How Do American Idol Auditions Work

Most of the people I met at the Season 10 American Idol audition in Nashville TN were like me and had never been to an audition before. We were all unsure exactly what to expect. So for those of you interested in how the auditions work, this one’s for you.

First, please understand what I learned about American Idol. It is not a singing contest–it is a reality tv show. Talent and look are only 10%. The other 90% that you can’t control is what Fox has in store for the show that season. No matter how amazing you might or might not be, if you’re not what they are looking for–you’re out. Go for the audition itself and a shot at being on tv… not to become the next American Idol. Simply have fun with the whole experience.

I remember as I was leaving–tired, starving, and cranky–I say, “Why did half these parents waste their time bringing their kids down here?” Immediately I wanted to take back what I had already vocalized.

It’s not about winning the show, it’s about hope. It’s about working hard to get somewhere–and then singing in front of 16,000 people who support you because they are you. It was us against American Idol and we wanted to win.

Where else will one young lady that auditioned find thousands of her competitors giving her a standing ovation after she sang? On tv the winners are the star. But at the audition–everyone is.  And I enjoyed meeting every one of you. I’m fueled by the dreams in your eyes. It was like I was Popeye and your passion to win was my spinach.

Three days of build up, long lines, and spending money in Nashville led to my 30 seconds of fame–15 seconds, if it were up to the judges. Despite their “okay, thank you” halfway through–I continued to the end of the chorus on top of my lungs.

As I told the cameraman filming the non-winner exodus, “I sang my heart out. See you next year American Idol for Season 11.”

Below is a true account of our American Idol audition process…

I get to Jennifer’s house at 11pm on Wednesday night. We had to be in line by 7am the following morning to register for the auditions.

11:30pm – “Are you ready to go? Jennifer?”

“Yeah almost. We have to swing by Neile’s house so I can borrow her hair dryer. Mine’s on the fritz.”

I can’t argue with that–she’s got to have nice hair for the audition. I double agree now that I’ve seen Morning Jennifer.

But it was a trick–Neile wanted to surprise me and come to Nashville with us.

We arrived in downtown Nashville TN at 3:30am Central time–at the intersection of Gay St and Church St.

Which way did we go? A decision we faced like a homosexual kid in a Christian family… we went straight.

I parked at the Hilton garage right next door to the Bridgestone Arena(-$14). I thought we were going to arrive much later, but with the time change, it was only 4am.

We were ushered into a 15 foot fenced in section upon arrival. They would fit about 100-200 people in a section, then fence it off and start a new one. Already it was a community effort.

Audition Lines

Audition Line at 4am

A member of the staff through a megaphone tells us all, “Please find a seat and get comfortable. Do not stand. You are going to be here for hours. Find a spot where you can sit or stretch out.”

Most people didn’t listen, but Team Adventure needed sleep. I immediately passed out on my bookbag, Neile to my left, and a little girl to my right–who when I woke up asked, “Did you have a nice sleep?”

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties

Team Adventure

Team Adventure

In the next hour we watched thousands more pile in.

Audition Lines

Line at 7am--a small part of it.

At 7am the line starts moving into the Arena, one section at a time. We were headed to get wristbands and tickets to the audition.

3 Important Things To Remember to Bring With You To An American Idol Audition:

1. Two forms of ID (drivers license, passport, social security card, birth certificate).

2. A release form that you can print from their website which includes a parental consent form if you are under 18.

3. Snacks and water. You will be waiting for hours on two different days where vendors will try and sell you $7 bottles of water.

I get to the inside of the arena at 8am.  A few minutes later I reach the front of the line and a staff member checks my drivers license and passport, looks at but doesn’t take my release form, gives me a ticket, and puts a wristband on my arm.

The gentleman says “Be sure to keep that wristband dry. You need that, this ticket, and your release form to get in on Saturday.”

I turn around to the 2,000 people behind me, holding up my wristband, and scream, “I’m going to Hollywood!” and the crowd goes wild.

