I've been to a few other American Idol and X Factor auditions and this year like the others proved to be quite the experience. There is nothing quite like it. The early mornings, the hours waiting in line and the fascinating people you meet in line. It's definitely a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on the show and nothing like what you see on TV.
Last year, I went to the X Factor audition in Seattle. I also went to the American Idol audition in Portland, OR. And the audition in San Francisco just didn't run as smoothly as the other auditions. Seattle's X Factor audition ran like butter. When you audition, you line up early two days before the actual audition day to get your wristband. Since I've been to a few of these rodeos, I've figured out the best thing you can do is show up early on wristband day. You audition based on when you get your wristband and ticket. So a few hours on wristband day could save you many more hours on audition day. One of my neighbors in line at San Francisco said they decided to spend the night because last time they waited 13 hours to audition! I never had to wait that long, but a few hours early on wristband day make a HUGE difference.
We arrived at Cow Palace on wristband day at 3 a.m. It was just early enough to still be at the beginning of the line, but we still got a few hours of sleep. There were only 30 people in front of us in line. It was the closest to the front of the line I've ever been. We actually ended up standing next to another person Zad who was the first person in line. She was there at 10 p.m.! (Although, she did end up sleeping for a few hours in her car since nobody was in line yet.) We also were in line by a girls group that spent the night in line to secure their spot. I think our timing was perfect! We maximized our spot in line for the time we showed up. If you ever decide to audition, DO NOT forget a foldable chair. When you are waiting in the cold for hours, you will be soooo happy to have a chair. I also brought a blanket to share with my friend (we wished we brought another one.)
At the last the two auditions I attended in Seattle and Portland, they started passing out the bracelets nice and early. In Seattle, they started at about 6:30 a.m. The producers were also really great about checking in with the people in line and letting us know what was going on. In San Francisco, they did not get started until about 9:30 a.m. The website said wristband day would start at 6 a.m. There were also a lot of people walking around and not providing information. When I asked a producer if they knew when we were going to start, they just said they didn't know... and I believed them after I saw the vans filled with the wristbands, tickets and forms pull up around 9 a.m.
A producer came in line with notepad in hand and our neighbor Zad said hello to the producer. Zad was then asked if she wanted to do some extra filming that day at a BART station. (Lesson 1, it pays to be friendly and assertive.) Zad didn't think she was even going to do it because of the cost of parking, no free lunch, etc. My friend and I agreed we would have been more than happy to pay the parking and my friend said he would probably buy the producer lunch to do the extra filming. But neither of us felt like talking to the producer. We looked horrible. I made the decision to go without any makeup (a rarity in my world) and dressed in a sweatshirt and comfy yoga pants (not the most flattering look). (Lesson 2, yes you may think it doesn't matter how you look on wristband day, but it does - look half way decent.)
In the past, organizers have also done a great job of only letting in a few people at a time so that the line didn't get crazy. This one wasn't quite as organized (noticing a trend?) but with minimal squishing, were emerged with our purple bracelets and X Factor tickets. There was a lady standing on the side of the ticket and bracelet line and I wondered what she was doing because you were supposed to head out the door after you got your ticket. The lady was being loud and standing in line yelling about where was Simon. She finally talked to a producer and got asked to do some filming that day. After that she told the security guy who had been asking to her to move, "Seeeeee, I told you I wasn't moving until I got asked to film."
The rest of the people waiting to get their tickets & bracelets
We returned two days later for the actual audition. This time we showed up at 6:30 a.m. I made fabulous signs with a pretty multi-colored background that said "We have the X Factor" in a sparkly blue with glittery pink and green hearts. Signs are definitely a must for auditions. In Seattle, I saw producers passing out signs to people in the crowd because they did not bring their own. I also saw the producers MOVE people that did have signs to the very front of the crowd shots. At that point, I decided if you are going to make the effort to audition, possibly spending quite a bit of money traveling to the audition location then you may as well take the extra time to make a sign. And it totally worked at American Idol. My friends and I stood by the side of one of the lines and a producer saw us and moved us to the front section. We also ended up with photos in the newspaper and on several websites.
So I did the same thing for the San Francisco auditions. Tons of producers walked past our amazing signs and nobody moved us (sigh). Instead when the camera moved over toward our area, the producers just passed out their own signs. And then the main producer complimented the people on the signs that her people had just passed out! Once again the group shots were less than efficient. Compared to the other auditions there was a lot of standing around and waiting to get started.
I realized after my very first American Idol audition in Memphis that the show uses the huge group shots and makes it look like the judges are there and seen thousands of people. The reality is that the judges don't even come back to the audition city until a month after the huge cattle call style auditions. In San Francisco, they took it up another level. They had four Escalades that were empty, but the crowd had to pretend the judges wee in the Escalades. Personally, this seemed like a bit much. We were already hot, tired and had been standing in line for hours. Now, we had to be excited to meet the fake judges?
We waited another hour to get into Cow Palace after the group shots were finished. Organizers let in the people that showed up last first. So the people that were in line the earliest on audition day had to wait the longest to get out of the heat. (Did I mention it reached 90 degrees in San Francisco on audition day?)
Once you get into the venue, you find your seat assigned by your ticket. We were in the first section that we up to audition. It's so exciting to finally get in line to audition after the whole process. For X Factor there are a lot of booths set up with black cloth dividers. You get in line and wait for your turn to audition in a booth. In my booth, there were three producer types. On very young guy tried to joke around with me, but it didn't really make sense. I introduced myself and said my first song was going to be "I can't make you love me" (Carrie Underwood's American Idol audition song - I figured it must be a good choice). I was quickly informed by the young guy that I would only have one song so to make sure to pick the right one. I sang my song and then the oldest producer (clearly, the decision-maker in a gray suit compared with the younger two in t-shirts) said, it's going to a no today. And just like that my audition was over and my wristband was cut off.
If you got past the first round, you received a yellow ticket, the crowd cheered and you headed out a different door where received instructions to come back the next day along with 400 - 500 other people to audition again. If you made it past the that audition you would go on to meet with higher level producers and eventually, although, I don't know for sure how many rounds you would have to go through to perform on the live audition show with the actual judges. Hopefully, I will know one day, winks! But all-in-all, I think it would take a pretty crazy outfit or maybe if I tattooed X Factor across my back?