This is the first in a five part series which is made for people who want to do well on talent shows. Specifically, The X Factor.
These five guides are taken from a book written by Max Millias on the subject of doing well on this talent show. As he’s no longer selling the book however, he has allowed me to publish it on Music Industry How To for all to see.
Read this guide first, but once you’re done, other parts to the guide are:
- How To Get On The X Factor And Do Well In The Audition Stages. (This one)
- How To Do Well At Bootcamp In The X Factor Talent Show.
- Doing Well At The X Factor Live Shows Part 1.
Talent shows can be a good platform for you to launch your music career from, even if you don’t go on to winning the show in question. So if you’re thinking of entering the X Factor next year and want to make the most out of that exposure, you’ll want to read this guide.
A new part of the guide will published each Wednesday for the next few weeks, so keep checking back for more.
Quick note: The pictures in this guide weren’t in the book, and remain the property of the X Factor.
Now, let’s get into the book:
Why This Book Is Needed
Until now, no one has made it clear what you need to do to win the X Factor. Because of this, year after year you see people hopelessly trying to impress the judges in ways that clearly don’t work. The funny thing is, some of these people were actually quite talented, but slipped up in some way or other. All seemed to be going well, but then they do one or two small things and their X Factor dream was over just like that!
So what are these small mistakes that have big implications? Well, throughout this book we’ll be telling you, as well as guiding you through all the things you need to think about and do to ‘win’ the X Factor.
OK, so this may well be the most important chapter of the book. In this chapter you will learn how to get on the X Factor, which is kind of important if you want to win it… You will also learn proven techniques to get through the first round, as well as be informed about crucial factors which you may not have previously thought about. Getting off to a good start is essential with the X Factor, the better you start, the more coverage you’ll get across the series. So with that said, let’s get you the best start possible!
The Audition Process
This section will look at how to do well at an X Factor audition. The first thing you need to do is apply online and depending on your country of residence this shouldn’t be too hard. Just simply google “X-Factor Auditions” and you should be taken to your relevant countries website where you can apply. That’s the easy bit done as it really doesn’t get much easier from there on in.
Once you have applied online you will get an email back inviting you to the auditions at the nearest city to you. The auditions normally start from 10am however they can get extremely busy and if you want to be at the front of the line then you might even need to arrive the night before and camp there! That is no exaggeration either! I remember the second year I worked on the show some people literally did that just to make sure they were seen first by the judges when they were doing auditions in London.
The actual show makes out like you once you get to the front you get to go in front of the shows judges like Simon Cowell etc however this is far from it.
When you finally get to the front you will then have to go through not one, but TWO pre-auditions before you get to the judges! From working on the show I can tell you first hand that there is A LOT of contestants all wanting to be seen so it really is the only practical way of screening everyone.
You will be taken into a booth to audition in front a member of the production team. They will hear you sing and decide if you should go through to an audition in front of a more senior member of the production team and only if you pass that you will get to audition in front of the judges themselves.
What They Are Looking For In Auditions
The thing many people fail to understand is that X-Factor is a TV show first and foremost and its aim is to get ratings. So I can reveal that from the get go all the judges are told to put through contestants who are either really good or really bad. I remember talking to Louis Walsh and he likened their selection process to putting through “the good, the bad and the ugly”. The members of the production team who have to do the pre-auditions are actively told to put through only acts that will “make good TV”. In some cases this is even at the expense of talent! Remember that it is all about the ratings in this industry!
Three types of acts the producers want to put through:
- The Good
This is normally the contestants that are actually talented and will stand a chance of winning and getting a recording contract. Hopefully, this is the category you will be in.
- The Bad
In this category you will find people who might look the part but are just really bad singers and have no chance of getting anywhere. These acts are normally built up during the audition shows only to be a huge let down when they try and sing.
- The Ugly
These are the singers that are so bad it’s actually crazy! These are normally the deluded types who seem to think they have some sort of talent but are really the clowns of the show. The type who’s auditions will end up getting many hits on Youtube! Hopefully, you WONT be one of these contestants!
It’s quite bad to say it but the bosses did seem to pick some members of the production team who wouldn’t know talent if it slapped them in the face. I have heard some people singing in those booths who sounded amazing and were turned down. I know for a fact that the bosses at X-factor do get literally anyone to judge the pre-auditions and not anyone who has even worked in the music industry. That’s something to bear in mind as you might very well end up getting turned down for no reason at all. There have even been rumours that Leona Lewis was turned down at pre-audition stage the year before she went on to win it!
What Should You Wear To Your Audition?
Remember it’s vitally important you create a good impression with the judges and first impressions are normally the most important. You want to look good and actually look like a pop star.
