I auditioned for season 16 of American Idol in Asheville, North Carolina. My day started around 4 in the morning. I put on the outfit I had laid out the night before; ripped jeans and a black blouse. I was trying to go for a slightly edgy/laid back, yet approachable look. I brought my friend to the audition with me for moral support. My mom dropped us off at the end of the line around 5:30 AM. The auditions didn’t start until 8:00 AM, so we had a few hours to kill.
We spent most this time freezing our butts off, as it was late August and extremely windy outside. We shook off the discomfort by joking around and chit-chatting with the people in line around us. There was plenty of interesting people-watching to do; from the man in the full-body banana suit a few feet in front of me, to the teenage girl screaming at her mom because her hairspray wasn’t holding her curls intact. One guy was strumming his guitar, and every now and then, he’d get his section of the line to burst into song (curl girl clearly did not approve of this). It definitely paid off to get there early – by 6:30, the line went on for four blocks behind us.
Surprisingly, most of the people I talked to had auditioned for the show before. At the time, I thought speaking to some of these experienced auditioners would help me prepare. In all actuality, though, it did absolutely nothing for my nerves. One guy told me he had auditioned five times without ever getting through the first round! I mean, clearly this guy had bigger issues, but the only thing I could think when I heard that was, “oh crap, there are rounds?”
It being my first time ever auditioning, I wasn’t really sure how the whole thing worked. In my head, you simply wait in line for 10 hours and then audition for Simon, Paula, and Randy (or whoever the judges are now), as they do on the first few episodes of each season. This is not the case. You actually have to go through several preliminary rounds before you get to meet the “real” judges. The TV judges, it turns out, aren’t even on site at most of the audition locations. After speaking with a few people, I gathered that the objective of this particular day was to get invited to the “big one” where I would get to audition for the actual judges on air.
The line finally started to move around 9:00 AM. It continued to slowly shuffle forward for the next couple of hours. I looked over my audition packet about 100 times. The first page of it was a questionnaire of things like, “Who are the top three performers who you would want to share a stage with?” (Ann Wilson from Heart, Steven Tyler, and Meatloaf. Duh.) and, “How has your community supported you throughout your journey to American Idol?” (um…they haven’t).
The packet also had a section where you could include links to videos or photos of you performing as a child, I’m assuming for the part in the episode where they show sappy montages of people before they audition to prove that their parents always knew they were going to be a superstar. It apparently never occurred to my parents that I might be the next big thing, because they didn’t document anything and I, unfortunately, had to leave this section blank.
Just when I decided that the contents of my packet were nowhere near interesting enough for the world of reality entertainment, we rounded the corner of the block and could see the audition space. The time had come, and it was too late. Too late to fabricate a captivating life story about how I was born in an orphanage and worked in a sweatshop as a toddler.
The audition space was a big, gravel parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence. There were about 10 white canopy tents lining the perimeter of the space. Under each tent, there were two or three people sitting behind a table. These were the various “producers” who we would be auditioning for. Only auditioners were allowed in this part of the line, so my friend wished me luck and went to watch from behind the fence. The staff herded us into the lot like cattle and divided us into four lines. The four people at the front of each line were directed to the next available tent to audition for a pair of producers.
The wind was stronger than ever at this point, so all I could hear from where I was standing in line were bits and pieces of various girls attempting to belt songs like “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. In the 15 minutes that I stood there, I only witnessed two people go through to the next round. They had bright yellow pieces of paper known as “golden tickets”. Finally, I was directed to a tent with three of my fellow auditioners. We stood in a line and faced the judges. We each had about 30 seconds to announce ourselves and sing our songs. Naturally, I had weaseled my way to the left side of the line so that I would be last.
The first girl sang her song (again, Whitney) which I thought was pretty damn good. The judges stared at her for a few seconds and then (cue my 15th panic attack of the day) one of them asked her to sing a second song. I didn’t know we needed to have two songs… was I supposed to prepare two songs? Crap what if I have to do that too… I don’t even think I KNOW two songs… IT DID NOT SAY THAT IN THE PACKET. I didn’t even pay attention to the other two people’s auditions because I spent the next minute and 30 seconds racking my brain, trying to figure out which song I would do if they asked me to sing a second one as well.
