AGT: Season 2017

For Season 2016, I auditioned as a mix of silly and serious.

I did not get rich and famous.

The plan

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results

For 2016, I auditioned with a mix of serious and silly. The "judge/producer-in-the-room" enjoyed my performance, but I didn't get called back for the next round. Why not?

My theories:

If it was theory1: there's nothing I can do about that.

If it was theory2 or 3: I need to do something else - just focus on the serious music.

To differentiate between theories2 and 3: when I audition, I'll say on the paperwork, "My preference is to mix silly and serious." Maybe I can talk to a producer and audition as the Darkwinner. If they just like my music, I can do that too. (I've learned that the mask is just a prop, it is not a crutch.)

The music

My goal for the first audition isn't to get everyone to vote for me on their first exposure. Without the silly, I have to distinguish myself just with the music. (Pretty easy for someone like me anyway.)

I'll audition in Jacksonville, FL. I'm expecting hundreds of kiddie Disney-wannabes from Orlando - so by having a grown-up music/sound - that should immediately differentiate me from the crowd.

My piece is "opera-blues with irregular time signatures of modern music." I'm pretty sure I'll be the only one there doing that. And I'll be singing a tragic aria w/ blues-ish rhythm guitar - which hasn't been seen on the show before.

If they play my audition tape for the purist opera judges of "Italy's Got Talent"? Well, they will hate what I have done to their beloved Verdi. But they might play it for an American expert who might say "It's not my kind of music, but I get what he's trying to do, and I'm behind anything that attempts to reinvigorate the fossilized classic music world."

The music part 2

For the call back audition, I will complement my first audition of tragic-aria-with-guitar by performing a love-aria-with-piano (and yes, some form of mentalism also.) I hope they can provide an acoustic piano for the second audition (I've seen a black grand piano on previous seasons' judge cut auditions) - because the piece sounds horrible with even the highest-quality electronic keyboard.

I'm hoping to do a silly-and-serious first audition, because my plan for the second audition is silly-and-serious 45 seconds of talk, and 45 seconds of a German love aria... to Mel B. (Hopefully, Heidi will say something an hilarity will ensue. If not, maybe "random response Mel B" will do something funny with the cue I give her. And if not, I have other solo humor to fill the 45 seconds of talk time.)

The music part 3

For the live shows: more variety. Not just comedy and mentalism, but other talents as well.

I also plan to make the music more accessible/popular. If you only sing blues, you sound boring/predictable by Round5. My plan is gradually build my fan base. Folks who enjoy classical-blues might be few, but they will (hopefully) stay loyal as I branch out to other styles as the season progresses. It doesn't matter if you come in 1st for the quarter-finals; my plan is position myself so I will come in first for the finals. I will use my most "popular" song for the finale - and maybe my 2 octave runs for the finale as well. (Five rounds of melismas also get boring.) The producers already know I can do 2 octave runs from my "Grapevine" audition of 2016, and that wasn't enough to get through, so I'll musically distinguish myself in other ways. And surprise the audience with my big music finish in the finale.

Do I plan to "be a fighter" with Simon Cowell?

Probably not really for the taped auditions. Probably so for the first round of live voting.

While producers encourage auditionees (behind the scenes, or even in official TV interviews) that they should fight back, most auditionees know it's a big mistake to be portrayed as a fighter on TV. (What producer professional wants to work with high-maintenance talent?)

Previously, I knew that I could stand out by "being a fighter." If the goal is to get signed? Don not fight back. But my secondary goal (then) was to "get exposure." So if I couldn't get my primary goal of winning the grand prize, I decided to win my secondary goal of getting exposure by giving producers what they want and fight back. (After the judges say "No" you're not going to change their minds by fighting back, so you're not going to get the primary win of coming in first. But you can fight back if you want the "secondary win" of exposure...well, at least that kind of exposure.) I actually got quite the reputation for being a fighter, and (initially) I was not even trying that hard. Later, when I was trying...well, it was epic.

I learned that producers "say" they want you to fight back, but they really mean they want you to fight-back-then-lose. (And if you win, they edit your tape out of context to make it look like you lost, so the judges look good.)

Ideally, the judges will never be mean to me.