I cannot figure out why American Idol would give me such a ridiculously paper thin wristband and say “Keep this dry” in 110 degree heat index weather. I wanted to visit Nashville Shores, a water park, on Friday but could not risk losing the wristband.

I held fundraiser parties during college for my fraternity in which I sprung for the slightly more expensive plastic wristbands. FOX couldn’t give me a plastic wristband too?

So now it was 8:30am on Thursday morning–we were registered for the audition–and had two days in Nashville to entertain ourselves. Read Weekend in Nashville TN to find out what we did for those two days.

3 Ways to Make The American Idol Audition An Affordable Trip:

1. Become a member of–make a profile–get verified–and e-mail people a couple weeks in advance who live in or near the city that the auditions are behind held.

2. Bring plenty of bottle waters or you’ll be caught outside in the heat spending money all day on drinks.

3. Bring a bathing suit, plastic wrap, and duct tape. That way you can duct tape plastic wrap around your wristband and spend your two days swimming at a hotel you didn’t stay at. Like the Hilton. That’s free.

Let’s skip ahead to Saturday morning…

We arrived at the Bridgestone Arena again at 5am. This time both sets of people from Thursday and Friday’s registration were there in fenced in sections. I took this time to meet and photograph myself with as many future American Idols as I could. Everyone I met was wonderful and excited to take a picture with me. See more pictures in my album on Facebook.

This is the beautiful Katie Pursley from Georgia who I met and later watched sing Pants on the Ground for a cameraman.

Katie Pursley

Katie Pursley, Mom, and Adventure Paul

Here is Courtney Moore from Kentucky with her friends and family.

Courtney Moore

Mom, Courtney, Friend, Adventure Paul

Did I take a picture with you at the Nashville American Idol auditions? Tag yourself here!

It took two hours to fill everyone into the arena–divided into sections based on our ticket number.

Stadium Full of People

Contestants filled the inside of Bridgestone Arena

I took this time to travel around and meet more folks who were going to audition.

Grace - Potentially the Next American Idol

Grace - Potentially the Next American Idol

Now it was time to begin. I head back to the stadium and find my seat with Neile and Jennifer. The first hour is spent with a host and cameraman filming the stadium of screaming fans saying “Welcome to Nashville”/”American Idol in Nashville”/”Welcome to Nashville the music city”–this in about 20 different ways until they were satisfied with the timing.

It was cool when they turned all the lights off and replicated The Camera Flash Experiment. I filmed a few seconds in the video below–although it looked much better in person or on their HD cameras.

Then the waiting began. We were in the fourth section and it took 5 hours before we were called. I napped in between Neile and this man who did not get up once. He was there supporting his son to his left who auditioned.

We were sitting by the door where the “non-winners” walked out. The man laughed as I said “There’s my baby” about every pretty girl who walked past. After I got rejected and walked out, Neile told me that he looked at her and said, “There goes my baby”.

People I Sat Next To

People I Sat Next To

The first audition process

In the center of the stadium are 12 judges tables separated by thin curtains. Once our stadium section was called, we moved to the center where we divided into 12 lines. Then, like a roller coaster, four at a time from each line are taken to the judges line.

This is where the strangers I was with started freaking out and getting nervous. I tried to keep them energized and feeling good while we waited the last few minutes. I tried my famous line “Remember, fear and excitement feel the exact same way in your stomach. You’re not nervous–just excited. You’re going to do great!” However, come that point, there was not much I could say or do to ease these kids nerves. I call them “kids” because at 25 years old–I was a veteran.

What did Adventure Paul sing at American Idol?

I had one goal in mind with this trip–to be told NO–only I wanted to be told NO on camera by Ellen and Randy, not in front of three no-name entry level judges who are loosely affiliated with the show. Everyone got to be a judge in this first round–light guys, assistant to the assistant producers, a girl from the vending station.

I sang “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton–featured below in this video if you’ve never heard it.

