X Factor Auditions Prove It’s Hard to Find Singers with Star Quality

Contrapuntist and I received an invite through Klout and sponsor Pepsi (more info about that in Contrapuntist’s previous post) to attend The X Factor‘s final May 19 Chicago auditions. Scheduled to air on Fox in the fall, the singing competition is open to individuals and singing groups over the age of 12. Contestants who make it through the initial auditions will be mentored by the panel of judges (Simon Cowell, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Cheryl Cole, and Paula Abdul) and battle it out for a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony music.

The X Factor differs from American Idol in that aspiring contestants audition in front of a live arena audience. In an interview on nydailynews.com, Simon Cowell said that he wants to “see them perform in that setting. And while it puts more pressure on, it can also help. I’m not sure Susan Boyle would have gone through [on “Britain’s Got Talent] with just a judges’ panel. The audience really lifted her.”

Although Contrapuntist and I have never been interested in TV talent competitions, we were curious to check out The X Factor. One thing is for sure. The auditions showed just how hard it is to discover a singer with that special star quality.

There were quite a few kooky singers. The worst was a woman dressed in a dominatrix-style lace kimono and red vinyl boots. She boasted that she was a protégé of Prince, had a small role in the movie Coming to America, and mixed her own backing tracks. Her “singing” consisted of NC-17 rated vocals over ominous background music. The creepiest performer of the night was a middle-aged, balding guy sporting aviator sunglasses and a shimmering velour shirt. Paula Abdul asked him to take off his sunglasses so she could see his eyes. He gave her what he probably perceived as a sexy look while Abdul and the rest of the audience cringed in disgust. He then belted out a tone-deaf version of “Duke of Earl”.

Most of the singers who made it through the audition were adequate. A blonde, teenage girl from downstate Illinois saved herself from an initial “no” from the judges after singing a song that she wrote. A 35-year-old mother from Nashville did an admirable job on a country song, despite technical problems with her backing track. The feel-good story of the night involved a 22-year-old woman who auditioned as lead vocalist of a trio with two other girls. They had sung for the first time on Thursday, but the judges had felt that the girls needed to revamp their song so that the backing vocalists had more of an opportunity to shine. When they re-auditioned on Friday night, there had been little improvement. The lead singer still sounded great, but the backup girls contributed nothing more than what Cowell described as “depressing moans”. The judges, backed by encouraging cheers from the audience, asked the lead vocalist to come back as a solo act. When she returned later that night, her performance earned a “yes” from the judges and a standing ovation from the crowd.

There was only one act which got me somewhat excited. A trio of singing, dancing young men from the Bronx brought the crowd to their feet with a mashup of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a song by Usher. After singing the a cappella part of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the guys kicked off the Usher tune by tossing copious amounts of glitter. Paula Abdul praised them for their “yummy” harmonies, and they were enthusiastically passed through to the next round.

The X Factor previously held auditions in LA, Miami, Seattle, and Newark. They’ll be holding their final auditions tomorrow, May 26, in Dallas. Here’s hoping that the show really will find somebody with that special… X Factor.


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