If things go bad during my auditions with Simon (ie, like Nigel, he hurls so much venom that I have to reply or look/be spineless on tape), my plan is to fight-back-then-lose. (My not-really-fight-back planned line is: "Simon you haven't had any success since Kelly Clarkson!" Then Simon can mention One Direction, or Il Divo or whatever act he wants to plug for later in 2017.) I prefer an outright win, but that is my plan, if my repuatation has proceeded me for the taped shows.

If Simon wants a real battle-of-wits, it will have to be during the live-shows where no editing is possible. (Ah, the energy of live TV. Simon and I don't use foul language - so it's less a risk of FCC violations, and more a risk of going over time.) My first live act is designed to please some, and infuriate others (including probably Simon.) So Simon will (probably) say something mean, then I will have a comeback. Hopefully that will be the end. But if Simon has a comeback-to-my-comeback, then I will say my comeback-to-his-comeback and it might be a very long show. (Hopefully the producers will have a sketch to cut, or permission to pre-empt the following program....)

Of course, if Simon wants to be the "nice guy judge" he can always say something nice about my first live performance. I plan to take my cues from Simon.

Why audition in South Carolina?

Initially, I was going to audition in Jacksonville. With all the kiddies dominating talent TV shows (and even winning AGT in 2016), there might be a lot of stage-mom-drama from Orlando aspirants. And while that might be interesting to experience first-hand, my real motivation is to stand our with a more mature musicality compared to all the kiddie acts.

Life didn't work out, so I'll be auditioning in South Carolina. I'm sure the top 10% in South Carolina is as good as the top 10% anywhere else, and by auditioning in South Carolina I can stand out from the average crowd. (There's also less risk that the judges will be "kiddie experts" and miss my musicality, or that they're ONLY looking for kiddies in that town.)

Why audition again?

Previously, my goal was: It'd be great if I win, but if I get exposure that's okay too. And if I don't get exposure, at least I will have a fun story to tell at parties.

Since then, I've learned that exposure isn't that great or useful. In (past) times, TV was the best way to get exposure. At the current time, I've gotten exposure through the internet, and I've learned exposure doesn't always translate into MONEY. (I connected with over a million people, and didn't make a penny. I did create a lot of VALUE by teaching future health care professionals how to diagnose heart murmurs. I knew that in that worst case scenario, I'd still be doing some good... I thought I could be satisfied with that, but nope, I'm still looking.) And while I can create some value on my own, that value is only sustainable if it translates into money.

When the startup failed, I decided it was time to go for a stable (if obscure) financial life. (In a live classroom, I'd probably "only reach under 50 students a year" vs "the millions on the internet", but at least I get personal connections with the students.)

AGT is my last (long) shot at fame-and-fortune. I've always done my job, hit my numbers, and achieved my goals. But nobody can really make it on their own, and I haven't gotten the break to make the connections to get to the next step. I'm hoping to win AGT and get to that next step. I've had enough exposure and fun stories, now it's time to win.

What's so special about your audition piece?

It's opera blues with irregular time signatures of modern music. (Yeah, I know, everyone seems to be doing that of late :)

Since my first band, I've been interested in mixing genres. Lately, I've been leaning to a "re-modern" (vs modern or post-modern) style. I also like the aria because it's subtle/layered: not just a sad song, there's love and hope as well. (So it's more nuanced than your average pop song. I liked Grapevine because it wasn't just "Sad, I lost my gal" - it is "Sad, I lost my gal AND betrayed, my love isn't honest with me.")

Vocally, there are no 2 octave runs (but Verdi does switch between harmonic minor and melodic minor.) Grapevine showed off my melodic skills; this piece shows off my harmonic skills. (I'm NOT just repeating strumming the same 4 chord pattern as I sing - the non-cliche guitar progression I've arranged interests folks who notice such things.)

Guitar-wise: I'm not going to out finger-wiggle the finger-wigglers. Instead, I'm showing off my creative brain with innovative fingerpicking techniques. (He's using fingerpicks for up AND down strokes? Wow, never seen that before!) When you flat-pick a heavy metal lead, other egotistacl guitarists will tear you down to "prove" you're not as good as them. I think fingerpickers are a more/supportive lot - they just enjoy the music (more than their ego) and they'd appreciate a new approach to fingerstyle playing and might even adapt it to their own bag of tricks....

