With the X Factor auditions hitting Providence RI this week, how could I resist going? Actually, I wish I could have attended more shows. The wait to get into the arena was painless. The show clocked in at 3 hours, but the 18 acts that performed seemed to FLY by. And for me, it’s always interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes of a television show. Participating in a TV taping, the first thing you realize is that you are part of the show, rather than the audience. You are essentially one of the cast members–albeit playing a small role–for viewers at home.
Right from the get go we were coached on our role, beginning with the warm up guy leading some practice screams. I will say that the crowd was NEVER coached on how to react. Simon instructed us all to be as “badly behaved” as we wanted. The Providence crowd had NO problem with that. Although I will say they were mostly kind to the acts, except for the joke contestants who deserved, and probably expected, to be booed. We were told repeatedly that we were the Best Audience Evah, but I wonder if every audience was flattered like this into SCREAMING EVEN LOUDER!
The arena was configured for several thousand people. The short floor space was filled with young people. I snagged a seat very late in the game in the first tier of balcony seats. Here’s a tip–go alone and late–you’ll get a better seat.
I couldn’t help myself–I recorded the taping with my phone. Shhhh. Speaking of which–ticket holders were instructed not to bring in cell phones, but we all had them, and cameras too. In fact, when the judges made their big entrance, the warm up guy ENCOURAGED US to take photos and tweet them out. He also encouraged us to tweet on breaks. So, IDK. We were all instructed NOT to take photos during the taping. But there were no ushers monitoring activities. The audience could pretty much do what they wanted.
The judges took their seats one at a time. First it was LA Reid, followed by Demi Lovato then Simon Cowell and finally Britney Spears. Britney got the loudest and longest applause, by far. After the judges took their places, LA introduced everyone again, encouraging loud applause. Before the parade of hopefuls began, Simon hugged a young girl who was his “biggest fan.” She screamed the loudest and longest of anyone in the audience, he said. Simon was also the only judge to stick around after the taping to sign autographs.
Interestingly, after hearing from folks who have attended Idol tapings and said the performances sounded SO MUCH BETTER in the studio, I wasn’t quite prepared by how terrible the performances sounded in the Dunkin Donuts Center. The sound was loud and distorted for the most part. It’s the difference is between a small studio designed specifically for television and a big arena that’s been turned into a TV studio, I suppose. I have to wonder how it sounds up front at the judges table. (I wasn’t close enough to tell if the judges were listening to the studio feed through in-ear monitors or not.) It was really hard to figure out sometimes if the contestant was really good or not.
The judges seem to be working fine as a unit.There was no drama, or fake fighting. Simon and LA were both respectful of Demi and Britney. I wasn’t annoyed ONCE. Simon pulled off a few Idolesque bon mots. Britney is not a trainwreck. She has no problem saying no to contestants, but she’s reticent. She’d say no or yes in few words. Demi, on the other hand was more analytical, explaining her decisions, but without the off-putting verbosity of say, Kara DioGuardi. Demi is cute as a button, while I found Britney a little detached. LA is about as useless as he was in the first season.
I’m going to run down all 18 contestants. I’ve cut audio for a few notable hopefuls The best was an amazing 13 year old girl who sang “Feeling Good”. It was like a mature, confident woman’s voice coming out of a young body. It was kind of spooky. There was also a young nursing student who pulled off a mean rap. A young woman who had been bullied gave a very emotional performance that moved Demi Lovato. An Idol joke contestant came back to haunt Simon Cowell. And finally, the specter of Astro hung in the air as the judges considered advancing a cocky rap artist.
UPDATE: The Jillian Jensen clip is up now.
JT – Cocky 14 yr old rapper who performed his own composition. Demi said no because she did not like his personality. Simon and the rest said yes, as long as JT was cooperative and took direction without attitude. I think problem child, Astro, was on their minds here. LA liked him a lot. Here’s the audio:
Tiffany 15 – Freehold NJ. Her mom picked out her song which was, predictably, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Simon called her old fashioned. Also, he didn’t like that mom was controlling her song choices. She offered to perform an Adele song, but they didn’t want to hear it. She sang “The Greatest Love Of All”. It was still super pageanty. LA said it was like an audition song, but not entertaining. Simon, LA and Demi said yes on the strength of her vocal. Britney, who felt she had no X Factor, said NO.
