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American Idol Auditions: A Survival Guide

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The road to Hollywood, fame and fortune begins in...

... East Rutherford, New Jersey?

That's the hope of thousands of area residents, at least, as the cavernous Continental Arena plays host to local auditions for American Idol 6.

What takes an hour or two to cover on TV is actually a marathon week that tests the nerves and voice of every hopeful singer who makes his/ her way to Exit 16W. To guide you through the process, a local publication offers the ins and outs of the auditions, thanks to insight from someone who's been through it -- JP Molfetta of Ramsey, N.J., who tried for Season 4.

Kelly Clarkson

According to the oddsmakers, there's a 1-in-7 chance the next cog in the American Idol machine will be at Continental Arena next week.

The road to stardom and next May's season finale begins with the audition process, and for the first time that includes East Rutherford, the second of seven cities Idol will travel to during the next two months.

Given that thousands are expected to try out, what makes one stand out? What are the steps that send someone on the road to Hollywood with a shot to become the next Kelly Clarkson (right)?

We've got you covered.

Coordinating producer Patrick Lynn, along with Molfetta and his brother Rich, who made the rounds of audition cities and got a bit of airtime in Season 4, helped map out a plan for future hopefuls:


THE PREPARATIONS

First off, clear your schedule.

One thing's for certain, and that's that the auditions will be grueling. On Monday, it will be an all-day affair on Monday. Stay hydrated, too. It will be hot, crowded and full of lines. It's easy for your throat to go very dry and for you to lose vital energy.

Round 1: First audition

Once everyone is seated in the arena, groups will be called up section by section and then broken into subgroups, where you get a turn to sing at a station on the arena floor for someone from American Idol. This is the first, and possibly last, chance you will have to impress.

"They want to hear if you can do anything," Molfetta said.

Plan on having 30 seconds to a minute, although sometimes you may be asked to sing more than one song.

"Focus on that first audition. The one mistake people make is they think they're going on to the second round. Take the first round as serious as you would any part of the competition," Lynn said.

Be careful, though, because this is also the stage where the producers are looking for the next William Hung. While that could net you 15 minutes of fame, you don't want to get lumped into this group. Molfetta suggests the use of a popular song, one that's recognizable and makes you so.

"They want something they know so they can reference it," he said.

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

Tom Petty said it best with that line. Idol hopefuls will learn this all too well. Once you impress the first group of judges, you advance to a meeting with the executive producers, which will most likely happen later that week. Either way, plan on spending up to 10-12 hours before getting called.

"The wait's the most frustrating part. Everyone sits in one room, and you just think about the process. Certain people will over-rehearse. Others will try and sleep. It's when people start getting kooky. But it's also a chance to bond with the other contestants," Molfetta said.

Try to stay calm.

"You can get caught up in the competition," he says. "In the grand scheme of things, you're around all these people who love what you love. Take that moment and make some friends," he said.

Round 2: The producers

Lynn wouldn't discuss what happens after the first round, except to say that if you make it through Round 1, all the details will be provided.

Here's what we were able to glean from talking to those who auditioned previously. In Round 2, you perform for the executive producers. Be ready to sing a whole song a capella. Some people try to cheat by starting with the easy part of a song and hope they can stop before the hard part.

Not a good idea.

This is also where the mind games of song selection begin. For females, Molfetta says, "stay away from Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera... because everyone tries to do them."

For males, the same goes for Stevie Wonder.

Pick a song you're comfortable with, for you don't want to make the fatal mistake of forgetting the lyrics. Be prepared for interviews, too, because answering questions is a constant. This is a TV show, not just a singing competition, so vocal talent alone doesn't ensure success.

"Throughout the entire process, the producers are looking to see who's going to gravitate to the camera," Molfetta said.

If you've never been videotaped before, grab a video camera and have someone ask you questions while you're on camera. Get used to it.

"Have a clear idea of how you want to be portrayed. They will paint you any way you want to be painted. Be yourself," he said.