How do you hope the auditions will go?

For the cattle-call round, I'm not expecting much. When I register, I will say, "I am just auditioning as Victor, but if I get thru to the next round, I hope to talk to a producer and audition for the televised round as a mix of silly and serious." (Last year, they also had on-site paperwork where you can tell them about your background.) Then I play my opera-blues-modern piece (about 1:15 at 136bpm, it might be 1:25 if I think the audience is connecting at a slower tempo), and hope to get a call back.

If I get a call back, I say, "The website says the cattle call audition should be 1:30, but on TV most acts are about 2:00. Do I have time to do a mix of silly/serious?"

If they say "Yes, do silly and serious, but you can only have 1:30" - then I will do 0:45 seconds of silly, the 0:45 of "Grapevine." So it would be like how I auditioned in 2016.

If they say "Yes, do silly and serious, and you can have 2:00" -then I will do 0:45 seconds of silly, and 1:15 of opera-blues-modern. (They can cut the insturmental intro in editing if it goes over 1:15.)

If they say "No, just replicate what you did at the cattle-call." The I will do opera-blues-modern piece, and use the same (non-mask) outfit I wear for the cattle call.

But we will see how things go.


How did the South Carolina audition go?

Normally, I say: "I have no idea. When I perform/audition, I just focus on connecting with my audience, and do not remember details about my performance."

What I learned in SC: That is only true if things are going well.

Things did not go well in SC. The problems began with a 12 hour drive before arriving at the venue - so I was already exhuasted to start with. (I have driven for 16 hrs - so I thought 12hrs wouldn't be as bad. But no, you're still tired after 12hrs.)

I tuned my guitar in the hall before while waiting for the audition room to admit my group. In the audition room? It was colder, and more humid. (I knew if I could feel the envirionmental difference, it was definitely enough to affect my guitar's tuining as well.) I let my guitar acclimate for the 1st two acts. Then as people were clapping, I tuned my lo E string. (Even if my amp wasn't on, singers might still hear the strings w/ my semi-hollow guitar.) Then my A string when I could. Then it was my turn.

I gave my intro, did a test strum, and had "volume problems." (The audition room in San Jose was a larger conference room, like in SC, but SC had carpeting on the floors and walls which sucked up all the sound, reflecting nothing back to the performer to monitor their sound.) I adjusted the volume - too loud, too soft again, a bit too loud...close enough to ballpark acceptable.

During my audition, I was not "in the zone." Volume problems contributed (it's hard to perform on stage when your monitor cuts out - this was a similar feeling.) A greater contribution was my guitar was out of tune. (It's difficult [impossible?] to perform "in the zone" when you are not sure what string you should be harmonizing with...) The subtler problem was my exhaustion. I probably should have said: could I have a few minutes to tune and adjust volume before starting? The producer in the room might not have liked it, but I doubt she would have said "No."

Is this the last time you will audition?

Evidently not.

My old feeling was "If I show them silly, and I show them serious, and they still do not call me back...what more can I show them if auditioned again?" But in SC, I did not show them serious, so I have still have something to show.

I'll audition in Memphis tomorrow. It's a 6 hr drive, so exhaustion should (hopefully) be less of an issue. I will sing acapella - to avoid guitar "sound check" issues.

What song? I decided to dust off "Roll Into Me" my old American Idol audition piece. I chose it to complement "Grapevine." For the American Idol auditions, if the judges asked for a second piece, I would show them something simple and sweet to give an idea of my stylistic range. AGT knows I can do Grapevine and Opera, so I'll show them something diffrent. (Besides, I have a better shot at dusting off an old audition piece in 48 hrs, than making an entirely new song even close to audition ready...)

What's so special about "Roll Into Me"?

Here is what I wrote on the back of my paperwork at Memphis:

This is an 85 second a capella piece in AABA form. (It needs the concluding A section to complete the musical thought, so I hope not to get stopeed after the "chorus.")

In Charleston (SC) and San Jose, I did more complex pieces, opera+ blues guitar, and "Grapevine" switched between major and minor keys.

