Entertainment » Television

America’s Got Talent heads to Orlando

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Tuesday Feb 9, 2010

America's Got Talent is something of the younger sibling to "American Idol." It was also co-created by Simon Cowell and follows a similar format: performers compete in a talent show format before three judges and the American public with the goal of fame; but unlike "Idol," there's a not-so-small fortune of a one million dollar award. It's a bit like Slumdog Millionaire meets the old Ed Sullivan Show.

While Cowell does not appear as a judge in the American version, he does perform those duties in its British counterpart - Britain's Got Talent. It was on that show that Susan Boyle electrified the world with her version of "I Dreamed a Dream" last April - making the show part of the most watched video in the history of YouTube. Will there be an American talent this year that eclipses her? Tune in this June.

Welcome Howie

Since it premiered in 2006 it has consistently been a ratings winner - last year it was the most popular show of the summer season for the fourth year in a row. This June it enters its fifth season with host Nick Cannon and returning judges Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan, plus a new judge - Howie Mandel who replaces David Hasselhoff and a new array of talent.

"Howie is one of America’s favorite entertainers and his sense of humor and energy are irrepressible," said Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming, NBC and Universal Media Studios.. "He’s passionate about new talent and his years of experience across a variety of disciplines in entertainment, not to mention the fact that he headlines and performs in Vegas all the time, will bring new depth to our panel. He will be a real asset to our contestants and help them take their talents to the next level. We are thrilled to have him join Sharon and Piers and are sure that sparks will fly!"

Like "Idol," to get the talent, the show’s producers go on the road, moving from city-to-city in search of contestants who will compete in Vegas. So far the scouts have traveled to Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas. This weekend they head to Orlando.

For an example of the show’s success look no further than the subsequent career of 2nd season winner ventriloquist Terry Fator. In 2008 he signed a deal to headline at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas for five years at a reported deal worth $100 million dollars.

The Orlando auditions will take place February 13 and 14, 2010 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, 6300 Hollywood Way, Orlando, FL 32819. For more information, visit America’s Got Talent audition page.

From there the scouts move onto Atlanta (February 20 - 21) and Portland, Oregon (February 28 - March 1).

When the show passed through Boston last spring, EDGE caught up with the show’s executive producer Jason Raff about the audition process he’s an integral part of.

A unique opportunity

EDGE: You’ve been doing this from the beginning - are ever bored with this audition process?

Jason Raff: No. Because I’m always surprised. Like in Chicago two years ago when Neal Boyd came in and opened his mouth. He started singing and ’Woah!.’ This was after auditioning 500 people before him. The best part is you never know who is going to come through the door.

EDGE: Why do you think some people try-out when they are clearly lack talent?

Jason Raff: There are some people you wonder what they’re thinking. Did they’re friends tell them they were good singers? At the same time we encourage anyone to come in. It’s a unique opportunity, let me say that. We get some people it’s their first audition. Recently we had these two sisters who walked in - they never sang together, certainly not in public, and they were really, really good. Maybe they sung in their bedroom before, but this was their first audition in public, and they were remarkably good. When do you get to try out for a network television show where you can walk away with a million dollars.

That’s the thing about it - there are no rules. There are no rules on age, like there is on "Idol" and other shows. There are no rules on talent. If they think they have talent, it’s fine with us. And it doesn’t matter how they classify it. It doesn’t matter if they’re a boy band or girl band or a dancer. We had a guy in Chicago who cut hair and a girl who was a fashion model.

EDGE: What did they do?

Jason Raff: She proceeded to walk in a straight line up and down and pose. The hairdresser? We had two this year. One called himself the fastest barber in the world and his talent was to shave down his son’s head. And one called herself the fastest updoo artist - she did updoo hairstyles, those styles people wear to do at a wedding and at a prom. And she proceeded to do an updoo hairstyle and she said she was the best. I wasn’t going to argue.

No rules

EDGE: What has been the most unusual act you’ve seen over the years?

