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+.


Kristel, Yes AJ is the one who put the David Archuleta videos on YouTube. AJ is David Archuleta's dad Jeff Archuleta. And he has NOT been associated with several top 10 American Idols as he claims. The only top 10 Idols he has associated with are the ones who were in the same top 10 with David, and they didn't like him very much because of the way he treated David. And David is the ONLY Star Search contestant he has ever been associated with.


My boyfriend looks just like David Archuleta and think he has a chance at AI next year. He gets standing ovations for dancing and singing performances. Do you think they'd go for a look an Archuleta look a like next year, or should he sit out a year? I think Archuleta will win, he's my personal favorite. Make an on-line slideshow at


Unfortunately, the age limit stands. I'm sorry, but I don't think there is much that can be done about that. I saw on an episode of AI once that this 40 year old man attempted to make himself look younger to audition. He did get all the way to the Simon, Paula, and Randy judging but the produces let him get through only as a gag for he was not even allowed to sing for them. Afterall, they are looking for a young, charismatic, pop, rock, or soul star. Its sad but true. Ps.
AJ, so have heard of archjazz before...are you the one who posted those David Archuleta videos on Youtube or something?


I am 34 years old and have been called to sing since I was 3 years old. I have written a book entitled "I Choose To Sing". I don't know if you believe in God, but I do and He laid it on my heart to audition for A Idol. I even prayed for 14 3/4 inches of snow to let me know if this is really what I am supposed to do. We received somewhere between 14 and 15 inches of snow two weeks later. I feel that I am supposed to be on this show; however, I just read that the age limit is 28. I am 34 but sing with great power and feeling. Do they ever make exceptions for someone who is truly good enough to be the next American Idol. If someone is has a world renown voice like Josh Groban, would they deny him the chance because he was 32 instead of 28?


I'm going to turn 16 this summer and i'm praying that i'll have my B-day before the audition. I read evrything on this page, but I was wondering how early should you get there the day of the audition if you want a chance to get through?


For the above questions, first of all, the 2nd round is not for a few to several weeks after the first round so you would most likely not stay in town. You would come back later. San Diego auditions were July 30 but the 2nd round is sometime in September, I know but can't say specifically. As for why people don't make it that have good voices, there are more criteria than just the singing. They are casting for a show and want certain types of contrast between the contestants. They usually won't have 3 R&B singers or 3 rockers or 3 16 year olds or 3 drop dead gorgeous types. They mix it up a bit and are casting for the show looking ahead to what they hope will get them ratings. Contrast is good for this type of show. Plain vanilla is usually not a good thing. They don't want someone who is too generic and unfortunately, there are a lot of great singers out there that don't look the part who never make it past the first round although they can really "sang"...
Also, if you haven't watched the show much, you better find all the youtube links to "idol audition". Watch American, Canadian, Australian Idol participants, it doesn't matter, you will see what and what not to do in an audition by watching them. I suggest you watch the top 10 finalists in AI from the past 2 or 3 years and find their audition videos on youtube so you can hear what they did, watch the judges and see their responses, and then just hope you can pick a song that is good. I can help with that as well if you need some advice. I have been associated with several top 10 Idol people as well people who were on Star Search and have a pretty good feel for what this game is all about..... you can reach me at


I'm starting to wonder how long I'll actually have to stay in the audition city for, since it sounds like if you make it past round one, it could be a week or more. I know they say to focus on one audition at a time, but it needs to be considered if you are from out of town and have to take time off of work ... Has anyone made it to the second part that has any insight?


In the first round smile, show personality & don't close your eyes look directly at the two judges, & if u hold your hand by your hear (as some singers do) please don't. The judges are looking for a certain criteria, so show them you have a voice & that your able to show your colors in your performance. Don't sing the first parts of the song, sing the parts where your notes really show, & the passion shows!!


I also plan on going to the audtions this year in PA. This will be my first time and I feel excited more than anything. But to be quite honest I barely watched the show. My friends and co-workers are telling me the main things the judges seem to get on the contestants about, but what do you think I should be aware of especially in the first 2 rounds (if I'm lucky to proceed.)


Wow, who knows, really. My daughter auditioned today for season 7 in San Diego. The first set of judges told here "You have an amazing voice but you will not be going on to the next round"
Due to respect she did not question why. We have no idea why she didn't make it. The girl is personality plus and very pretty. Not over done etc etc.
I just wish they would give a brief description of "why"
I do think that they have an "agenda" each time of what they are really seeking, regardless if you are good or not. Some people do not get a chance to sing. Even if you have the wristband it is not a sure thing. For example if they run out of time etc. Just make sure to get there EARLY on the day you get your wristband as that is when you are usually assigned your seat as well.
Take care and good luck to you in all of your adventures!