With The X Factor’s filmed auditions in full throttle, Alex Casey revisits her bizarre afternoon at the preliminary auditions many moons ago. //
Chomping at the bit to see the next slew of wide-eyed The X Factor hopefuls, I decided to head to the preliminary auditions at AUT. These are the pre-screenings, the first of many checks and balances to ensure that only the best, and the very worst, make it to the primetime TV audition plinth.
As I arrived I realised I was very late. Not only was I late, but somewhere between the Diwali celebrations on Queen St and the One-Dreaded Shaman I passed by teetering beside the library, I had been magically transported to some sort of dystopian reality TV wasteland. I weaved through the now-empty barriers and dodged waves of aggressive McDonald’s cheeseburger wrapper tumbleweed. At the main entrance there was a red carpet that lead to nowhere, half in the process of being rolled up.
The symbolism was 10/10.
It was possibly because I arrived in the afternoon, long after the high ponied screaming hopefuls had gone home, but what was left was a truly bizarre cross-section of aspirational reality-show contestants. There were no Cassies, no Patuwais, no obviously-set-for-stardom Benny Tipenes. There seemed to be more “Macca’s support crew” members handing out free cheeseburgers than there were actual contestants.
Believe me when I say that there was a man at the front of the line wearing a floor length leather jacket in the style of Morpheus. I tried to talk to him, he didn’t speak English. In fact, he didn’t seem to be speaking a language I had heard before. I accepted that I might as well be in some sci fi experiment, eagerly chomping down the red pill (free cheeseburger) next to Morpheus . It was surreal, I was lovin’ it ©.
I took a seat near a girl lying flat on the floor glassy eyed, singing the lyric “now’s the time for my dreams to be heard” over and over again. It was only when the anthem of the apocalypse (‘Happy’ by Pharrell) rang through the speakers that she snapped out of it, jumping to her feet and rhythmically flailing her limbs like a giant rat being electrocuted.
As the welcoming sheet said with a palpably false enthusiasm, “You may only get one chance to perform, so if you can – sing and dance to show us why you’ve got the X Factor!” I prayed this poor girl hadn’t expelled all of her energy at once, but sadly she had slumped back down to the floor by the second chorus of ‘Happy’.
There were several stages to the preliminary culling. The first was to fill out a crazy form, with two pages of miniscule small print that you would need a comedy sized magnifying glass to read properly. Overleaf there were personal sections requiring you to describe a physical or emotional crisis that you have had in your life. They provided a generous two lines to detail it. “Tell us ‘your’ story: from childhood to now” got a more generous 12 lines, but arguably still not quite enough to flesh out an entire existence.
Contestants were then prodded into a holding pen with their allocated numbers. Once there, they would wait and practice strumming “Flake” by Jack Johnson for the 40th time. Parents, friends and children documented every riveting moment from the balcony above.
“2667, you’re up” someone yelled. A girl jumped to her feet, “that’s me!” She received lazy high fives from those around her. 2667 joined the other tributes in a march to the elevator, to go on a rambling journey involving several different screening rooms featuring radio and TV execs – the fancy television judges weren’t there yet. At that stage, they hadn’t even been confirmed.
There was a young gentleman in the group wearing a fedora and a t-shirt that said “what’s not to like?!” I had to agree with him. His Mum filmed him all the way to the elevator. The “Macca’s support crew” came around once more with a tray piled high with cheeseburgers.
Staring at the cheeseburgers doing the rounds, my mind wandered to the frenzy of last summer. Like hundreds of thousands of others, I would tune into X Factor every Sunday night, armed with Twitter and a completely-incidental-and-nothing-to-do-with-the-primary-sponsor delicious McDonald’s meal. It became something of a national sport. The contestants would sing until their throats went raw and the rest of us would quip until our thumbs got sore and we ran out of funny things to say.
In the months following, I entered a rehabilitation of sorts – refraining from tweeting as much and picking up a healthier Sunday night activity of social netball. Graciously accepting another complimentary gift from Ronald McDonald, I realised the bad habits were all about to come back. It’s impossible to resist a steaming tray of free cheeseburger TV. I truly don’t even know if I’m speaking metaphorically or literally here.
As I left, I scanned through the remaining contestants in line. 99% of them were plugged in to their iPods, staring directly ahead at the glass doors of glory ahead of them. I spotted a woman nervously flinching at the back of the line. Her name was Angela. She told me that she had travelled in from Helensville to get to the audition, and had spent all of her money on the bus fare.
“It is by the grace of God that I am here,” she said to the ceiling. Angela was intensely focussed on her tattered sheet of Celine Dion lyrics, so I turned to her supportive friend Theresa. “She’s got a beautiful voice,” said Theresa warmly. “Do you think she’s better than everyone else here?” I grinned, trying desperately to embody the bronzed ghost of Dominic Bowden. “Actually no,” Theresa replied, “if she tries those high notes she’ll ruin it.” She took a giant bite of her cheeseburger.
I don’t know if Angela got through or not, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.