When I asked my fellow writing pals if my trysts with reality TV would make for engaging content, I didn’t think they would actually say yes.
Welcome to January 2021, where inspiration is lacking, but stubbornness prevails. I have committed to another year of #Write26, so you’re going to hear about what it’s like to audition for the following shows:
- The Chase
- The X Factor
- The Apprentice.
Why would anybody do this?
It’s a question I ask myself every day. Reality TV has launched the careers of some of Britain’s finest national treasures, from Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-no-surname to Rylan. It brings you up and knocks you down.
Still, I was 17 when I first tried to audition for anything, and I’ve always loved to perform. Aged 13, I dressed as Meat Loaf and won my school Stars in Their Eyes competition. An entire lifetime later, aged 26…I worked as a scare actor.
Maybe it’s the follies of extroversion. Maybe it’s to impress friends. Or maybe it’s because I’m crazy. But enough about that – what are these auditions really like?
Unlike the wait for one of Anne Hegerty’s I’m a Celeb trials, this one was short and sweet. I filled out an application form while watching the show and heard back…ONE YEAR LATER. Efficient.
What ensued was a phone call that caught me completely off-guard. They asked me questions about my form and I struggled to remember why I told them I loved Meat Loaf so much.
Then for the quickfire round. Five questions. No hesitation.
“In what decade did the UK’s first female prime minister enter office?”
My mind was screaming “1979!” but my mouth moved faster. Often the way. “Eighties! Argh, no, seventies! Can I change it?!” Too late.
Needless to say, that was the last I heard from The Chase. Shame. Bradley Walsh and I would have had GREAT bants.
The X Factor
Shamefully, the failed Chase audition was only 2019. At least with The X Factor I have the excuse of being 17, way back in 2007.
(N.B. I tried to find a photo of me with my audition sticker but it is stuck in the annals of MySpace and the image will not load!)
It all started at Arsenal Football Club.
The audition before the audition
What you see on telly is a gorgeous studio (or stage, in latter years) festooned with well made-up celebrity judges. What you don’t see is the audition before the audition.
Back in the day, hundreds of thousands of people would apply. Apparently that’s not the case anymore – could have all been very different if you’d let me through, Simon.
I took the day off college and dragged my poor mother, egg sandwiches in tow, up to the Emirates Stadium. There’s a lot of queueing. While you’re waiting, camera crew try to lift your spirits by filming you doing the ‘X’ sign. At one point, I thought they only needed to film me, so I gave my mum my bags. Poor thing then had to run up some steps carrying a packed lunch.
The fruit loops
True enough, The X Factor does genuinely bring all the nutters out of the woodwork. Or at least it did. I remember one woefully deluded chap singing Jonny B Goode to us. All the while my mother was chomping on egg mayonnaise, blissfully unaware she was on camera.
The audition itself is in a tiny conference room with a producer. I was sat waiting with a hysterical woman who kept exclaiming: “I’m only here because I lost a bet! I’m tone deaf!”
She went in before me. Seconds later, she emerged and said: “I asked if they could let me through as a reject.” They didn’t.
One thing the camera crew are very firm on is that “no means no”. You cannot ask why – you just have to leave. Well, muggins here thought she’d be singing to Simon Cowell. She was midway through a Spanish A-Level and thought it would be SUPER impressive if she sang a song by Il Divo – Simon’s band – in Spanish.
“Gonna have to say no.”
She crashed and burned. I stood there, acapella, no stage set, no audience – just me and my quivering mouse voice, eyes closed, belting out something begging “Isabel” not to leave me.
“Gonna have to say no.”
And that was that.
You know who won that year? Leon Jackson. Who? Exactly.
Moving on. Despite my singing career being in tatters, and the added humiliation of an old school friend getting through to the live shows, I didn’t give up on reality TV.
If my dulcet tones won’t do the trick, my entrepreneurial vigour will, yes? In pre-COVID 2020, I squealed when I received an email inviting me to audition for The Apprentice.
I’m not £250k heavier, so you can imagine how it went.
A (s)wanky hotel in Manchester
After filling out a complete litany of forms, and writing a CV, I headed to a posh hotel in Manchester. I’d bought one of those power dresses – bright red with peplums. Bitch means business, yes?
True to form, there were more cookie cutter Apprentice ‘lads’ than I care to remember. Same one-size-too-small suits, brown winklepicker shoes, no socks. All the bravado and none of the business plan.
Let’s be honest – I didn’t have much of a clue, but people here had even less. I got chatting to a lovely lass who was in a similar boat to The X Factor reject: no idea but here for a laugh. So ensued three rounds of torture. I’m told there were actually five.
More queueing. A bespectacled producer was clearly enjoying his power too much as he told us to be quiet…seven times. One light breeze and he’d have been on the floor.
Round one comprised lining a group of us up and numbering us one to 11. They would shout random numbers and we would have to have an elevator pitch ready. Boom.
Then they grouped us by numbers and told one group to go one way, the other group another. Lambs to the slaughter. Ouch.
By far the most pleasant of all the rounds, this one involved a very casual conversation with a lovely producer about my CV and business aims. I would quite happily have gone to the pub with her.
It must have gone well because I got to round three.
Now for the serious shizzle. People were quaking in their boots waiting outside the lion’s den, where sat two of Lord Sugar’s advisors. When it was finally my turn, I cringed at the fact I’d mixed up FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 on my CV. (Is there a FTSE 500? I don’t know; I’m not Gordon Gekko.)
After a brutal interview with who might as well have been Linda Plant and Mike Soutar (you know, the scary Scottish chap) I was off. A bit of awkward loitering and the cameraman told me they’d be in touch.
Home I went, £20 lighter thanks to extortionate parking fees, no closer to Lord Sugar. Well, the joke’s on you, Alan, because The Apprentice was cancelled last year. Hard cheese.
What can we learn from this?
I try to give my blog posts a moral of the story, so other than me having a face for radio, I have learned this. If you’re going to audition for TV:
- Think before you speak
- Don’t sing in Spanish
- Wear winklepickers and you might get through to round four.
But seriously. In marketing terms, we can see this as:
- Have a list of ideas ready for quickfire situations like pitches, podcasts and live chats
- Research your audience, for Christ’s sake
- Your personal brand is everything.
That’s all for now. Maybe I’d have better luck on Love Island.