I attended a live taping of The X-Factor “San Francisco” auditions at the Oracle Arena in Oakland in June of 2012. As you can imagine, when the SF auditions aired on television on September 12th & 13th, everything that happened in the arena did not make on air. In fact, my taping that lasted three hours was one of six scheduled for San Francisco. A lot of interesting (and some not-so-interesting) stuff was left on the cutting room floor.
I’m sure the question on yours and everyone’s mind is: How was Britney Spears actually as a judge, free of the wizardry of TV editors?
On television, Brit Brit appeared somewhat at ease, rattling off a variety of “No”s, offering tempered encouragement when needed, and delivering barely catty quips, thanks to a slickly edited montage set to “Toxic.” Simon Cowell even went so far as to proclaim, “And everybody thinks I’m the mean one!” It’s clear by these edits that the producers would like us to think that Britney can deliver honest critiques and still maintain her likability in spite of her bluntness. But, of course, her real test will come during the pressure of the live shows…
Live in the Oracle Arena, I would say that Britney was probably completely lucid only 25% of the time. She rarely was the first judge to speak, and mostly recycled the other judges’ comments, taking cues from their reactions, and substituting in a word or two for her own critiques. Many of her responses were a wooden single sentence line reading, and it didn’t seem to put much effort into making a connection with the contestants, as opposed to spunky little sister Demi Lovato (she was a fine and refreshing judge, by the way) or the take charge attitude of Simon Cowell.
However, there were flashes of triumph when B. Spears was actually pretty pointed with her remarks. The absolute highlight for me came during the final auditioner of our taping: a woman with a raspy voice who belted, of all things, “The Star Spangled Banner.” She made the crowd stand up as she sang the audience was eating up all her over-singing. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stand her. When it came to the critiques, Britney was the lone judge in opposition to her singer. Against the crowd’s loud and vocal opinion, Ms. Spears called her singing “rusty” and my heart swelled with pride. You go, Brit!
And boy, could Britney lay down a “NO” to the singers. A single word: sweet, harsh, and to the point.
The biggest watercooler moment of the San Francisco auditions, nay of the entire premiere week of The X-Factor, was when Britney Spears was confronted with her former duet partner, Don Philip. The two singers sang together on the song “I Will Still Love You” on Britney’s debut album over ten years ago.
On television, Britney immediately recognized Don Philip. When asked by Simon what happened to him in these past ten years, he broke down crying and told Britney “I never thought I would see you again.” He sang Beyoncé’s “Halo,” but failed to make it through. To the swells of sad music, Britney told Don gently, “I feel like through the years maybe you’ve gone through a lot of hardships and battles, but your voice really isn’t up to the bar of the standards of The X-Factor and what we want.” Offstage, Don proceeded to have an intense meltdown.
Of course, this segment was intensely edited and nowhere near as ridiculously intense as it was live in person. What you DIDN’T see is that when Simon asked what he had been doing in the past ten years, Don Philip talked and talked and talked at length about how he’s changed as a person, using tiring vague generalities. Don avoided answering Simon’s question directly, much to the chagrin of the audience who became antsy, booing and hissing.
After more pressure from questions by Simon and L.A. Reid, Don finally opened up and announced to the arena that he is gay. The crowd applauded and cheered in support. Don looked clearly troubled by everything and said to Britney, “I didn’t think you thought it was OK that I am gay.” Britney was quick to respond that this was not the case, and said that it was fine that he is gay. Don then continued to talk in circles and L.A. told him that he was making Britney feel “uncomfortable.”
At that point, the atmosphere in the arena was pretty tense and Simon jumped on the mic and gave him a speech about how this wasn’t the place for this and that Don needed to focus on this audition. Don then continued to ramble on and the crowd began to chant “SING A SONG! SING A SONG!” Eventually Don stopped talking and proceeded to sing Beyoncé’s “Halo.” Simon then gave a pretty tough critique and the judges dismissed him. After Don left the stage, it was clear from looking at the television monitors that Britney was visibly confused and uncomfortable. Don Philip’s entire audition was an intense fifteen minutes or so.
Why were all references to Don Philip’s sexual orientation excised out of the televised airing? According to a FOX statement:
The judges were not given any information at all about Mr. Philip prior to his audition. The personal information that Mr. Philip quickly volunteered at the start of his audition was a surprise to the judges, who asked what had happened during the past 10 years, as they were interested in Mr. Philip’s career. While we understand his decision to discuss his personal life, Mr. Philip’s sexual orientation was not something that any of the judges or producers felt was relevant to this audition,” the statement read. “When advertising and promoting open auditions, thousands of people are informed about the ways to enter the show. Mr. Philip himself chose to enter for a chance to win a five million dollar recording contract.”
Read into that statement what you will… And watch Don Philip’s audition as it aired on The X-Factor: