve heard on “American Idol,” the radio, and MTV. Is there any common thread?
As a word of caution, don’t necessarily trust the opinions of your friends and family. After all, they’re your friends and family. You be the judge of your own talent. Then decide if you’re good enough to let someone else be, as well.