I remember Simon Cowell said once that very often if someone walked in for an audition who looked like a pop star he would already be secretly wishing they could sing good too. He even admitted that there have been times when someone has had an average voice but they looked so good he would send them through based on that and hope that they can improve their vocals during boot camp. So you can see just how important it is to wear the right thing to your audition.
However, it is also important not to overdo it or look silly. When I worked on the show I would often see people dressed up as other pop stars and you just instantly knew they weren’t going to get very far. If I had a dollar for the amount of people who came dressed up like Michael Jackson thinking that would help them then I would be a very rich man indeed by now!
I would advice you wear something that just makes you look cool. If you look at what some contemporary pop stars are wearing in music videos then go with some of those styles. I would suggest the smart to casual style seems to work best. If you are a part of a group then it’s important to all wear outfits that compliment each other too.
So its important to not go too far over the top but its also just as important not to look too casual and like you just walked in off the street. You want the judges to have the impression you have made an effort and that will help them believe just how important this whole show is to you and will help with your chances of getting a “Yes” with them!
Audition Song Choice
The song you choose to audition with really can make or break you. It might sound obvious but you need to pick a song you actually know the words too. I can’t even tell you how many people would start miming half way through some of the pre-auditions. You might get through as one of the “ugly” acts however you will be going home soon after and it’s simply not worth it for that 2 minutes of Youtube fame you might get after.
How To Ensure You Choose A Winning Audition Song
When you’re picking a song to confront the judges with, it’s often best to pick a song that the judges will know. If you are unsure as to what type of songs these judges would be aware of, pick a song that has either done well in the charts or is a classic. Bear in mind that these judges are music experts in their own right, so stick to this selection method and you shouldn’t have a problem.
When picking a song to sing on your audition day, it’s always a good idea to pick a few potential songs, and narrow it down from there. The reason you do this is because you can not only see which of the songs you can perform best, but because you also learn more then one song along the way. The additional songs you learned can be used as back up songs for your final chosen song, but we’ll speak more about why that’s important later. But first, I want to say one thing:
The Type Of Song You Choose Is Crucial!
When looking for a song to choose, the first thing you should do is make a list of songs that are personally close to your heart. The good thing about these type of songs is that they usually have a story behind them, and a nice, or emotionally tragic, story will always touch the heart of the judges. As we’ve mentioned before, getting the judges to emphasise with you and feel like they know something about you on a personal level is a really strong tool at your disposal, so without abusing it use it to your advantage. Otherwise, the judges will see you’re playing a game and be turned off you).
To add to your list you can also look through the charts of an era of your choice, and pick a song that matches your style and what you have to offer. If you really are stuck for song choice I would suggest going on a site like Amazon and listening through some popular compilations. You will get lots of ideas in no time. Also, you could just simply leave a music channel or the radio on all day long to get some ideas.
Once you’ve got a list of these songs, you can narrow them down based on which you feel you can perform best, which one has the best story associated with it, and which one you feel will give the best show to the judges. It’s often a good idea to get other people’s opinion on the matter too, so perform your top three songs in front of family and friends and see which ones they feel would be the most suitable. Don’t perform to them all at the same however, you don’t want their opinions affecting each others. People tend to go with what’s being said by the person with the loudest voice, so get the opinion of one or two people at a time. With this you’ll get a true view of what other people think, and have more information to choose your final song from.
At the end of the day though, it’s down to you. Your final song should be something you feel comfortable with and be able to perform without any faults. If you’re not sure if there’s any faults in the way you sing the song, you can always record yourself singing the song and listen back to hear for yourself. If you’ve got a video camera to do so that is ideal, as you can study your whole performance rather then just your vocals. If not, a voice record will do just fine. I suggest you go out and buy a decent quality voice recorder as they are generally cheap these days. You are investing in your career after all, so there’s no real excuse not to do this, but if you really don’t want to buy one lower quality voice recorder come as standard on most modern day phones. What ever you do, make sure you analyse the recording in an unbiased manor. Don’t make excuses for yourself if you hear something that doesn’t sound right. For example, many novice artists always like to try and blame how the quality of the recording equipment and claim they “know they sound better normally”. Be real with yourself and if you even have the smallest doubts then change it and keep working on it.
Make sure you record yourself performing all the songs and see which one you sound best singing. Which ever one you find that to be, that should be your final audition song!
What Not To Do When Picking An Audition Song
On a side note, I’ve often seen people make one killer mistake when deciding on an audition song, and that is choosing a song that they personally made themselves. Surely that’s a good idea as they’ll get to hear you song writing abilities? Well, not really… The thing is, the judges often want something to compare you against. If you’re singing your own song, a song which they’ve never heard before, they’ll have no idea what it should have sounded like or if you made any mistakes. Furthermore, the judges are looking for some one that can be “The next *insert singer’s name here*”. If you sing a song they’re familiar with and that they like, you’ll make it a lot easier for them to see the potential in you. And that is exactly the note you want to hit. Give the judges what they want to hear and put on a million dollar smile. That’s pretty much what you want to do throughout the whole competition, so get used to it now!