This is a more recent piece, and contrasts by being more simple and fun. It shows a lyric/sweet voice tone, but it also has a range over one octave, and several long phrases without rests/breaths. Really though, this piece should just sound like fun music to the average listener. (It's my non-audition audition piece.)

My preference is to do my variety act from 2016 w/ 45 seconds of comedy and mentalism as my "stage identity", better known as "The Darkwinner." Producers are alwasy interested in how I ended up doing music while wearing a mask. It's a joke that keeps going too far. When I started my last band, I didn't want my students to learn their teacher was a musician by night.

How did the Memphis audition go?

The good news? I don't know! That's right, I was focusing on the audience and not on my next word/note, so at least the audition was not a complete disaster like in SC!

Seriously though, it went well enough. Our judge-in-the-room was a music fan, and she already loved my audition piece. (To most, Del Amitri is kind of obscure. It's not current enough for heavy radio rotation, not old enough to be a classic.)

During my audition, my "Darkwinner sense" said she was enjoying a favorite tune for the first two A sections. So I relaxed and just focused on keeping her entertained. It might not have been "pitch perfect" - but connecting with my audience is my primary goal for a live performance. (With a large audience, some are responding to the emotion, some to pitch perfect performance, so I can do both, depending on what "they" are wanting to hear.)

For the B section - I arranged the piece to show off my musicality. I did not resolve to the tonic/root in the melody, in order to increase the anticipation of resolution when we return to the final A section. When I got to the B section, my Darkwinner sense said the judge was feeling: "hey, that's not how the song goes." But my prep from 8 yrs ago allowed me to weather her distress (I once had to audition a piece after a only few hours of limited prep. I modified they lyrics, which distressed an observer, and that threw me off. And because the piece had not been fully ingrained in me, I was not able to recover. "Roll Into Me" has been ingrained into me, even if I prepped it 8 yrs ago! I do wish I had more than 2 days to polish it. If I had auditioned in Jacksonville, I would have had a month to prep before SC. But my first audition was in SC, so I only had a couple days to prep for Memphis. I was not exhausted, but I did feel tired - I had driven 12 hrs to and 12 hrs from SC, then 6 hrs to Memphis with only one day of rest in between.)

On return to the A section, I reconnected with the judge, and I could sense she was enjoying the song again. (I wanted to increase anticipation for the resolution at the A section, which is why I changed the B section. I did not know that there would be greater distress because the judge would already know the song - but the greater distress led to a greater resolution :)

The judge also liked the "ending tag" I created, which ended the song on a sweet/lyric note. (Which contrasts with the angst of Grapevine and Verdi.) She did not notice how I edited the first 2 A sections to flow better for an a capella arrangement, which means those edits were seamless as I desired.

The good news was that this audition piece did not feel like "I was on stage and the monitors cut out, so I have to muddle thru somehow." (Which was the uncomfortable feeling at the SC audition). For a live performance, I care less about "pitch perfect" technique and more about emotional connection. And unlike the muddle of SC, my "Darkwinner sense" said I connected with my audience in Memphis.

Any new thoughts on what you would perform for Simon, Heidi, Mel and Howie?

My old plan was to start with a small/dedicated following and slowly grow my voter base as the season progressed. (Before the live shows, it is not about getting votes anyway.) Opera blues was a way to connect with the "cool/fun" opera lovers as a beginning voter base. I thought "everyone else" would just assume "He sings opera, so he must be good. He's not for me, but he must be a good singer." Then as the season continued, I could convince those fans that I also can sing songs that do connect with them.

Unfortunately, opera-blues is "too cool" as a concept. Based on reactions from fellow contestants (and my Darkwinner sense of the SC judge) when people hear that I will do opera blues, their expectations sky-rocket. "I have always wanted to get into opera, and this song might be my chance!" Unfortunately, the song was never designed to win the masses over to opera. (I think I might try that one day though. "Pop arrangements" of opera often trivialize the song, so it loses the complex nuances that make opera enjoyable as opera. And those same complex nuances can make it hard for newcomers to appreciate the aria.)

The "hi expectations" for opera blues means when "average-and-above" music fans hear my song, they feel disappointed that I failed to convert them into opera lovers. (The "average-and-below" music fans will probably just assume I'm good if I sing opera.) But once I disappoint the "average-and-above" fans, it'll be harder to win them over later.

