There is “American Idol”,” The Voice”, “Duets”, and countless other singing competition spin-off shows on television these days. For three days last week, the phenomenon that is the FOX Network’s “The X Factor” rolled through the Oracle Arena in Oakland for live auditions. In case you live off the grid or are otherwise blissfully unaware of reality television programming, the X Factor is a very popular singing competition that started in England in 2004. The show is in its second season in the United States and there have already been two rounds of live auditions so far this season in Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri. The auditions in Oakland were only one of five cities across the United States chosen to host the taped audition rounds for the show.
Only One Direction to get to the X Factor. The Oakland show was just one of the many steps required of X Factor contestants on the long road to the $5M grand prize and a shot at fame and fortune. Between March and May of this year, live auditions were held in the five selected audition cities. Thousands of contestants over the age of 12 (no upper age limit) attended the auditions or submitted applications online. After show producers culled through those contestants, only a few were chosen to attend the taped auditions. Based on the music being played throughout the parking lot in Oakland, most of the people there were hoping to see the next “One Direction” discovered that day. Last year, in the British X Factor competition, five solo male singers failed to qualify separately for the program. Instead of passing on the five, the judges suggested they all unite to form a band and compete in the “Groups” category of the competition. The rest is history as the five became One Direction, one of top-selling acts in the world over the past year. Oh yeah, and they finished third in the British X Factor…
Tailgaters with the X Factor. Mixed in among the contestants, contestants families and studio audience members for the X Factor auditions were Oakland A’s fans who arrived early to tailgate before an interleague game scheduled with the San Diego Padres. Since the taping of the show actually coincided with the 1:05pm game time next door at the Oakland Coliseum, there was an interesting combination of baseball and X Factor tailgaters. The green and gold A’s fans came prepared with grills, coolers, bag toss games and other typical tailgating gear. Bernice Pe of South San Francisco and her family and friends from throughout the San Francisco bay area, were like the majority of the X Factor crowd who opted for pop-ups, chairs and pre-prepared food like sandwiches and other snacks. “I’ve never been to an X Factor taping,” said Bernice, “but I am really looking forward to the experience.” Considering the long lines, outrageous concession prices and the sometimes long process of taping a television show, it was definitely a smart move to do a tailgater before the X Factor show.
Here comes the judge. Once the approximately 2,000 audience members had been seated, comedian Frank Nicotero warmed up the crowd and served as the impromptu emcee for the audition. Nicotero, who had previously shined as the host of Yahoo’s “Primetime in no Time” series, was absolutely hilarious as he kept the assembled crowd entertained and engaged. It was then time to bring in the X Factor celebrity judges. Returning for another season as judges were Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid. Joining the panel were new judges Demi Lovato and Britney Spears. Considering that the show last season drew approximately half the viewers of its competition, American Idol (12.6M viewers for the X Factor finale), show producers are hoping that pop icon Britney Spears and rising star Lovato can create a buzz and jump-start ratings. Audience member Lindsay Valdovino had travelled to the audition with friends from the central valley just to see Demi Lovato. “I can’t wait to see Demi,” said Valdovino, “I love her and she’s such an inspiration.” Based on the enthusiastic response from the audience, the new judges, combined with the ever-reliable Cowell and Reid, could be the “X Factor” that the show producers were hoping for.
Oops, he did it again. (X Factor fans note: Season Two spoilers ahead) Once the auditions started after 2:00pm, the show flowed pretty smoothly with a surprising amount of talent. In approximately an hour, five acts had performed. Three advanced and two were sent home. After a short break, an energetic single mother from Oakland named Mia was introduced to audition. She proceeded to tell a tragic story of how her two children had been killed in a fire and how she had struggled to cope with that loss. After a story like that, every guy and his grandmother in the place wanted her to hit a home run. After delivering a weak first performance, Simon Cowell then stopped the audition to say “That was worse than being woken up by a fire alarm.” Sitting in the audience it was hard to tell whether Simon had heard the pained collective groans from the audience or if a show staffer had the presence of mind to inform him of his gaffe. Whatever happened, Cowell almost immediately realized his error and was polite, comforting and supportive of the 40 year-old singer. And yes, she made it through after her second song.
No “Idol” talk here. In spite of all of the intrigue around new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, Simon Cowell was actually the biggest surprise of the day. Known through the years on television for being blunt, caustic, argumentative and sometimes insulting to contestants, Cowell could not have been more gracious, accommodating and personable to just about everyone in Oakland. Stopping for photographs, signing autographs and taking time to connect with audience members, Cowell was a regular Prince Charming and the direct opposite of his on-screen persona. Between Lovato and Spears, Lovato took more time during the auditions to interact with the contestants and offer more detailed advice. Spears’ contributions were more short and to the point. For example, after an attractive young male singer had finished his audition, she simply said, “Your smile and your outfit are really cute…the rest…not so much…” Rounding out the panel, the dapper Reid provided witty and measured critiques of the contestants and provided the perfect counter-balance to Cowell’s acerbic charm.
The show must go on. Out of the 17 auditions that day in Oakland, only 7 made it through to perform on the show. All-in-all, after a morning tailgating with Oakland A’s and X Factor fans, the overall audition studio audience experience was fun and entertaining. The X Factor tour continues to Providence, Rhode Island June 27th through 29th and then wraps up in Greensboro, North Carolina July 8th through 9th. Tickets for these shows are available for free online through On Camera Audiences. The second season of the X Factor premieres over two nights starting Wednesday September 12th at 8:00pm on FOX.