I was the last person in our group to sing. Next the judges say in an ultra-melodramatic tone, “Step forward.” Even this part feels like a reality show. I’m waiting for someone to hand me a rose. “You will not be advancing to American Idol,” the woman judge says, “Thank you for coming.”

And just like that the audition was over.

What happened to Jennifer?

Alright, alright–I know everyone cares more about what happened with Jennifer’s audition than mine so here goes…

Jennifer was asked to sing 3 times by the judges at her table. I was at #6 and I believe she was at table #2. First she sang “Till I can make it on my own” which Sandy had worked with her on. Then they asked for one more. Then the male judge said, “Can you sing something pop?”

Jennifer’s an opera, classical, musical singer–not a pop singer. The closest thing she had on the back burner was a song by Paramore. After the rejection–the judge looks her in the eyes and said, “More pop.”

Are you glad you went?

Absolutely I am happy we auditioned. Unfortunately it’s hit or miss. Had I have gone to table #2 and Jennifer sang in front of table #6 instead–perhaps one of the judges had grown up loving Tammy Wynette and loved her performance. And perhaps the people at table #2 would have thought I was terrifically horrible enough to be funny for tv.

What happens if you make it past that first audition?

The people who advanced to the next round were given golden tickets like Willy Wanka (only they did not come with a chocolate bar). Those people (less than 100 out of 16,000) go into a separate area where they audition in front of the shows producers.

FINALLY–if the producers think that you have what it takes to be on tv–you are invited to audition in front of the celebrity judges. This is a shock to many people who watch the show who think that EVERYONE auditions in front of the tv judges. That is how the show makes it appear.

All the crazy weirdo’s that make it on tv and get laughed off and rejected have actually been through two audition processes at this point. I was competing against the NO’s–not the good singers.

Should I go to the next audition?

Absolutely you should tryout for the next American Idol Auditions. Have fun with it.

If you have any questions about our weekend that I didn’t answer in this article–please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

Good luck everyone.


Adventure PAUL

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Facebook Comments


  • Andrew.. 

    Thanks for reading. Here’s some things to consider: 

    -Be yourself… just be the best version of yourself that you an be! Just remember that this is entertainment. A comedian doesn’t get on stage and act like himself. A rapper doesn’t just write lyrics about his own life. If quirky isn’t you, then that’s fine. Just don’t be average… be the extreme of whatever you want to be that day. 

    -Should you still pursue it? I’ve heard the expression recently… “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.” I think this says a lot. Experiences aren’t always about winning, but the road you take. So yes, of course you should still do it. My audition was years ago and I lost, but the experience has made me many new friends since then and lots of amazing stories to tell. That’s worth it to me. 

    -I am not sure about the type of music. Best advice came from judges regarding Jennifer.. come prepared with a few different genres of music ready to go. Especially “Pop” or some recent music. Classics are always great…. I would recommend nothing too secular so that your prepared songs appear to a wide range of folks because you never know who your first few rounds of judges will be. 

    -Everyone’s scared, so you’re not alone. Brave people power through it. So shut-up and go audition before you talk yourself out of it!

    Best of luck Andrew! Let me know how it goes. 


  • Adkennell

    Thanks for the info Paul!! I Am almost 17 and I love to sing. I would love to start singing as a career. Do you think there would be much hope in the auditions for a small town scrawny boy in the middle of Illinios? If I had 3 minutes with the judges I could show them a powerful voice(I do amazing with skyscraper). But since you get only one minute what kind of genre and songs would you recommend(I am good at pop) sorry if this comment seems weird. I just have a billion questions and I really want to sing.

  • @52dd85e8e05a5dfe4ce586ab0c820521:disqus .. Thanks for reading. I hope you do great at the audition!

