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How to Audition for American Idol
Thursday, 2011 July 28 - 10:29 pm
KaitlynThis is my beautiful, smart, funny, and talented cousin Kaitlyn. We're actually first cousins, though separated by two marriages and twenty years in age.

Kaitlyn went to school with last year's American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery. After seeing Scotty win, she decided she wanted to have a go at Idol herself. So, I promised I would take her to audition this year.

The nearest audition city was in Charleston, a mere four hour drive. Charleston is a lovely city; it's historic and charming, with lots of art shops and restaurants. It's a bit like New Orleans without all the public urination. The Idol auditions were a good excuse to go for a visit.

The American Idol web site is quite vague on the logistics of how to audition. I think that's done on purpose: the show wants people to think that they'll get to stand in front of the celebrity judges and the TV cameras, so that they'll be willing to endure hours sitting outside in a sweltering parking lot waiting for their chance. The reality is that more than 98% of the people who show up will get dismissed in the first round of auditions in front of the show's producers. So hopefully, this post will eventually be useful to future contestants who want to know what they're in for.


To be eligible to audition, you have to register. Registration is open two days before the auditions start: in this case, Wednesday at 7:00 in the morning. Registration remains open for 48 hours straight. The earlier you register, the earlier you will audition. This is important because the last people to register may be left out of the audition process altogether, if time runs out on audition day. There's also a general feeling that the producers get grumpier later in the day. Also while you're waiting to audition, you're stuck with lousy overpriced stadium food as your only sustenance. More on this in a bit.

So, if you choose, you can arrive very early in the morning on registration day and try to be among the first to register. However, you'll probably have to wait in line for quite a long time if you do this. If instead you decide to register around midday as we did, you'll probably end up in the middle of the pack or so, but you'll be able to zip in and out of registration in no time. (We were a bit upset that we had to pay $5 for parking on registration day. We were done in less than five minutes and we could have parked at a nearby hotel parking lot for free.) If you register more than 24 hours after registration opens, you'll probably audition very late, if at all.

At registration, they'll check your ID for your birthdate, then you'll be given a folder with some instructions and an information sheet to fill out. The information sheet asks you things like what inspired you to audition and what singer you're compared to... it's a You-In-A-Nutshell thing for the judges to glance at while you audition. You don't have to finish this form until audition day.

You also get a wristband, which you must keep on until you audition, and a ticket, which determines where you'll sit in the venue. (The auditions are done by section. In Charleston, the earliest registrants were given tickets in the lower level of one end of the coliseum. Next, they filled the upper level of the same end. Then they went around sides along the lower level, and then back up to the upper level again. I think the idea is to strategically place people in a way that the cameras can make the coliseum seem full, even if it doesn't fill up completely.)

You can bring one guest with you to the audition. That guest must get a ticket and a wristband at the same time you do. Again, you'll have to wear the wristband for a couple of days, so take care of it. It's made of a fibrous cloth-like papery substance. They'll tell you not to get it wet, though it can easily stand up to a few showers and maybe even some swimming if you're careful. Just don't soak it for any extended period of time.

Other than giving you these supplies, the registration desk people are singularly unhelpful in telling you what to do next. I asked if we could bring in food; they didn't know. I asked if it was important to be present on audition day at precisely 5:00 a.m. or if one could arrive later; they said arrive at 5:00 but couldn't tell me why. I asked if we'd have to wait outside a long time; they didn't know.

Audition Day

We got up bright and early so we could get to the venue at 5:00 a.m. But we encountered a long line of cars coming in to park; it was more like 5:30 by the time we got out of the car to go stand in line. And boy, what a line that was. I think some people must have camped out overnight (though no one could tell us if that was allowed or not). As it was, when we got there, we were about 6000th in line. They divided us up into pens of about 150 people each, with the pens snaking around the parking lot. It was a long walk to the end of the line. So your first tip is this: bring comfortable shoes to walk in. You can change shoes later before you audition.

We had to sit on the ground once we were in our pen. Your second tip is this: bring something to sit on. The information sheet tells you you can't bring chairs into the venue, but that doesn't apply to the time you're sitting outside. When the line starts to move, have your guest dash back to the car and put away your chairs and any other contraband you brought. Or better yet, have some extra people with you (who aren't going inside) to haul stuff back to the car. By the way, we did not have to pay for parking on audition day. Strange.

