After 10 years in existence with me watching the contest most years I had been wondering ‘what if’ as I’m sure many people do. Having many years’ experience in both live and studio singing it seemed sensible that I should possess the basic necessary equipment to do OK in this form of competition without ever considering the possibility of winning the whole thing (I am far too many years older than the mid/late teenagers that make up the acceptable face of commercial music these days). That said I thought that I would at least get through the basic auditions and perhaps get a few seconds of TV coverage to help lift my public profile (you know - 5 years of social networking net result a few thousand views, 10 seconds on national television – 10 million views, the logic isn’t rocket science).
I entered just before the closing date in early March and then I got my invite to attend an ‘open’ audition on 6th April (open audition meaning that I actually had no need to bother applying at all as anyone can attend anyway). Once I had received my invite I started looking on Google to see what there was which may help to explain the process I was exposing myself to. Typically what I found was a bunch of sour grapes stories (excuse the pun) where apparently everybody else auditioning was rubbish and the person writing was much better by miles but still didn’t get through because the early stage judges are just production staff who don’t know anything about music or singing and they are under orders to deliver the worst possible auditionee’s to the TV because ‘car crash TV’ is much better for viewing figures blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum. After filtering through a multitude of these sort of posts I did eventually find some interesting information which just backed up what my invite letter had said – that being, I was in for a really long day.
Some people had suggested it could be upwards of 15 hours. What I did find out from the web was that you get to the venue and stand in a slow moving queue for hours on end while they shoot a pile of footage for the TV programme which would be used to give the illusion that these massive queues are stood outside the venue where the celebrity judges would watch them objectively one by one on a televised audition as seen on TV. This proved to be very accurate.
So into the real world, i went with my mate Glen for compny and when we got there guess what? Thats right we stood in a big queue for ages. eventually they did some filming and after they got the desired footage ‘in the can’ people were slowly moved into the auditorium starting from the front of the queue basically in order of arrival (which was completely fair). Given that some people had actually camped overnight judging by the equipment they were carrying, it was a long way back in the queue until you got to me and Glen. Bit by bit it moved and they topped up the auditorium each time another group of auditionee's had been seen. I say auditorium in the loosest possible sense because you realise when you get to the door that it is just one of the large exhibition halls at the ExCel.
The main problem I had with the whole thing was that if they actually gave a toss about the people auditioning rather than getting the best film footage, they would either split the auditions over several days or use a couple more of the exhibition halls available at the ExCel to make things quicker and less painful for everybody involved.
Once inside you actually get chance to sit down where you wait to be called in groups of around 20 people to line up again and wait to be seen in one of a large number of audition booths (24 I think) by one of the production staff. Here you get to do your thing entirely acapella. Unfortunately you have the added distraction from hearing the sound of everybody else doing their thing entirely acapella clearly audible in the background. If you failed you were directed to the nearest exit and if successful you were given a ‘golden ticket’ (piece of yelow paper) which you took to another area to queue for another couple of hours so they could arrange a call back audition a few days later. What was very clear is that this first day was one of at least two, possibly three auditions which needed to be cleared before you get the remotest chance of getting yourself of TV other than as a member of a managed crowd waving inanely at a flying camera (unless of course you are dressed in a banana suit – I will get to this later).
The percentage of people getting through appeared to be substantially less than 10% which would be further thinned out by a similar proportion at the second/third call back audition processes, so what appears to be hundreds of thousands of people across the country queuing up to be on live televised auditions is in fact probably no more than a few hundred by the time the cameras actually roll inside any proper auditorium and the real judges are in their seats..
To cut to the chase, I failed at the first hurdle - miserably! I am writing this in the hope that at least a few people will read it and avoid wasting an entire day for the same reasons I did. That's not to say that I won't try again, I just won't make the same mistakes. Let me make this clear now though, this had nothing to do with production staff not knowing anything about music or there being any inclination to pick the worst or strangest people because it made good TV. From what I could hear of the other people auditioning there were some awesome singers in there who totally deserved to be put through. The truth is it had everything to do with me and a couple of schoolboy errors of judgement. Quite honestly if I was a judge I wouldn't have put me through either based on my performance on the day.
