The Reality Behind Singing Reality TV Shows: Audition Process


In the summer of 2002, “American Idol” aired its first season, starting a national craze for reality singing competitions. Flash forward 12 years and you’ll find a handful of other singing competitions on the lineup, including the main competition to “Idol,” NBC’s “The Voice.”

Some of the best parts of these competitions are the auditions, where we get to see thousands of hopeful and talented singers, as well as a few oddballs, take a chance on their dreams. But how exactly does the auditions process really work?

Whether you’re a seasoned performer, an amateur hopeful, or even just a curious fan, we’ll show you exactly what these hopeful artists go through before you ever see them on your TV. It may be more structured that you think.

Step One: Registration

Before the singing ever begins, competitors sign up for audition day. With “X Factor” and “American Idol,” registration is onsite the day before auditions, while “The Voice” requires everyone to create an online “Artist Account” to sign up for an audition location and time. Once they’ve gotten over this hurdle, the vocalists get a wristband or audition pass and start warming up for audition day.

Step Two: The Big Audition

Checking in

Audition day can begin as early as five a.m., but that’s not when contestants start strolling in. They get there much earlier to join the hundreds of other people already in line to check in. Once you’ve waited in line and gotten in the door, it’s time to wait some more.


Wait, wait, and wait some more. Contestants can wait in line or waiting rooms for anywhere from four to 12 hours, potentially more. But if you’ve waited your whole life for your big break, what’s a few more hours, right? Some people use this time to warm up for their audition, while others are working the room, making friends and checking out the competition.


Contestants are usually either separated into groups of about ten people or so or go solo in a curtained booth and given a chance to sing in front of a judge. At this stage, the judge is typically a producer on the show, not one of the big name celebrity judges. In order to get in front of those folks, you have to make it through this audition. This is where competitors really need to shine and give it their all, in order to progress in the competition.

Rhiannon Sue, who auditioned for “The Voice,” said, “They’re really only looking for singers who belt. Even when they choose people with rock or folk or alternative singing styles to make it to the higher levels, they ultimately ask them to battle, diva-style, which means hitting high, long, loud notes.”

Step Three: Callbacks

If a contestant makes it through the first audition, they aren’t headed straight to Hollywood like you’re made to believe. By the time you’re seeing them audition on TV, they’ve already been approved by producers to head to the next stage and have likely gone to three rounds of preliminary auditions and been called back for more. Singers don’t get any feedback on their performances during that stage, which has to be nerve-wracking. The ones who get good notes for each of their songs are sent on to finally make it to the limelight, at least to some degree.

Step Four: The Competition and Beyond

If you get the green light on the main audition and the callbacks then the next step is the big stage. This could mean Hollywood or Las Vegas with the other contestants who make it through, depending on the show. Either way, at this point you’ve impressed a lot of people and the rest of the process will make it to the airwaves.

Thousands of hopefuls audition for reality TV singing shows every year in dozens of cities, and now you know what they go through, at least to some degree. What do you think of all the things that happen behind the scenes?

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Emiah has always been intrigued by the cable TV industry. She is consistently questioning how certain shows become pop culture phenomenons while others unceremoniously fail. Emiah has a deep appreciation for Andy Cohen and The Real Housewives franchise.

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