Education by X Factor

Watching this year’s revamped version of The X Factor was an experience. For those who missed it, the “audition room” section of the show has been opened out into a Britain’s Got Talent-style show, complete with highly vocal audience.

BBC News reporter Genevieve Hassan detailed her experience of the initial audition stages — the ones we don’t see, as the production team select the acts that will get onto the televised stages. It really lays bare how the show takes the notion of the cattle call to real extremes.

The more one hears about the off-screen audition processes, the more one must wonder about the apparent sense of self-belief that even the worst acts exhibit once they get on to screen, and how much of that self-belief has been fed to them by the audition process. What we, the general public, see is the third audition — and if you got two callbacks you’d have a degree of confidence, no matter how rubbish you were.

In that light, the baying audience clearly add little to the actual selection process — although one could argue that the worst acts are brought down to earth with an even more dispiriting bump than in previous series.

Speaking of previous series, last year I wrote 10 things we learnt from… The X Factor over on TV Today. While the references are now a year out of date, the essence remains.

So you can either read the piece at its original location, or continue reading below.

It’s horribly compulsive watching, even if at times it does seem to be on a par with a daytrip to Bedlam to point and laugh. Yes, The X Factor is back, and we have weeks of audition shows left before the competition proper gets underway.

Watching last week’s show, though, it struck me that there is something to be learnt from the show, even (or especially) when some of the acts who don’t have a chance are on screen.

And so, in the grand TV Today tradition of starting semi-regular features that end up appearing only once, here we bring you 10 things we learnt from… The X Factor.

Audition tip 1: Know what to expect

Let’s face it, this is the fifth series of The X Factor. You’d think by now that people would have worked out what’s in store for them, but every year we get stories about contestants who feel they’ve been treated badly by Simon and his fellow judges. It’s become quite clear that the acts who get the most success out of the process are the sort of acts that pop impresarios like Simon Cowell know how to package.

You should always go into an audition knowing exactly what to expect. For most auditions, that means knowing about the job at the end of the process, but you should also be clear what is required of you.

Audition tip 2: Have an appropriate audition piece prepared

R’n’B vocal harmony group JLS did the right thing, choosing a song and arrangement that showcased each band member’s talents, as well as illustrating how they worked together. Whether you’re doing a singing audition or an acting one, your choice of material should put you and your abilities in the best possible light.

Also make sure your material is appropriate: if you’re up for a part in a Ray Cooney farce, you wouldn’t audition with a soliloquy from Hamlet. An audition for a part in a chart-based boyband or girl group isn’t going to go well if you go in with your favourite show tune, with all jazz hands blazing.

Audition tip 3: Don’t do too much

If you’re auditioning for a singing job, then at some point you may also be asked to undergo a dance audition (or vice versa). That’s fine. But in the singing part of the audition, the people will be listening to your voice. Even if you’re the best dancer in the world, and have been singing and dancing since before you could toddle, the audition panel will not get the best impression of your voice if you’re high kicking at the same time. Concentrate on giving what you’re being asked for as well as you can. If you have more to give, you may get the chance to show it later.

Unfortunately, I don’t think standing still would have done Mark Darkside any good, though…

Audition tip 4: Dress appropriately

As Ian Flintoff says in The Stage Guide on How To Pass an Audition, “Don’t wear hotpants if they’re casting Mother Teresa.” Dressing wackily may get you your 15 seconds of fame on The X Factor, but it’s unlikely to help you get the recording contract.

If you go to an audition wearing something completely off the wall, it’ll be that much harder for the audition panel to think of you as the ‘type’ of performer they’re looking for. And why make life hard for yourself?

Audition tip 5: Get an outside eye to give you impartial advice

How many X Factor contestants have stood in front of the judges and said that their friends and family have told them they’ve got a good voice — only for us to find out that they can’t sing for toffee? As last week’s auditionee Rachel said, what your friends think doesn’t matter — it’s the opinions of the people you’re auditioning for that really count.

Don’t rely on the comments of people who are unlikely to want to hurt your feelings. Whether it’s a singing teacher or a drama coach, getting professional advice on your audition performance will stand you in much better stead.

Audition tip 6: Listen to any feedback you get

In the audition, you may get asked to do something in a different style. How you react to this will help show how well you can travel in terms of rehearsal and direction. Stubbornness and belligerence won’t do you any good here.

The comments from the X Factor panel tend to be more of a judgement on the audition piece, which you rarely get in other forms of audition — but the principle still applies. It amazes me how rude many X Factor contestants are to the judging panel. You may think that because they dish it out, they should be able to take it — but this isn’t a meeting of equals.

Audition tip 7: Everybody gets nervous. It’s how you deal with it that counts

If you’re walking into an audition with not even a butterfly in the stomach, you’re either very lucky or your heart’s not really in it. Nerves aren’t bad things to have, but keeping them under control is essential. We’ve all seen auditions where the nerves take hold, the voice falters and the brain goes into shutdown, locking away the details of the performance piece you’re sure you know so well.

There are many ways of staying in control of your nerves. The Stage’s resident agony uncle, John Byrne, looks in depth at this topic in How To Control Your Nerves in our advice section.

Audition tip 8: Believe in yourself

You’ve got to have some degree of self-confidence if you’re ever going to convince the people you’re auditioning for to have confidence in you too. When the judges ask contestants if they have what it takes to go all the way in the competition, the successful ones are always able to answer an honest, “yes”. Of course, some of the rubbish ones can say the same thing, but one thing’s for sure — if you can’t answer “yes” to that question, even if it’s not explicitly asked in your own audition, that lack of confidence is going to show through.

Of course, there comes a point where self-confidence becomes ridiculous — in week 1, look at Ant and Seb. Which brings me to the next point…

Audition tip 9: Learn to take ‘no’ for an answer

There’s no indignity in not being right for the role. Yes, it’s frustrating, especially if it’s a job you’d especially set your heart on. But begging and pleading will never win you any favours — and if you do it on national TV, that footage will follow you round for the rest of your life.

Whatever branch of the performing arts world you work in, you’re more likely to get turned down at audition than you are to get the job. Unfortunately, most auditions outside the glare of the TV casting process won’t give you any feedback as to why you weren’t right for the role this time; that’s something that you may have to figure out for yourself. But remember…

Audition tip 10: There will be other auditions

All those people you see in tears on The X Factor, wailing about how this is their last chance? Like Nikk, who made a big deal of it being his last big chance. At the age of 24.

It’s not true. If you’ve got the ability and the inclination, you’re always going to have another chance if you let yourself. Look at Austin Drage (video), who got as far as the boot camp stage in last year’s X Factor. He picked himself up, got a job working in a glam rock tribute band, and is back this year more determined than ever.

For more advice, check out our FAQs, How-to Guides and Dear John Columns in our website archives. And for support, encouragement and discussion with other people going through the same process as you, head for the StageTalk message boards.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.