Jason Raff: I’ve been there since the show’s start and I’ve auditioned more than 30,000 people. It changes every season. That answer will always be changing. But I really don’t have an answer to that. I am always delighted when someone comes in the room and does something I’ve never seen before.

EDGE: What’s been the breakdown of talent - do you get mostly singers?

Jason Raff: A majority of the people are certainly singers, because everybody sings - in the shower, in the bedroom. The criteria for the singers are extremely high. We always look for singers who wouldn’t fit on ’American Idol’ per see -- they can sing with instruments, or be in a group or family.

EDGE: How are things looking in those auditioning?

Jason Raff: We are almost at 2,000 contestants. It changes every day. We have people registering at America’s Got Talent website. We are starting to get up there. I like it to be really high, because what we do is take the judges around the country - the next round is in front of celebrity judges - and my hope is that if we get a big turnout that we do a show in that area, either this year or next year.

EDGE: Do you get many contestants who have auditioned on ’American Idol?’

Jason Raff: We do. And we get regulars - we get a lot repeat customers. They walk in the audition room, and I say, ’hey I haven’t seen you since the last time we were in New York, or wherever.’ On the application they fill out what shows they’ve auditioned for, so some say they’ve tried out for ’Idol.’ But, again, we see a lot of people too young for ’Idol’ or too old for ’Idol.’ So we get a lot of people who wonder, why isn’t there a show for them? This is the show for them.

Be prepared!

EDGE: What’s your criteria in judging the contestants?

Jason Raff: Pure talent or pure entertainment. Someone may not be the most talented person, but they make you smile, they make you laugh, they do something unique. That’s what you hope for. Someone who comes out on stage who will entertain the audience. One thing we’ve got on the show is a vocal audience - they let their opinions be known loud and clear. Sometimes they get behind an act and let the judges know what they think.

HIghest rated show

EDGE: The show has been the highest rated show the past four summers. What do you think is its appeal?

Jason Raff: I think our show is many things - it’s a fun show. As a viewer, you never know what’s going to walk on the stage next. It is a stage and a forum for acts not seen on TV. Terry Fator, who won two years ago, is a ventriloquist. When did you last see a ventriloquist on TV? No more. Not since Ed Sullivan and the old variety shows. You don’t see these acts on network TV. The variety format has gone by the wayside. This is a forum for someone, say, who plays the harp or sings beautifully -- there is no other place on television for these people. And as a viewer, at least when I watch it, gets to see all the different talent is out there. ’America’s Got Talent’ is the title, and it is very much an American show. These people come from all walks of life, from every culture, every age, every religion; and I imagine there is something for everyone. And then people like to see bad acts, like to see good acts, And they like to pick the racehorses and vote and see if they’re singer or boy band or dancer wins in the end.

EDGE: Will there be any changes to the show this year?

Jason Raff: We’ve got a new judge - Howie Mandel, who is one of the best-loved performers in America today. He also performs regularly in Vegas so he understands the business of show business. Coming back for his second season as host is Nick Cannon, who is someone who can do everything -- the guy’s a comedian, an actor, a musician, and a television personality. He could be a judge or a host. All the skills that he has will be a huge benefit to the show.

EDGE: What advice would you give someone coming to audition?

Jason Raff: Are you prepared? Don’t come in the audition room not sure of what you’re going to do. And dress properly - something that reflects your personality and can be fun. Dress like it’s a special occasion or to show your personality. We get a lot of tips on the website; people who read it come pretty much prepared. Each contestant gets 90 seconds and need to use that time wisely. But my best advise is prepared and dress in a way to accent your personality.

EDGE: Do many drag queens audition?

Jason Raff: Oh, yeah, we do, we get some great drag acts. We get great burlesque acts. Women that sing like men. Men who sing like women. We get everything.

The Dallas auditions of America’s Got Talent Orlando auditions will take place February 13 and 14, 2010 at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, 6300 Hollywood Way, Orlando, FL 32819. For more information, visit America’s Got Talent audition page.

From there the scouts move

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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