I missed this guys name – 24 year old from Cypress, Greece came in second on X Factor in his home country. But OY. He was good looking, but such a generic bore. The judges were underwhelmed. Simon said it was like “eating water.” Demi said she didn’t connect to him and won’t remember him later. 4 noes.
The Amazons – “Someday” by Britney Spears – Three really cute teen aged girls who put their performances up on You Tube. LA was not impressed with their 6,000 hits. The girls were mediocre, but man…the crowd turned on them really really fast. Probably because they were very confident in their abilities and bragged that they were the tallest girls in their class and were dressed sexily, on top of having the nerve to sing a Britney song (and not sing it well). Gotta bring down those sexed up over-confident girls a peg. They got 4 noes.
Zander Alexander – “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown – “WHAT’S UUUUP” he greeted the audience. This annoying hopeful auditioned last year too. He had a huge attitude when Simon insisted on calling him by his given name, Alexander. He toned down the attitude this year, which was duly noted by the judges. But still-the guy remained a joke, so it was 4 noes.
Time for a break! The warm up guy recruited audience members to sing. I was not entertained.
Jillian Jensen – Rochester MA – “Who You Are” by Jesse J – Easily the most emotional moment of the night. This performance will absolutely make the cut. Nineteen year old girl revealed she had a “Stay Strong” tattoo just like Demi, but she got her tattoo before she knew Demi had hers. When she reveals that she was bullied in school, she becomes teary. She thanks Demi for everything she’s done for the anti-bullying movement. She dedicates her song to anyone who has been bullied. Her performance is VERY emotional. The crowd LOVES her. Demi joins her on stage to talk to her and give her a big long hug. LA says he has never heard anyone pour their emotions in a song they way she did. You got it! Britney tells her she shouldn’t be crying right now, because she’s so amazing. Demi was literally speechless and in tears. “I don’t know if I can really talk right now.” Simon said, “That was incredible.” After Jillian finished,her entire family came out on stage to join her. Production had to take a few minutes to fix Demi’s makeup.
Matt Dion – 37 “All Is Fair” – Poor guy. He spent his whole life listening to his parents who told him to play it safe. He’s been performing in the local Fitchburg, MA area, but always wondered what could have been. Well, now he knows. After the judges told him they didn’t want to hear him sing “Black and Gold” he performed “All Is Fair” a cappella to scattered boos. Simon’s mic wasn’t working and Britney said ‘There’s two things not working here.” Ouch. Simon told him basically to go back to Fitchburg.
Four teenaged girls – 14-17 – They sing “Price Tag” by Jesse J. and their harmonies are awful. For some reason Britney really liked it. LA and Demi felt they were under-rehearsed. Britney said yes–the rest said no.
Sophia – 20 – “I’ve Got a Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas – She was born in Ethiopia but raised in the US. She’s now a student and admitted that she never had sung for an audience before. It was hard to tell but I think she was serious! Her singing was completely off key. The girl is tone deaf, but may not know it. Simon said she sang like a 3 year old with the flue. “I think you know,” Britney said when it was her turn to judge. 4 noes.
Pat Derry – “Circus” by Britney Spears – This guy had auditioned for Idol in 2010. And YES LA, contrary to what you remember, Simon WAS on Idol in 2010! Season 9, Simon’s last season took place that year. Pat took the stage with a vase of red roses for his hero, Britney. He followed the joke contestant drill–insisted he was serious, but after 1 note it was obvious he was not.When Simon dissed him on Idol, Pat called him “Saucy Simon”. I remember this, vaguely. Simon could never quite place him. Here, Simon took a tiny dig at Idol, saying he “deleted” it. The crowd went ooooooh at that. After his performance, Simon said it was like he had an argument with Britney, got drunk, and decided to scream the song at her. Pat said, “‘I’d never argue with Britney.” Needless to say, it was 4 noes. I’ve got audio for this one.
It’s time for the third break. After this, production speeds through the remaining 8 auditions.