THE WAITING IS STILL THE HARDEST PART

The American Idol crew will generally take a day or two to sort through the contestants and begin to shape their scripts. Those who've made it this far, generally fewer than 200, are gathered in one room as they await their shot before Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell.

"It's a hurry-up-and-wait syndrome," Molfetta said. "You start to see the people who go through, and you immediately begin to question, 'Am I right for what they're looking for?' I know I sang better than so-and-so."

This is it.

The door opens.

You walk in, and sing ... but what?

Everyone has their No. 1 song, but it's important to have four songs you're comfortable with. Have a variety of song choices, too. Don't sing four gospel songs or four rock songs. If you're not sure which direction to go in, choose a Top 40 song. After all, it's a pop music show.

THE EXIT STRATEGY

George W. Bush doesn't have one, but Idol hopefuls should. If you get a yellow ticket and a trip to Hollywood, it's time to break out the celebration. You have fought through the wars and now have a shot to be a Simon Fuller protoge. Enjoy it. But if the vote doesn't go your way, there are three choices:

  1. Go quietly.
  2. Leave with a smile on your face, and tell the camera, "I'm just so happy I waited on line for a whole week to get this chance."
  3. Let everyone know how you really feel.

If you're going to speak your mind and trash the judges, Molfetta suggests you have thick skin.

"Most people can't handle the criticism they'll get. If you have a soft exterior, I suggest you just be happy. If you feel you [can] handle being ruffled, then let 'em have it," he said.

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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If i were to make it to Hollywood do I have to pay for airfare? or food?

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Can convicted felons audition?

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I am 16 and I make it through the first two rounds - does my parent have to be with me the entire time if I make it to Hollywood week. We are trying out in Nashville 2010. NEED INFORMATION about the process ASAP.

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My daughter is thinking of auditioning for AI. This site has been very helpful. My question is "if she gets a ticket to hollywood... Does AI pay for airfare, hotel, food ect? And do they get to pick their group they want to be in during group auditions? Thanks for info

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Well Bethany, I hear ya on that one! I am 29, and went to the AI registration yesterday in East Rutherford NJ, with the hopes that they would make an exception. They turned me away at the registration table due to my age, which is only 29. I gave them a good and friendly explanation as to why I think they should make an exception, but the woman I spoke to just gave me a blank face and said they can't go beyond the age cut-off (I don't think she was a producer though). However, according to the AI website, it does say that the producers reserve the right to change the audition rules at any time at their discretion (because the producers ultimately decide who's on the show. It's not just about singing talent - it's a whole production). Getting a registration wristband doesn't even guarantee you the chance the audition, and producers will even pick people to audition who don't have a wristband. With that said...you can always go to audition day and take the chance that they will pick you to audition. The NJ audition day is tomorrow, and I'm going anyway to try my luck! You never know... Good luck to you!

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Hi Magenta, I hope by now you've checked out Zewdy on youtube or myspace. By the way, this year (2008) will be her: 5th and for my final advice: go for it; it's a lottery. If you're not in it, you can't win it!!!!! Good Luck.
Habte (Zewdy's dad-also a singer)

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What u need to auditoin for american idol and what happen afther u pass and get the golden tiket where u live and stuff

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Ohhhh i was wondering why the heck it looked like Randy,Simon&Paula were always in the same room despite the tv telling me they were in different towns for the auditions; this cleared that up for me.

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Hey I am 17 years old and iv been singing for a very long time and I am trying out for AI on aug13 in Jacksonville fl.but im scared they wont like me. Alot of peope think im very good at singing. I am actually my citys Idol for 2008. Tell me what you think. Just look my name (majenta turner) up on you tube. please tell me if you think i have a shot.

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I want to audition this year but i realllllly have to know how long the first round of auditions lasts in a city? i need to know how much time to take off work, other than the registeration period, how long will the actual round 1 audition last? and are you sure round 2 is several weeks later? would i be able to actually leave right after I audition assuming i make it through the first round? I would really appreciate an answer ..thanks :)