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I auditioned for America’s Got Talent three times this year.  With three different groups.  Each group had it’s own path to the contest, and each had a different result.

So now I’m going to give you the raw, unadulterated, inside scoop on the whole process!


Oh, that’s right, I signed an excrutiatingly explicit non-disclosure agreement.  (Signed it three times, as it turns out).  So I can’t talk about it!

There are some things I can reveal, but none about results, and probably not really any about the inner workings of the competition.

However, there is information revealed outside of the official process, and gleaned from other sources, that I can discuss (if the AGT lawyers get me, I’ll let you know.  Do they let you blog from prison?).

Three groups: moosebutter was contacted directly by some AGT casting people.  They regularly contact established a cappella groups about coming on the show.  This is the third time moosebutter has been contacted.  Well, it all went through, we were flown to LA, auditioned this morning and… because we made it to the on-camera round, I can’t tell you what happened.  I can tell you that Mosaic was there, too, and that if you’re going to spend six hours in an overhot overcrowded waiting room, hanging out with the witty, talented, down-to-earth studs of Mosaic is not a bad way to pass the time.

The King4, a quartet that sings Elvis songs a cappella, was seen by someone at the LA Harmony Sweepstakes.  They told someone at AGT, they called.  Come to a private audition in Vegas, they said.  Okay, I said.  We auditioned on a Wednesday and it went well.  Everyone loves Elvis, right?

(I’d like to note that it is simultaneously hilarious and nerve wracking when someone from NBC calls and says they want my group to audition.  Right.  My group… because I automatically know which of my dozen groups they are talking about.  Oh, they clarify, we saw the group at the Harmony Sweepstakes.  Great.  Narrows it down to half a dozen).

Wonder Voice, shortly after competing in the Rocky Mountain Harmony Sweepstakes, auditioned for a talent show in Las Vegas.  Got in, didn’t win (we did get approximately four out of 400 votes), but one of the judges does entertainment for the casino chain that was going to have AGT’s Vegas audition round, and she said she’d get all the acts in to audition and she did and we did!  We auditioned the day after King4, with 3 of the 4 same people.  Because we crossover casts, which was reeeeeallly hard for the producers to wrap their heads around.  Wait, you are the same singer, but you sing different music? 


After the Wonder Voice audition, the producer lady made pains to come out and talk to us.  She gave some really interesting info about the competition, about their position and perspective, and about the workings of the show.

She first made sure to emphasize that if we did not get on the show, it’s not nec. because of talent.  They liked us, but there are so, so many factors.  The huge majority of all auditions they get are singers – odds stacked against other singers right away.  They get tons of a cappella groups – another factor.  They audition in a dozen cities, they have a bunch of lower-level producers looking for talent, all of them bringing in acts.  And the reality is, there are just a limited number of slots for the show.

If they do like you, then they have to license music (my wife described the licensing process here), schedule an audition, fit that schedule in with the other groups, coordinate travel.  Then, if you do finally actually go to the on-camera auditions, there’s no guarantee you’ll even get to do your audition because they still might run out of time.  If you get in front of the real judges for the on-camera audition, they might be tired, they might be hungry, they might be happy or sad, they might be on the 18th consecutive day of sitting through 8 hour days of auditions.

Also, it’s a reality television show.  Their responsibility is to one thing and one thing only: to make good television.  The judges are there because the producers think viewers want to watch them, not because they are necessarily good judges.  Judges act in certain ways, and say certain things, because that is what gets ratings.  The competition itself has little to do with actual talent and performance. 

Part of that is the set-up: some acts just don’t come off well in a cattle-call audition environment, regardless of how good they are.  Some acts can’t work in 90 seconds.  Some acts shine in 90 seconds, but can’t exist in longer increments.  Or, and this is the fatal flaw of the AGT in particular, some legitimately great acts, that could legitimately perform and succeed on a Las Vegas stage (the stated prize for winning the show), will look great for the first show, but after that, they look flawed… because they only do one thing. 

That can work in Vegas, as an opening act or as part of a variety show.  Doesn’t work for a week-to-week television program.  Unfortunately, those one-time-wow-did-you-see-that acts get on the show because they work in 90 seconds, and great acts that could bring the goods with variety and unique performances week-to-week get left out because they don’t look impressive in a 90-second spot.  And many of those acts could actually headline a full show in Vegas.  A full show, though, is 90 minutes, not 90 seconds.  It takes a different skill set to command a stage for 90 minutes.

That’s about all I think I can disclose without breaching all three copies of my signed contract.  Not that I really disclosed anything… pretty much everything above is known to anyone who cares to read up on the process.  If you want more enlightening information, look up the non-disclosure agreement terms online.  They are right on NBC’s web site, if it’s audition season.  I’m sure you could find them elsewhere. 


"forever and throughout the universe"

And here's the American Idol release, for more legal hilarity!


Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

No kidding, Amy

The House Jacks and Vybration took one look at that contract a couple years ago (when the show first started) and didn't go any further. Makes sense for a new group of new singers, or people who are willing to sign away pretty much all rights and live in a hotel room without phones, computers and cell phones for as long as necessary (!)

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

Contract... woahs.

Deke, Amy, yes the contracts are heavy stuff.  We went into it with a complete knowledge of the implications.  I've turned down offers in years past because of what I saw, or thought I saw.  However, I know a _lot_ of people who have done these reality/competition shows in the recent years.  The chances of getting far enough that the company could exercise their contractual rights is so, so slim, and weighed against the potential benefit of exposure - ANY exposure - it just seemed like we'd be crazy _not_ to try.

