How To Be On America’s Got Talent

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1. Audition
2. Be Talented or…
3. Be a compelling contestant
4. Pass the Psych Evaluation
5. Play the Role
6. When you go, don’t go quietly
7. Repeat process

1. Audition
Whether it’s for American Idol, Survivor, Big Brother, America’s Got Talent, or any one of the many shows out there looking for eager contestants, you can’t get in without an audition. If you’re a singer, pick a song within your range. If you’re a magician, do a trick that’s guaranteed to work. If you’re a juggler, go flashy, preferably something with fire. And if you’re a mime, move to France.
Be courteous in the room, don’t brag or curse or yell when they cut you off. If you’re told it’s the end of the road, exit with dignity. No need to compound the humiliation by having your meltdown nationally televised. YET.

Never touch the judges while performing, avoid strong perfumes, but please do shower. And above all, dress with care. Don’t risk further mockery by dressing like a corpse or a stripper.

2. Be Talented…
As you can imagine, this step is important. Usually. As a singer, pick a song that shows off the best parts of your range. Don’t try to reach notes you’ve never reached before – this is not the moment for that. It’s a good idea to practice in front of friends and family beforehand, so that your audition is not the first time you’ve sung it outside of the shower. Nerves can kill off 50% of your preparation, so it’s important to be 150% prepared. If singing is not your forte, find a skill that is. Whether it’s dancing or juggling or magic or cooking, go with the skill you believe in, not the skill that on a good day you might half-possess. If talent is not your forte…proceed to step 3.

3. Be a compelling contestant.
That is, be interesting. And I mean really, really interesting. You need a great back story here – and the danger in making it up is that you’ll probably get found out – but if you’re willing to take that risk, go for it! If you’ve overcome incredible odds, tell them about it. If you used to be a man, tell them! If you grew up with a debilitating fear of clowns, and now you juggle with the circus, we want to know. Stun us. In a good way. If your criminal record is the most compelling thing about you, this may not be the arena for you.

4. Pass the psychological evaluation.
This one’s out of your hands, to a degree. A trained psychologist is in charge here. The evaluation is done in the later stages of the audition process, to gauge how well you’ll hold up in a pressure situation. The producers love a little crazy, just not a LOT of crazy. Not “criminally liable” crazy. They will assess every nook and cranny of your personality when interacting with others. Do you fly off the handle at the drop of a hat? Are you always the first person to burst into tears? Drama Queen can be great, Homicidal Maniac not. Your criminal background should have been checked by this point and cleared for you to go forward. The psychologist is there to determine how well you’ll blend with the other contestants. Are you sneaky, snobby, aggressive, shy? Would you be the fight-starter in the house or the peacemaker? Everyone gets a role. You can’t have a tribe of eight fight-starters or you might exhaust the audience at home. The producers’ key is having the perfect blend of personalities. Your key is to pick one and stick to it.

5. Play the role.
Once you’re officially a contestant, the game is on. You have a role to play and it’s time to play it to the hilt. It’s all about camera time. Have a fit in the kitchen or hide the team trail mix for no reason. Make the camera crew follow YOU. Be just that compelling. If you’re the peacemaker – do a lot of talking head interviews about group dynamics, about wishing everyone could just get along. Talk other contestants off the ledge. Agree to sleep near the jungle outhouse when no one else will. This gives you underdog status, and everybody loves an underdog. Except your teammates, who may swiftly vote you off the island. Pick one element of your personality and outsize it. Your job is to “make for good television” without seeming to do so on purpose. To survive after Survivor, make the most of your time on the island. And when your moment arrives, and your tiki torch is blown out…to quote a Welsh poet: “Do not go gentle into that good night”. Which brings us to…

6. When you go, don’t go quietly.
Contrary to the dignity you’re advised to show in your audition, this is the time to let your freak flag fly. Wail, sob, promise to America that the game is not over, that you will be back! Shoot scowling, sinister looks at your former comrades, the ones who just betrayed you. Imply that you have knowledge to take each of them down, that a miscarriage of justice has taken place, that one day the world will know who really won. Unless you’re on a talent-based show, like American Idol, or America’s Got Talent, or Project Runway and that sort. In that case, replace your meltdown with a dignified, self-promoting plug about how America knows what a star you are, how you will release your first single on YouTube within the month. Declare yourself to be the best thing to hit country music as the credits roll and the band tries to play you off the stage. Raise both arms in a victory pose so that anyone fast forwarding through the show at home might confuse you for the victor. When you sense that your demise on the show is near, start wearing a t-shirt with your website on it, and solicit donations the next day. Whatever the reality show, use that last minute of guaranteed fame as your springboard for the next. Do not waste it. It is your final interaction with several million viewers. Make the moment count.

7. And…Repeat
You’ve been kicked out, declined a rose, voted off the island. You left with a flourish only to return home and find that no one is treating you differently. The camera crews are gone, the limos are no longer out front, the constant stream of booze has dried up, and no one seems to care. YET. This is an important window before the show airs, and it’s crucial to get back on the horse. Get out there, audition again, audition for every new reality show coming down the pike. When the show premieres, you’ll get your taste of fame, and your job is to extend it in any way you can. Pitch yourself to anyone who will listen as the player most worthy of a spin-off. Target several shows and work on the skills required to play the game. Keep your fan base alive through Facebook and Twitter – post all of your auditions online. And if all else fails, star in a reality show of your own. Even if it’s only in your mind.

By Suz Parker

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