Emily Skipper started singing as soon she could talk. More than a decade later, she's ready to take her passion to the next level.
“I don't ever remember a time when I wasn't doing something with singing,” said the 15-year-old James Island Charter High School sophomore, who has battled stage fright since she began performing. To overcome her fears, she began joining her father at open mic nights around town, including those at the Brick House Kitchen on Folly Road and Parson Jack's Cafe in West Ashley, before landing gigs at Awendaw Green and Rita's on Folly Beach.
“Even though it was hard, I realized that I really like playing in front of people,” said the singer, who plays guitar and varies her song selection between originals and favorites by Taylor Swift and Patsy Cline.
After almost heading to Greensboro, N.C., to audition for the “X-Factor” last year, Skipper finally will pursue her dream Tuesday when the Fox show hosts one of five national auditions at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Skipper said she follows the show with her sister, and she prefers the “X-Factor's” judging style and process to its peer, “American Idol.” For her audition, she's still deciding which song she'll sing (auditions must be sung a cappella), but “House of the Rising Sun” or a Grace Potter cover are in contention, she said.
The show's executive producer, Rob Wade, said that song selection is more important than many contestants realize. He explains that the producers constantly hear Etta James, Mary J. Blige and Adele at auditions, making those song choices less likely to stand out.
“We'll have 20 booths with producers listening to contestants for 15 straight hours,” explains Wade of the “X-Factor's” selection process. “You've got to think, 'What's going to make these people want to put me through?' Even if you've got a spectacular voice, if you're just like every other person singing the same songs, you're going to meld into the background. You've got to be clever with your song choice and make sure that it really works with your voice, and dress appropriately so that you look and sound like a star.”
The “X-Factor” already has produced its share of pop stars, most notably the boy band One Direction, which got its start on the original U.K. version of the program.
Founded by Simon Cowell, famous in the U.S. as the brutally critical judge on “American Idol” until leaving that position in 2010, the “X-Factor” has completed two seasons since debuting stateside in 2011.
Winners receive a recording contract worth $5 million, making the payout the largest of any televised talent show in history.
Unlike “American Idol,” performers of nearly any age are allowed to compete, with categories for teens between 12 and 17 and another for anyone over age 25. Groups also are permitted to enter; last season, the five girls of Fifth Harmony made a run into the final three before losing out to 38-year-old country singer Tate Stevens.
Auditions for Season Three began in Los Angeles on March 6, before traveling to Charleston and then proceeding to New Orleans, Long Island, N.J., and Denver.
Although “American Idol” has held auditions in Charleston before, this week's tryout is the first in the Lowcountry for the “X-Factor.” It also marks the smallest metropolitan area they'll visit.
“There's a vast amount of talent around your area,” Wade said.
Hopefuls who make it through the first day are called back for a second round of auditions Wednesday in front of senior producers. Those that again succeed earn a “golden ticket” to the judge's round, where they'll audition in front of a full audience and the celebrity judge panel. Apart from Cowell, this year's judges have yet to be announced, although previous judges have included Britney Spears, Paula Abdul and L.A. Reid.
The “X-Factor” auditions are a regional draw, and hopefuls from across the Southeast will be in town to sing their way to stardom. In the first round of tryouts in L.A., Wade said they surpassed turnout from the first two seasons, with 10,000 people turning up for a shot to sing in front of the producers.
Because the producers want to send anyone with a chance at winning to the judges' round, there's no quota or cap for each audition.
“It's a very inexact science,” Wade said. “The extraordinarily talented people get put through to the next round.”
To improve their chances, Wade said it's important to be willing to work hard to prepare.
“This whole journey is about people learning to be a pop star, and pop stars work incredibly hard,” he explains. “They make everything look effortless, but it's because they've done thousands and thousands of hours of practice.”
Season Three's auditions conclude in Denver in May, after which contestants will proceed to the judges' rounds. The show begins airing in September.
Even though a contestant may be among thousands of other hopefuls, Wade emphasizes that auditioning for the “X-Factor” is still a unique and rare opportunity for any hopeful singer.
“The producers are top quality A&R (artists and repertoire) people. They're the real deal when it comes to looking for acts,” claims Wade. “Normally, you might be able to send a mixtape, but you'd never get a face-to-face audition with someone like this. This is a chance to be there in the present and make an impression.”
Young hopeful Skipper said she plans to arrive early on Tuesday and try to “focus on not over-thinking it.”
“I've got my family and some friends coming to support me,” she said. “I'm going in with a positive attitude and I'll do my best.”