Ashley aka “Miss Graphic” – 25 – Malden MA – Original Song and “Stereo Hearts” – This cute curly haired blond was a surprisingly decent rapper, although her original song wasn’t anything special. Ashley was the biggest disagreement of the night between Simon and LA. Simon loved both her rapping and her singing, and felt she had energy and star quality. LA didn’t think there was anything special going on and reminded the panel that he was the only record exec at the table who has launched successful rappers. Ouch. In the end, LA said yes anyway. Demi and Britney didn’t feel they are familiar enough with rap to give it a proper critique, and say yes. 4 yeses. Listen to the audio:
Carly Rose Sonenclar – 13 – Westchester, NY – “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone – This was absolutely the WOW performance of the night. Seventh grader, Carly, sings with the confidence and ability of a 30 year old woman. Simon wanted to know who was hiding in the wings singing for her. Then he claimed she was lying about her age. “I’ll bring my birth certificate!” offered Carly, to big laughs. After ripping through “Feeling Good”, LA called her an “old soul.” and said “A star has just walked out on to that stage.” He was also impressed that she knew that Nina Simone originally sang the song. Demi told her flat out she could win the competition. Carly’s performance had the crowd and the judges on their feet. Here’s some audio. You’ve GOT to check it out.
Michael Knight – 26 – Woonsocket – “You Should Let Me Love You” by Mario, “Stand By Me” – This guy was a little pathetic. A Michael Jackson impersonator, he’s looking to break out in the music business as himself. But unfortunately, there’s no “self” there. After his first song, Demi tells him that singing isn’t for him. Simon says he’s like a cat barking and that he should stick to impersonating. He tells him he tried out for the wrong show–referring, presumably to America’s Got Talent. Michael begs to sing another song. “Stand By Me” is marginally better. Demi takes back the “You can’t sing” remark, but the consensus is that he still doesn’t have a clear or unique personality. It’s 4 noes.
Bella – “Killing Me Softly” – She met Michael backstage. He made a balloon animal for her! Further proof, Simon says, that he belongs on the “other show.” Her performance was pretty, but lackluster. The judges agree, except Britney who felt her performance was “special.” At this point in the show, the judges are getting pretty antsy. They dismiss her, quickly, telling her she’s just not distinct enough. 3 noes, 1 yes.
Trebella – “Angels” by Robbie Williams – 3 middle-aged women who sing Adult Contemporary songs in harmony. For some reason, Simon finds them not only hopelessly old fashioned, but completely unmarketable. I guess they don’t have a cat lady backstory to hang their hats on coughsusanboylecough. Their version of “Angels” is a total snooze and really really corny. I laughed out load when the lead chick said they were making music for older people to enjoy. Speak for yourself! I am old, but I do not enjoy AC stylings. I’m not dead yet, people. Lead chick was NOT taking No for an answer. She could not believe the panel was passing over their obvious awesomeness. In their own minds! 4 noes.
Jake– 18 – “If I Don’t Have You” by Alicia Keys. It was past 9:30 and I think the judges had had it. This guy was a pitchy mess. They dismissed him quickly with 4 noes.
Beatrice Miller – 13 – Maplenut NJ – “Before He Cheats”, “Cowboy Take Me Away” – I dunno. I thought both her performances showed potential, but were not fully baked. After an underwhelming “Before He Cheats” the judges asked her to sing another country song, a capella. After “Cowboy Carry Me Away” (which was really too old for her to sing), Demi acknowledged her vocal talent, but worried that she wasn’t ready yet. Simon said, “We may have stumbled on someone special–very very good voice. You’re not there yet, but I wouldn’t let you go.” 4 yeses.
Tory – 26 – “My Girl” by the Temptations – The guy was very enthusiastic. “I’m here to win X Factor,” but came across more like a fun wedding singer, than a true artist. He totally had the audience up on their feet, but he was a big old fashioned ball of cheese. Simon felt his voice was perfect for the song, and says yes. Britney says no. Demi says, “You killed it!” LA says no initially, which would mean Tory goes home forever. LA turns to the crowd, encouraging a vocal opinion. The crowd ERUPTS. For you, Providence, says LA it’s a yes. And Tory is through. 3 yeses, one no.
And with that, the last audition in Providence came to a close.