There were two problems really, one probably being my song choice. I picked a song that I thought would impress rather than a song I knew inside out and although I felt fairly well prepared it didn't take a lot to put me off my stride. The other problem, the one that put me off my stride, was one that I didn't see coming (although given my experience I really should have), dehydration.
Basically, we got to the ExCel at around 08:10am, well before the supposed 09:00am cutoff point where they say they no longer guarantee you an audition. Even at that time we ended up being closer to the back than the front by the time everybody had arrived (which as far as I could tell was nearer to 11:00am than the supposed cutoff of 09:00am). We all got to queue behind the standard issue metal crowd barriers but it wasn't cramped and the crowd kept moving forwards slowly - I don't know why because at that stage it had nowhere to go - but despite that we covered around 100 yards in around 2 hours. It was about 10:00am when they started filming the crowds and the likes of Dermot O'Leary showed up to do his introductory piece to camera.
Even though I was just behind the half way point in the crowd I was still well behind the area where they were shooting, obviously I could hear what was going on though. This involved much scripted waving and cheering on cue and at one point everybody was asked to sit down except for one bloke who for reasons known only to himself came dressed as a 6 foot tall banana, he was asked to remain standing. I got the feeling his motivation may have been less about music and more about just getting on TV at any cost. So he remained standing while everybody else sat down, everybody else that is except for one knob who refused to play along. Obviously he thought he was way too cool for this. Note to standing knob (no not the one in the banana suit, the other one), if you we're that cool you wouldn't be seen dead standing in a queue for half the night making small talk with a living banana.
The best part about the filming (from my somewhat distant point of view anyway) was when they sent up a camera attached to a radio controlled helicopter. This thing flew at great speed taking passing shots of the whole crowd from just above head height. On the third pass it seemed to take an odd turn then nosedived straight into the river much to the amusement of everyone except the location producer.
So at around 12:30pm, filming over and the moving starts again - well it did for an awful lot of people anyway as they started heading inside for their auditions but seemed to stop about 10 rows in front of me. We stayed in exactly that position for the next three hours. At around 3:30pm we started moving again. After being stood in one place for 3hrs my legs were very glad of a bit of movement. Not too far but enough for your legs to remember that they are still attached to the rest of your body, I guess we got to walk around 100 yards or so. Things sort of just shuffled forwards from here over what proved to be the last 150 yards to the building entrance where (as I mentioned before) you get to sit down. So basically at the point just prior to sitting down I had been on my feet for a full 8 and a half hours and here is the problem that I didn't see coming. During that period we had all been standing behind crowd control barriers with loads of security people doing....... well.......crowd control. Toilets were a good few hundred yards away and you had to get a security person to open the barrier to let you out and then again on the way back while trying not to lose your place in the queue. To avoid the inconvenience of going backwards and forwards to the toilet all the time I had not had a drink of any description for the full 8 and a half hours I had been standing there. It wasn't a hot day so not drinking didn't seem like a big problem, that was of course until I tried to sing (which unfortunately was the first time it crossed my mind - a bit late really).
I had been singing quietly to myself on and off all day but singing quietly is no guide to what will happen when you audition properly and try to open it up a bit. Another hour and a half of sitting and then queuing again had passed before i got to audition but as soon as I tried to sing I realised I had made a very big mistake - nothing was really coming out in anything resembling the form I expected it to. The quiet parts of the song were very quiet and the big notes I hit but couldn't hold for more than a split second. To be fair to the woman auditioning me she actually let me start again but I knew it wasn't going to work and just completely lost my way with everything, words, tune, structure......... everything. And so there (after 10 hours and 15 minutes) endeth my X-Factor experience for 2013.
So my advice to anyone who is going to go through this in the future is make sure you drink plenty of fluids during the waiting process and don't worry about going to the toilet, although the security people don't look too happy they are quite willing to let you in and out as many times as necessary and they even help you find your place again. Unfortunately by the time I realised this (about 5 hrs in) it was probably already too late to have done anything about it. Also bring your own drinks as everything there is at least twice the price you would buy it for anywhere else. All in all an interesting day.
I probably will put myself through it next year again and you do meet some interesting people in the queue. It's amazing how many of the people I met were doing it for at least the second or third time. Some people never learn, let's hope I am not one of them.