As mentioned earlier do make sure to have back up songs that you can sing too. Very often if you make it through to the main auditions they might ask you to sing a second or even third song too. On TV it’s made out to seem like everyone just sings one song and that’s it however that’s not the case. Be sure to have a few songs ready that you know really well.
Its important to know your strengths. No matter how good a singer you think you are there is simply no need to go straight for the high notes in your audition. Keep it simple but good and you will stand a better chance of going through as opposed to aiming higher and messing up.
Handling The Nerves Of The Audition
Nerves are only natural and everyone will get them. Working behind the scenes in the early years I got to see everything. I even know of one major contestant who locked themselves in a toilet on one of the live shows, seconds before they were meant to perform! We had to calm her down and luckily got someone to fill her slot but it just shows you how much nerves can play a factor during any part of the process.
The first thing you can always do is make sure you look good. The better you look the more confident you feel. Then you also need to make sure you keep a positive frame of mind. If you get any negative thoughts about what might go wrong then just make sure they are quickly displaced from your mind.
It’s important to minimise all stresses involved with the audition process so make sure you arrive early to give yourself enough time to get a feel for the place and relax a little.
Probably the best way to deal with the nerves is to motivate yourself. Tell yourself that this audition is finally your chance to show people just how good you are and prove to the judges you have what it takes. If you get into that mindset it’s normally really easy to be less nervous and much more focused and even excited.
Getting Your Story Straight
As I explained earlier the production team are only looking to put through acts who are either really good or make good TV. This is when having a good story can be what makes or breaks your life on the X-Factor.
When I worked on the show many people soon realised that if you had a sob story then that would normally work well for getting you through to the judges. I have seen people break down and start crying crocodile tears as they think that will help them get through. Well we all see through that really easy and blatant sobbing won’t help you as much however it can still help if it’s seen to be genuine.
Whatever you do make sure you get your back story straight. If you are a single mum wanting to take a shot at success then go with that. If you working two jobs just to try and pay the rent that go with that. The public loves an underdog and the bosses know that too and they know it will make good TV as you begin to get support from the public.
Whatever, you do don’t try and be cocky or too self assured. I know the bosses loved to put through people who were over cocky just so someone like Simon Cowell could shoot them down and embarrass them on TV.
Why You Should Keep Your Story Truthful
As I have just stressed the importance of having some sort of back story to get you a full audition, it’s important not to make anything up. It can be tempting just to make something up so you can get in front of the judges and then have a good chance of getting through to boot camp however your lies may well end up coming back to bite you when you least expect it.
When you tell your story it will be recorded and most likely broadcast on one of the audition shows. If a part of the story isn’t true you can bet your life that someone out there will be eager to let everyone know about it. The press could expose your lies and your position in the competition could be in danger before you even get started.
Whilst I still worked on the show there was a nice chap called Alan Turner who fell into the trap of making up a back story to get far in the competition. He actually made it to the boot camp stage before his lies were exposed too!
Unbelievably, he told the judges that he had been fostered since the age of four, did not know who his real parents were and had been sexually abused as a child! When his actual parents saw this on the show they contacted the press to put the story straight. I can tell you the producers had a hard time with this one as he seemed really genuine to everyone. They first planned to keep him on as they actually quite liked his talent however the decision was made to let him go as everyone was just too worried about how far this story might escalate with stories about possible slander charges being brought against him. It was made to look like he just wasn’t picked to go through from boot camp but the truth was he was eliminated because of the controversy.
Therefore, it’s simply not worth making anything up. You can stretch the truth a little as everyone does that however do not, under any circumstances, lie!
A great way to boost your chances of getting through to the next round of auditions and then boot camp is to try and appeal to one of the judges in particular. This will obviously depend on the country you are filming in but it’s quite easy to get a good idea of who the actual judges are. Then you can find out what sort of acts and music they like and go with that.
On the UK version of the show very often Louis Walsh would fall in love with some acts who instantly appealed to him and he would be very persuasive that they should go through. In series 7, an act called Paige Richardson auditioned and was originally told no. However, Louis Walsh loved his style so much that he actively asked producers to give him a second audition. He got that audition and made the live shows and went so far in the show he actually made the X-factor tour!
Also probably the biggest added tip I can give is to smile when in front of the judges. Humans in general all like people who smile. It shows you are positive, confident and you will straight away be on the front foot just by smiling when you first meet them.
So if eventually you make it the main audition in front of the main judges and you get three yes’s then the next step is boot camp!