    As I mentioned to some of the other folks who ask about genre… have a few different songs from different genres ready to go. You never know who the initial round of judges will be and what their preferences are, so it’s good to be prepared. Yes, you’re right, you definitely don’t get 3 minutes, so don’t start at the beginning of a song… start right in the middle (maybe the chorus) at a part you know will wow them. Good luck

  • Khyrstenhepner

    adventure paul it’s not just american idol that does that so does the voice and the x factor. I have been to those auditions & plan to audition for season 12 of american idol but I couldn’t agree more with what you said about it being what the producers want for the show. I heard that for the american idol & x factor shows they want someone with a good life story full of struggles. I personally don’t have to make one up because I have one but a woman who I met said they passed her through a few rounds & then before she was supposed to audition before the judges the producers asked for her story & they turned her down because it wasn’t juicy enough for them. She said they told her sad life stories is what makes the public watch.

  • Thanks for reading Khyrsten… Can we blame the producers for their line of thinking? It’s true that we all love to see success stories of people who went through a personal struggle. Makes for good TV. Good luck at your audition and tell me how it went!

  • Sydney

    Hey Paul! n__n My name is Sydney and i happen to have five questions about the auditioning process…

    Uno. Do you sing infront of the rest of the crowd? The 16,000 people who are also wanting to audition? Or do they take four, put them in a room, and listen to them sing? 
    Dos. If you want to bring friends and are under 18 they said you could only bring one person.. but i see many times on shows that some fourteen year old will carry along her friends.. is this even possible? Do you have to shovel them overboard when you get to the front of the line? 
    Tres. If you get the golden ticket do you go straight to the auditioning with the ‘big guys’ ? Quatorze. Can the song be of your choice, or do you have to pick from a list that they give you in advance? 
    Cinco. So you say register early.. top 100? So should you actually came out and then get your ticket on the first day? 
    Thanks for you blog man. Super sweet undercover stuff. 

  • Hi Sydney, thanks for reading. I don’t know all the answers to your questions, but here goes..

    1. Yes, you sing (first round) in front of all 16,000 people in the center of the stadium. Remember though, unless you have a HUGE voice, people in the audience won’t be able to hear you because you have no microphone and there is a lot of other noise. 
    2. I’m not sure about how many friends you can bring and what age they have to be. This changes year to year so you might just want to check the Official Rules at the American Idol website. It’s not that heavily “guarded” of an event so truthfully you can probably get away with anything if you don’t make a big scene and float under the radar (until the actual audition.. then you should shine!). Once you get called (by stadium section) your friends who are not auditioning get left behind. Only people who audition can walk onto the stadium floor. 

    3. Once you get the golden ticket, you move onto the second round of auditions, but this isn’t necessarily in front of the TV judges. Second round judges matter more and can get you there.. but first round doesn’t put you on tv quite yet. 

    4. You can sing anything you want. Just avoid cuss word (cause it has to be tv friendly) and come prepared with a few different songs from different genres. 

    5. Not sure what this question is.. but no matter how early you register, plan on being there for at least a couple days. Either you register early and audition early or register late (second day) and audition late. Come prepared with patience. 

    Hope that helps! Good luck

  • Samantha

    This blog is great! I just have one question. If you get past the first round of cuts, is the second round (which is in front of the producers) on the same day? or is there another day for those cuts, then yet another day for auditions in front of the tv judges?

  • Yes, the second round in front of the producers is the same day as the first round of cuts. The only one that possibly might be the following day (if you audition on day 1) is in front of the tv judges. Remember though, they have a lot of cities to visit and don’t want these audition to last forever either! 

    Good luck!



  • You should be fine with Drivers License and SS card. Never hurts to have an extra form of ID, but you only need 2 and those are on the list of acceptable forms. Good luck!

  • laine.averie

    do all three rounds (vending lady-producers-celebrity judges) happen on that day, or does it span multiple days?

  • It should all happen the same day (although I would imagine things could potentially be different year to year and city to city). At most, I couldn’t imagine a person having to wait longer than one day to see a celebrity judge if you made it that far. Good luck!

  • cass

    I read a couple of places that the second and third rounds of auditions may take place days or weeks later near the first audition site (the 2nd round is for producers and the 3rd is for the actual judges). Do you not think that’s true? My problem is I don’t want to have to make the trip more than once.