Any group that wants to make it big now has to have nationwide media exposure.  HAS to.  And when I say big, I mean big.  You simply cannot make it huge without the media.  You can be successful, sure, but the big time is reserved for people with name recognition, and you don't get name recognition unless you are on tv.  Radio doesn't even work anymore.

Example 1: Rockapella.   How many years of professional touring have they milked out of an early-90's kid's PBS show?  Example 2: Mosaic: they were in the audition room with me, _after_ having won MTV's top pop group.  They are going for any and every opportunity to get themselves on tv because they know that's how to expand their market.  They don't care about the awards, the prizes, the titles.  It's all about millions of people across the country seeing them, so they can sell CDs and sell tickets.

Sure, there's the risk of being managed by a mega company, but as one of my singers said as he signed his release, "Yes, I know that they now have the right to control my career if I win.  But at least it would be a career!"   

Final example: Terry Fator.  Who is a better ventriloquist: Jeff Dunham or Terry Fator?  Opinions will vary, since both have their strengths.  Who is funnier?  I'd say Dunham.  Middle-Americans who have never heard of Dunham will say Fator, because they have heard of him.  Who is better suited for Vegas?  Dunham, hands down.  Who has the $100 million contract in Vegas?  Fator.  Why?  Because millions of middle-America tourists know his name and will buy tickets to his show in Vegas.  Never mind the talent, the skill, the years of hard work, the fairness, the balance, anything.  Fator won the show, he had the firestorm of publicity and recognition, wham bam he's the rich man.

Here's the rub: Fator's contract in Vegas has nothing whatsoever to do with the contract he signed with AGT.  One year after winning the competition, AGT released him from his contract because they couldn't get him enough good gigs to make it worth his while.  Someone else stepped in, knew how to do it, inked the big contract.  So sign the release, run the risk... is it really that much of a risk?

The last thing that always seems to make people pass on doing one of these shows: "they might make us look bad!"  Contractually, yes, they are allowed to make you look bad.  They are allowed to re-edit and take something that made you look good and make you look bad.  Is that reason to not do the show?  Tell me this: who was on the show last season?  The season before that?  Who looked bad?  There have been a cappella groups on every season (I think)... how did they sound?  Were they good?  Were they bad?  How many people nationwide know how they looked or sounded?  Contrast that with the right to say WE WERE ON AGT in your press kits, to put the show footage on your demo video.  People remember the show name, they DON'T remember the details of the show.  Even if you look terrible on the show, in 3 months no one will remember and you'll still be ahead!

I'm all about the exposure

regardless of the hurdles... or most of 'em.

And have done many of these shows in the past with the Jacks.

However, it seems the legal paperwork and restrictions have gone through the roof, and I just can't remain out of touch with the outside world for a month. If that weren't a requirement and potential situation, the rest is workable.

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com


I don't mind not being on the show, because whichever group(s) make it, it's great for all of us. Kick down those floodgates, gentlemen!

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

the show name works...

Our Acappella festival FIRST made money with The Fault Line as headliners... Why? "As seen on AGT" was a HUGE buzz in our community. It opened the door for them. Once they got to town, they did have a great show and were wonderful to work with... but AGT opened the door. I have to say that as a choir director in middle- and high-school, these reality shows are helpful to my cause. I used to say "why can't there be Monday Night Football for choir?" Now there is - American Idol. Then we get AGT, BGT, the MTV stuff, NBC coming on line and GLEE. Choir's not so dorky anymore :)

Brody McDonaldDirector of Choirs, Kettering Fairmont High SchoolDirector, Eleventh Hour

Fairly standard...

In actuality, this short release contract (the "Idol" example posted above) as well as the AGT one, are really not bad. Having drafted a number of these myself, I can honestly say that both the content and language are pretty much standard in the entertainment industry across the board, regardless of medium.  And since their lawyers are probably getting paid by the word, these contracts are far more verbose and convoluted than need be.  Thus, many times, a rather straightforward contract will appear to be far worse than it really is -- i.e., such references as "throughout the universe."  Since intellectual property rights are so extensive and complicated, this sort of language is necessary.  All it's really saying is that the ownership rights will apply globally.  This will give the owner of the rights the legal standing to pursue any sort of copyright violations anywhere.  But bear in mind, these short releases are not requiring you to sign away rights you already have.  You're merely granting rights to the show/producer allowing them to utilize your image, name, and audition performance in direct connection with the particular show "throughout the universe" -- such as in episodes, commercials, or print ads.

Arguably, the lengthier subsequent contracts will be far more restrictive.  In fact, some of them are even downright scary (I've seen both the Idol and AGT contracts, and I've drafted a number of them for major movie studios).  But even then, you're not signing over any intellectual property rights that you currently have.  Despite this though, committing to such a contract is a MAJOR undertaking and not to be taken lightly. However, NEVER underestimate the power of a good lawyer.  You'd be surprised how often provisions in contracts such as these are negotiable -- even though you'd think they wouldn't be, considering you're dealing with a major corporate entity.  Most important though, always remember that even after you audition, you (or your lawyer) can always review the long contract (and it WILL be long) and elect not to pursue the endeavor any further.

Bottom line, I think Tim is right.  In this day and age, with the way the entertainment industry machine runs, shows like this can really get a group off the ground in a way that probably wouldn't happen otherwise.  So get yourself a good lawyer, and GO FOR IT!  Just my legal 2 cents.

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