American Idol Auditions: A Survival Guide

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The road to Hollywood, fame and fortune begins in...

... East Rutherford, New Jersey?

That's the hope of thousands of area residents, at least, as the cavernous Continental Arena plays host to local auditions for American Idol 6.

What takes an hour or two to cover on TV is actually a marathon week that tests the nerves and voice of every hopeful singer who makes his/ her way to Exit 16W. To guide you through the process, a local publication offers the ins and outs of the auditions, thanks to insight from someone who's been through it -- JP Molfetta of Ramsey, N.J., who tried for Season 4.

Kelly Clarkson

According to the oddsmakers, there's a 1-in-7 chance the next cog in the American Idol machine will be at Continental Arena next week.

The road to stardom and next May's season finale begins with the audition process, and for the first time that includes East Rutherford, the second of seven cities Idol will travel to during the next two months.

Given that thousands are expected to try out, what makes one stand out? What are the steps that send someone on the road to Hollywood with a shot to become the next Kelly Clarkson (right)?

We've got you covered.

Coordinating producer Patrick Lynn, along with Molfetta and his brother Rich, who made the rounds of audition cities and got a bit of airtime in Season 4, helped map out a plan for future hopefuls:


First off, clear your schedule.

One thing's for certain, and that's that the auditions will be grueling. On Monday, it will be an all-day affair on Monday. Stay hydrated, too. It will be hot, crowded and full of lines. It's easy for your throat to go very dry and for you to lose vital energy.

Round 1: First audition

Once everyone is seated in the arena, groups will be called up section by section and then broken into subgroups, where you get a turn to sing at a station on the arena floor for someone from American Idol. This is the first, and possibly last, chance you will have to impress.

"They want to hear if you can do anything," Molfetta said.

Plan on having 30 seconds to a minute, although sometimes you may be asked to sing more than one song.

"Focus on that first audition. The one mistake people make is they think they're going on to the second round. Take the first round as serious as you would any part of the competition," Lynn said.

Be careful, though, because this is also the stage where the producers are looking for the next William Hung. While that could net you 15 minutes of fame, you don't want to get lumped into this group. Molfetta suggests the use of a popular song, one that's recognizable and makes you so.

"They want something they know so they can reference it," he said.


Tom Petty said it best with that line. Idol hopefuls will learn this all too well. Once you impress the first group of judges, you advance to a meeting with the executive producers, which will most likely happen later that week. Either way, plan on spending up to 10-12 hours before getting called.

"The wait's the most frustrating part. Everyone sits in one room, and you just think about the process. Certain people will over-rehearse. Others will try and sleep. It's when people start getting kooky. But it's also a chance to bond with the other contestants," Molfetta said.

Try to stay calm.

"You can get caught up in the competition," he says. "In the grand scheme of things, you're around all these people who love what you love. Take that moment and make some friends," he said.

Round 2: The producers

Lynn wouldn't discuss what happens after the first round, except to say that if you make it through Round 1, all the details will be provided.

Here's what we were able to glean from talking to those who auditioned previously. In Round 2, you perform for the executive producers. Be ready to sing a whole song a capella. Some people try to cheat by starting with the easy part of a song and hope they can stop before the hard part.

Not a good idea.

This is also where the mind games of song selection begin. For females, Molfetta says, "stay away from Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera... because everyone tries to do them."

For males, the same goes for Stevie Wonder.

Pick a song you're comfortable with, for you don't want to make the fatal mistake of forgetting the lyrics. Be prepared for interviews, too, because answering questions is a constant. This is a TV show, not just a singing competition, so vocal talent alone doesn't ensure success.

"Throughout the entire process, the producers are looking to see who's going to gravitate to the camera," Molfetta said.

If you've never been videotaped before, grab a video camera and have someone ask you questions while you're on camera. Get used to it.

"Have a clear idea of how you want to be portrayed. They will paint you any way you want to be painted. Be yourself," he said.


The American Idol crew will generally take a day or two to sort through the contestants and begin to shape their scripts. Those who've made it this far, generally fewer than 200, are gathered in one room as they await their shot before Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.

"It's a hurry-up-and-wait syndrome," Molfetta said. "You start to see the people who go through, and you immediately begin to question, 'Am I right for what they're looking for?' I know I sang better than so-and-so."

This is it.

The door opens.

You walk in, and sing ... but what?

Everyone has their No. 1 song, but it's important to have four songs you're comfortable with. Have a variety of song choices, too. Don't sing four gospel songs or four rock songs. If you're not sure which direction to go in, choose a Top 40 song. After all, it's a pop music show.


George W. Bush doesn't have one, but Idol hopefuls should. If you get a yellow ticket and a trip to Hollywood, it's time to break out the celebration. You have fought through the wars and now have a shot to be a Simon Fuller protoge. Enjoy it. But if the vote doesn't go your way, there are three choices:

  1. Go quietly.
  2. Leave with a smile on your face, and tell the camera, "I'm just so happy I waited on line for a whole week to get this chance."
  3. Let everyone know how you really feel.

If you're going to speak your mind and trash the judges, Molfetta suggests you have thick skin.

"Most people can't handle the criticism they'll get. If you have a soft exterior, I suggest you just be happy. If you feel you [can] handle being ruffled, then let 'em have it," he said.

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.