Man O'LanternWhen you're outside, you'll have to wait until about 7:30 or 8:00 before you finally get into the auditorium. It's a good idea to bring food and drink with you for this part of the day, though you'll have to consume it before you go inside. Depending on where you are, the weather may be uncomfortable. Charleston was very hot. Don't wear any heavy clothes; if you have a fancy wool outfit or a big pumpkin costume that you want to wear for the audition, wait until you get inside to put it on.

When they open the doors to the venue, the line will move forward in controlled spurts. (They move the line in sections, presumably to help keep people from trying to squeeze ahead, and to avoid overcrowding at the front.) So there's a good hour or so where you'll move ahead a bit and then stand and wait for 10 minutes. Meanwhile a camera guy might come out every now and then to get some shots of the crowd.

When you get to the entrance of the venue, security people will search your belongings for contraband. Mainly, they're going to confiscate any food and drink you've got. This sucks because the only food inside the Charleston coliseum was nachos, pretzels, hot dogs, and ice cream... hardly the kind of food you want in your stomach before a big audition. So this is another reason to eat while you're waiting outside, and to get an early registration spot so you can get done sooner.

As you're going inside, no one takes your ticket; you need your ticket when you actually go to audition. It hardly seems like anyone is even looking for your wristband at this point. The ushers in Charleston just waved us in with barely a glance. You go find your seat, and then you wait. Next hint: don't try to get food at the vendors when you first get there; the lines are ridiculous.

While you wait, the season's theme song will blare over the loudspeakers on a continuous loop. This year it's Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory", and you can bet that we all know that song by heart now.

Ryan SeacrestAt 9:00, things start to get rolling. Ryan Seacrest comes out to give a little pep talk. Then you're in for an hour or so of producer-controlled crowd shots: you'll be given corny things to scream in unison like "IF SCOTTY CAN DO IT, SO CAN I" or "I'M THE MOUTH FROM THE SOUTH". Next hint: don't kill your voice by screaming too much. You'll also have to sing the theme song ("Edge of Glory") several times. At one point they had us singing the "all right! all right!" line about fifty times in a row as we pumped our fists in the air. Very corny. Oh, if you bring a sign or a prop with you, you'll be more likely to get on TV at this point.

That nonsense goes for about an hour. Then it's all business.

They set up a bunch of tables in the middle of the audition floor. Two judges sit at each table (or sometimes one, if someone goes on break.) You get herded down to the coliseum floor one seating section at a time; at this point, they collect your ticket and your signed release form. On the floor they line you up in groups of four. Your group goes in front of a table all at once. You get about 30 seconds to sing; sometimes more, sometimes less. After each of the four of you sings, you get told your fate. If you make it, you get a yellow sheet of paper (a "golden ticket") and you'll be told to come back later to audition in front of the executive producers. If you don't make it, they cut off your wristband and you exit out into the parking lot; this is to prevent you from trying to audition again right away.

American Idol Audition Tables

From what I could tell, about one person out of 80 was making it past the judges. So for all you hopeful singers out there, don't feel bad if you don't make it past this point... it's almost a lottery, it's so random. I saw a lot of very talented people get booted. One girl made a scene and was forcibly escorted out by police. Most seemed pretty okay with their fate... I think the judges try to let people down nicely.

Unfortunately my cousin Kaitlyn did not make it past this first round. However, she did get on TV briefly (the local news came down to interview her), and I think in all she had a good time. I, however, did not get to be on TV, nor did I get to talk to any producers or anyone famous. I had been saving up a line to use on anyone who asked me about my relationship to Kaitlyn: "She's my cousin. My IDENTICAL cousin." But you know, I had a pretty good time too. There was a real camaraderie among most of the people there, especially as we were all standing outside waiting in line.

Afterwards at the hotel we ran into a pretty 15-year-old girl who was one of the few to make it to the next round. I think she's got a decent shot at making it to Hollywood. We'll be looking for her on TV in the fall. I'll also be carefully poring over the crowd shots to see if I can find myself screaming "I'M THE MOUTH FROM THE SOUTH".

And then, we'll try it all again next year.
Permalink  1 Comment   Bookmark and Share
Posted by Ken in: lifemusictelevision


Comment #1 from Dawn Hunter (Guest)
2011 Jul 29 - 9:01 am : #
This pretty much sums it up!!! You did forget to mention that they have to come back in August or September to sing in front of the REAL judges. Love the identical cousin theory.

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