So my new plan is "Grapevine" as my primary piece. (I have been polishing it for weeks as my old backup, if the judges ask me to sing something else after they hear my opera-blues. So "Grapevine" has been TV ready for a while, so it is definitely good to go as my new primary piece.) My new backup piece is "Roll Into Me." (It should be TV ready if I polish it for another week.) Opera-blues goes on the backburner, and might come out if future occasions warrant.

Of course, "Grapevine" is only 45 seconds long. So it could be an odd audition if that is all I perform. But hopefully the producers will allow me to audtiion as "The Darkwinner" and I'd use "Grapevine" as the strong finish to my full variety act.

Do you have any suggestions for how AGT could run their auditions better?

AGT has plenty of auditionees, so they can afford to leave things the same. But if they want the BEST guitar talent (as opposed to those who are hardy enough to cope with non-ideal situations), they could do more to help the talent shine through.

Singers can monitor their performance through bone conduction (and their ear bones aren't that far from their mouths), which is why it was funny in the American Idol Birmingham blooper reel when the girl blamed the floor for her bad singing.

Guitarists monitor their performance through reflected sound from the room. (A solid top guitar has the top vibrating out towards the audience. The sound hits the walls and bounces back to the guitarists.) Hard flat floors/walls reflect sound better, and it's easier to monitor yourself in a small room. (Vocalists should be expected to fill any reasonable sized room with their sound. Guitarists? Not so much.)

If acoustic guitarists don't like their sound balance, they instinctively adjust how hard they strum to match their voice in their given environment. Electric guitarists? If we don't like the guitar sound, we instinctively fiddle with knobs.

AGT's website FAQ says that guitar amps often overpower the singing. (So it is better to have a small portable amp.) But even small portable amps can overpower singing. The culprit is that if you have a "Dead" room (carpet on the floor and walls and ceiling) - the guitarist needs to turn up the volume to hear himself. (Acoustic guitarists have no easy volume knob, so they just make do based on their performing experience.)

I didn't want my amp to overpower my singing, so I set my volume to the minimum needed to monitor my performance. But when I auditioned, the carpets sucked up that minimum amount of volume, and I couldn't hear my amp.

So suggestion #1: Just like you have a dance and keyboardist room, you should have a separate room for guitarists with reflective walls and floors. Both acoustic and electric guitarists will thank you.

After my SC debacle, I noticed that the guitarist in my Memphis audition group was also planning to surreptiously tune. (Luckily, she didn't get to start and have 2 string at A440 and her other string be 12 cents sharp. It's better to have all your strings 10 cents sharp (+/-2 cents) - so there is maybe a 0.04% difference between your most out of tune strings. If your loE string is at A440 and your hiE string is 12 centrs sharp - all your chords will clash horribly.

So suggestion #2: At the beginning, when the judge explains how the audition is going to work (go to the X on the floor and introduce yourself), the judge can also say, "And guitarists, if you want a minute to tune after your name is called, that's okay, just let me know." Everyone in the room can sense that the judge is trying to keep the auditions moving efficiently along, and no one wants to annoy a judge by slowing things down unnecessarily. (Even after the judge offered the Memphis guitarist time to tune, the guitarist declined!)

Suggestion #3 (and this might be a stretch) Give guitarists some time for a sound check. If guitarists get a separate room as per Suggestion #1, you can give them a couple minutes for their instruments to acclimate to the room. While they're waiting, they can stand on the X and ask the other auditionees - "How does my volume sound? Good balance?" Or you can have the camera person do the sound check. This might not be fair to the solo singers (who would also want to sound check the room before the audition) but there are 10 singers to 1 guitarist. Also, singers have bone conduction to rely on.... Suggestion#3 might be asking for too much, but providing a guitarist a live room to showcase their talent is no different than providing dancers a wood floor.

Any suggestions for future aspiring contestants?

I would recommend to practice. Not just your piece, but your piece in a variety of performance environments.