  • I didn’t make it past the first round, so i can’t be 100% confident of what happens afterwards. Plus, things might change year to year. If you don’t want to make the trip more than once, however, you might not want to audition. Seems like having to put more than one day into American Idol is the goal! Good luck. ~AP

  • Its so funny that you remember anything that happened after you got into the arena. I was 17 when I auditioned. I am now 24. I havent auditioned since. I remember being so tired by the time I got into the arena I couldnt tell you what was going on. I do remember my audition though. I sang one song and they said sing another one. I froze.. I didnt have another one prepared “dummy me” so I stumbled through a verse of its so hard to say goodbye by boys 2 men. But in my defense, everyone in my line only sang one and they were like ok thanks next, so it threw me when they said sing another one. anyway after that I shed a tear walking across the field heading back to meet my dad and brother. By the time I reached our car I was so tired that I didnt care that I didnt make it through. I was ready to go home lol

  • Its so funny that you remember anything that happened after you got into the arena. I was 17 when I auditioned. I am now 24. I havent auditioned since. I remember being so tired by the time I got into the arena I couldnt tell you what was going on. I do remember my audition though. I sang one song and they said sing another one. I froze.. I didnt have another one prepared “dummy me” so I stumbled through a verse of its so hard to say goodbye by boys 2 men. But in my defense, everyone in my line only sang one and they were like ok thanks next, so it threw me when they said sing another one. anyway after that I shed a tear while walking across the field heading back to meet my dad and brother. By the time I reached our car I was so tired that I didnt care that I didnt make it through. I was ready to go home lol

  • I definitely remember being exhausted too when it was all said and done! But don’t think my memory is that great–I wrote that article right after the audition 🙂

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  • Kaelan

    That sucks. So.. at the first audition, you don’t necessarily have to be a good singer, you just have to “stand out”? They shouldn’t do that, everyone should have an equal chance. I guess they kind of have to, though. I’m sure the judges can’t see that many people.

  • You can’t do this if you’ve tried out for The Voice right? I heard it has something to do with the fact that you can’t have a backround with anything on American Idol

  • So is music really music anymore? I mean you’re saying it’s 90% bullshit to sell not music to sing…is that even if you release a song and stuff as well on your own? I plan on trying out for The Voice but the fact that everyone is saying that ‘music’s not music anymore’ is really starting to worry me.

  • Lexx

    This was EXACTLY what I needed! I’m auditioning this summer in Atlanta and this made my worries calm down (not knowing what will happen and stuff would mess me up! OCD ) but thanks for this!

  • Good luck Lexx! Let me know how it goes.

  • mairen

    Im thinking about auditioning for season 13 and i found this really helpful but i just wanted to know…. if the audition date posted is July17 i have to be there to register the 15 th?

  • Check this out friend:

    that link gives the date of registration for the different cities

  • Antelle

    Hey Paul!! How long should my song be when I first audition??

  • You won’t have time for a full song.. so start in the middle if you have to. Start with the chorus or second verse if need be (whichever part lets you shine) because you barely get 30 seconds on the first audition. Don’t choose a song with a big build up because you’ll be timed out before you get to the awesome part. Have like 2-3 “awesome parts” ready to go of different genre songs and make a last minute call based on the judges in front of you as to which song you start with. That way if they ask for another song (which they often do), you’ll be prepared with 2 others. The auditions after that.. have some full songs or longer parts to songs prepared (I didn’t make it that far!) so my advice just applies to the first round.

  • Good luck!

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  • james

    How much singing/show business should you have to even compete?
    As a benchmark? 5 years? 10 years? It seems the winners have
    at least 15 years of solid singing experience, the rest (talent, presentation)
    Fox Corp. fixes.

  • Not a clue, James. I haven’t actually watched American Idol since Season 2 (minus the few episodes of me looking for myself on Season 10). Wish I could help you more. Maybe someone else reading this blog has some insight for James?

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  • Benjamin

    I would like to sighn my 15year old son he has a amazing voice

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