Finally, it was my turn. I stepped forward, told them my name, and did my 30 seconds of “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse. The judges whispered amongst each other for a bit, and then, to my dismay, asked me to do another song. Before I really knew what was happening, “House of the Rising Sun” was coming out of my mouth. I was so nervous that it was literally the only other song I could think of that wasn’t the national anthem or the Hannah Montana theme song. I think I mixed up the lyrics at one point, but the judges actually looked pretty impressed.
Relieved, I stepped back and resumed my position in line. The judges talked quietly for a while as they looked over our audition packets. Finally, after several excruciating minutes, called the other three people in line next to me to step forward. At this point, my heart sunk and I thought, “Crap. They’re putting everybody through except me.”
They addressed all three auditioners as a group, gave them some advice, and to my surprise, told them that they would not be continuing to the next round. I wasn’t sure if I was being singled out because they wanted to give me different feedback or if I was actually going through. When I saw one of the judges pull a golden ticket out from under the table, I started to lose my vision and had to blink really fast and adjust my posture to keep myself from blacking out. He scribbled my name and audition number on the paper, signed it, handed it to me, and said, “Congrats! Make sure you keep your eyes open and look at the camera when you go up there.”
“Camera? What camera?” I couldn’t breathe. He directed me around the corner of the fenced-in area. I joined the small group of nervous-looking people who were also clutching golden tickets and waiting around to be called up to what I imagined would be the “second round” of the audition process.
The second round consisted of an interview with a staff member and then singing in front of a camera. This was so that the producers could gauge how we would look and sound on screen. When it was my turn, I sat down in front of a very uninterested-looking lady in an American Idol t-shirt who was looking over my audition packet. She asked me to elaborate on some of the answers. She asked about my job, my kid, obstacles in my life, etc. I answered her questions as honestly and confidently as I could. I just hoped that I appeared more intriguing in person than I did on paper. The lady didn’t really seem to be paying attention to me at all, and kept saying things like, “aww!” in a really obnoxious, condescending way.
When that miserable portion of the day was over, I stood in line to do my bit in front of the camera. We were asked to say our name, age, where we were from, and one interesting thing about ourselves before beginning our song. My proclamation went something like this: “Hi, I’m Chloe, I’m 21 years old, I’m from Louisa, Virginia, and… um… I’m a mom?” Finally, I sang “Valerie” for the second time that day (not as well as the first time, in my opinion).
When I finished my song, one of the staff members walked me to the exit. He told me that I would get an email or a phone call at some point in the next few weeks to let me know if I was through, and that was it! After waiting hours to audition, I was sent away with the worst cliffhanger you could possibly imagine. They took my golden ticket in the second round, so I didn’t even have anything to show for it.
I would never dissuade somebody from auditioning for the show or any show like it. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to audition and for making it so far through the process. The judges and staff were friendly and respectful (for the most part). The experience helped me learn a lot more about myself than I thought it would. At the end of the day, it finally made sense to me why so many people had chosen to audition multiple times: it takes practice to do this kind of thing. Being quirky or funny or smart or beautiful or even ridiculously talented is totally useless if you crumble under pressure.
Looking back, there were so many parts of the day that I was completely unprepared for. I had no idea that I might have to sing another song, do an interview, or sing in front of a camera. I have full confidence that I would do much better if I decide to audition again in the future. If I could give anybody planning to audition a piece of advice, it would be to focus just as much on your self-presentation and communication skills as you do on your singing.
Needless to say, I did not get past the round with the cameras. The station contacted me via email a few weeks later to let me know that I wouldn’t be getting through to audition for the big guns. I was obviously pretty disappointed, but I wasn’t shocked. I kind of had a feeling I didn’t do well enough in the second part of the audition. Really, I was just bummed that I wouldn’t get my chance to be verbally abused by Simon Cowell or hear Randy call me “dawg”. Who knows, though. My money is on next year. The experience didn’t dampen my experience and I absolutely plan on auditioning again. Watch out Ann Wilson, Steven Tyler, and Meatloaf! I’m coming’ for ya.