Guitar amplifiers are designed to be directional. (Stand in front of your amp, you get feedback, stand beside it and no problem.) If your judge is 10ft away, your amp has to travel 10ft out, and reflect off the wall, and travel 10ft back to you (for a total of 20ft.) If your amp sounds good to you at 20ft, it will be too loud for the judge at 10ft. So I practiced with an amp that sounded too soft too me.

But if your room lacks hard reflective walls, you will not hear your guitar. So practice in "hard/live" rooms, but also practice in situations where you can not monitor your sound. (Stand in the middle of an open field.)

If you play acoustic guitar, you instinctively adapt to your environs. You need to get that adaptable with an electric amp, and also be able to play decently entirely from muscle memory in a worst case scenario. In hindsight, that's how I should have practiced, and that's how I recommend future auditionees should practice as well.

Why are you thinking of doing a video audition?

Why not? Besides, they have not heard my current "TV ready" version of "Grapevine" in 2017, so now they will have access to my current "first choice" of song to perform/audition on.

The website said they wanted a non-highly-edited audition piece, so I sang "Grapevine" in one take. (I also slowed the tempo so it was 1 minute long, and with 1 minute of talk intro, it brings me to the desired 2-3 minute length.) I managed to tell my story clearly in 1 minute; I showed I could delivered memorized lines and hit my marks - and while it might seem kind of boring/news-anchor-ish -- if they want me to be interesting, they should get the Darkwinner. For the video audition, I was very Clark Kent. (And even my Clark Kent performance is more interesting than others I have seen.)

The video showed more resourcefulness than polish. It is tough to do a serviceable video with a smartphone camera (you can see the shot blur as the software autofocus shifts as I sing "Grapevine"), and it is time-consuming to edit in Windows Movie Maker, and Audacity is not designed as a multi-view audio tool. But I gave them the non-polished video they wanted (so they can have fun creatively polishing my diamond-in-the-rough with good camera angles etc) and if they watch the 2 minute video, they will know my background and what I can do.

How would you compare your AGT experiences?

I used to think actors were smarter than other artist types because they had to analyze character development over time. (Musicians need to express with limited tools, and dancers need much discipline. But there are exceptions.) My new POV is that (good) magicians are the most perceptive - the San Jose judge noticed EVERYTHING in my act, and he "got" much of the humor as a result.

In South Carolina I think my judge was more of a TV producer who was looking for good personality/story. In Memphis, the judge was very professional - we were the last act (she had returned from dinner) and she still seemed as enthusiastic as if she had not endured a day of mediocre auditions.

For the web/video audition? Not sure. I can't help but feel I submitted to a black hole with an auto-email respond feature. I do think if they are looking for reasons to call me back for the next round - they've got it.

Do you think you will get called back to the next round?

It depends.

If the producers liked my variety act from 2016, then my "Grapevine" video audition gives them reason to call me and we can do that. (In retrospect, I do like the slower-tempo 1 min version better.)

If the producers hated my South Carolina debacle audition so much that they will never call me back ever? Then, no, I will not get called back. (But if one bad audition ruins you, why offer multiple opportunities?)

If the producers hated my South-Carolina-debacle audition, appreciated the improved connection-to-audience in Memphis (even though the piece was rehearsed for less than 2 days, I was still exhuasted and probably not pitch perfect), and then were impressed with the audio when I tried a 3rd time with a online-submitted audition (showing who I really am)-- well , they should call me back.

Ultimately, it depends on the producers. I have shown them my silly (in 2016), I have shown them my serious, and I have showed them my tenacity. All 3 are impressive. But you can never tell if producers are actually looking at my auditions, or what the producers are looking for.

If I was a producer, I would call an act like me back. Some producers look for acts that can be consistently mediocre. As for me, I know there are 99 other acts like that, but it is very rare to find an act that has the potential to be truly memorable. I have prepared "Grapevine" and "Roll into Me" (as of this week) so they are TV ready; it would be great to actually perform them for TV.

One thing is for certain. If I do get called back for the next round, I will get a credit card so I can sleep in a hotel room the night before the auditions :)

Will you audition for 2018?

Weeell... why not? I've tried "silly/serious mix", "serious only" - but haven't done "silly only."

I am still hoping to do serious music (Because the silly makes the serious better, and the serious makes the silly funnier.)

But I can do "only silly" if that's what it takes.... Back to Homepage