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'X Factor' zeroes in on L.A.

The new Fox show featuring judge-producer Simon Cowell auditions thousands of singing hopefuls who turned out at the Sports Arena.

March 28, 2011|By Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times
  • "The X-Factor" hopefuls dance outside the Sports Arena before auditions in Los Angeles early Sunday morning.
"The X-Factor" hopefuls dance outside the Sports Arena before… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

Every entertainer needs props. On this day, there were plenty of umbrellas, hooded sweatshirts and scarves — but keeping guard against the dreary sky was merely a precaution. It was the hair curlers, guitars, brightly colored tutus and pink afro wigs that would make the difference for the hordes of auditioners assembled early Sunday morning in the parking lot of the L.A. Sports Arena as the first round of auditions took place for Fox's newest — and highly anticipated — singing-competition series "The X Factor."

Not to mention the sky-high metallic pink heels, the even higher flame-patterned platform boots, bathrobes and wireless headset mikes already in place.

"L.A. is known for producing amazing talent," said executive producer Andrew Linares, against the soundtrack of hopefuls crooning and/or screaming for show cameras capturing footage to be included when "The X Factor" premieres in the fall. "People usually head to L.A. to try and make it. So we're very hopeful that in the midst of all these people are some potential contenders."

For high schoolers Sara Wilkinson,15, and friend Samantha Sunday, 14, both of Yucca Valley, it was a day of firsts: first time painting their nails amid thousands of people — Fox expected more than 15,000 auditioners — and their first big audition. The duo, faces sprinkled with glitter for that extra pizazz, planned to perform a duet of the Beatles' "Yesterday."

"I'm really just trying to get over my fears of singing in front of people," Wilkinson said. "If I make it far enough and find myself singing in front of Simon … well, that would be, like, really cool."

"Simon" would, of course, be Simon Cowell, the acid-tongued former judge of "American Idol," who left the ratings juggernaut last year after its ninth season. But Fox couldn't fathom the thought of a world without Cowell's acerbic wit. The network announced early last year that it was launching a U.S. version of his hit British talent show "The X Factor."

The big prize on these shores will be a $5 million Sony Music record deal. But that's not the only thing setting the series apart from other talent competition shows. Both solo artists and vocal groups are welcome to audition. And unlike "American Idol," which just recently lowered the bottom end of its age range from 16 to 15 (and up to 28), "The X Factor" is more inclusive. The show is open to those as young as 12 and has no upper age limit — a factor that delighted 59-year-old Pat Garnes.

The court reporter from Wrightwood arrived with her husband and 7-year-old granddaughter Hannah, who held a sign that stated: "Simon, my gramma sings beautiful. Better than the record."

"I think it's absolutely terrific that this show is open to the idea that talent isn't just in the teenagers," said Garnes, who admitted she was a "huge" fan of "American Idol" despite her inability to audition for it. "Us older folks have something to offer."

And the sea of people certainly demonstrated the gap in ages: Tweens stood alongside dads and grandmas and twentysomethings conversed with a septuagenarian man in a cowboy hat (that is, before he began dancing to Lady Gaga's " Born This Way.")

Others concentrated on exercising their own particular X factor, rehearsing dance steps atop the rain-glistened blacktop and belting out lyrics as their competition kept a watchful eye. Then there were the few who, trying to relieve stress or stay warm, huddled under a tree for a quick drag of a cigarette.

Completing the circus-like atmosphere, workers walked up and down the barricades shelling out cotton candy, doughnuts, burritos and hot chocolate.

After the auditions in Los Angeles, the show is off to Miami, New Jersey, Seattle, Dallas and Chicago.

As in the U.K., Cowell will both produce and serve as a judge. Joining him on the judges panel will be former Island Def Jam chief Antonio "L.A." Reid. The last two spots on the panel have not been announced.

"The X-Factor" makes its U.S. debut this fall. And Sarah Baldwin, 65, thinks you'll be seeing her then.

"I've got what it takes," she said. "I'm Ms. X. Tell Simon so I can get that $5-million recording contract and retire."

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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