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Selling Yourself 101 - March 11
Gordon Pepper

There are five words that are driving me nuts right now. No, it's not 'Stump
The Schwab Gets Renewed', though that is another article in itself. The five
words that are irking me are this…

"I didn't get enough airtime."

These words are coming from the first eight contestants that got booted from American Idol for the past 2 weeks. When host Ryan Seacrest asks why they got booted, that always seems to be part of their answer. The answer hasn't been "Well, I mangled the song", or "I picked a song that was a hit long before the bulk of the teen and twenty something voting community was born" or "I didn't realize that if I pick two songs with a 5 note vocal range and sung them with the emotion of a brick that I would in danger of being eliminated." or "I didn't realized that if I interacted with Ryan and the judges with the personality of an avocado that I would in danger of being eliminated" - but maybe it should be.

Let me state for the record right now that I am sure that all 24 of these people are talented. They certainly had the guts to listen to round after round of Simon Cowell and deal with the scrutiny of the camera. What we are talking about now, however, are the things that will separate the people between Top 24, Top 12 and the winner.

For the 12 who are still there and for the people who can't wait to audition
next year, take notes.

1. The contest doesn't start when you sing for the judges. The contest doesn't start when you are waiting to get into the audition room. The contest doesn't start when you are outside in the rain. The contest starts THE SECOND YOU GET ON THE LINE. ANY opportunity that you have to get on the camera, you TAKE IT. BE bubbly when you are out in the crowd. Be VERY attentive to where the cameras and Ryan Seacrest is - and MAKE SURE that you take full advantage of both that and the sound off room afterwards. For the most part, the people who got the camera time are the people who are still there (and may have even gotten a pass or two from a rotten effort during these past 2 weeks).

2. Tell a interesting story about you. Make us CARE. I can't stress this enough - tell us why we should care about you. I will guarantee you that if you have a great story, the producers will air it. Who could forget Scott Savol's story about his dad saying that he wouldn't live up to anything? I'm sure a lot of people, who are voters, do. They aired Regina Brown and Jaclyn Crum, and they didn't make it. I'm sensing that the other people didn't work as hard on this point - and they paid for it.

3. If you don't have a good story, then show us emotion or something -
ANYthing - in the audition. Ruben Studdard's yelp of joy, the hug from Ruben's brother and the family celebration evoked sensitive moments from our group that watched it, and that was a huge starting point for the eventual winner of AI2. How far in AI2 did Ricky Smith get with "Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!"? Top 12 far, as that certainly helped him in the Top 32 format. Mikalah Gordon's screaming and looking like this was the best thing in the world to happen to her may not be the reason why she is still there, but I'm sure it's one of them. This could have been what some of the other contestants auditions were like.

Judges: Come in.
Droopy Dog: (Enters) Ok
Judges: What makes you think you can be the next American Idol.
Droopy Dog: Well….I don't know.
Judges: Sing.
Droopy Dog: (Sings)
Judges: Congratulations! You're in!
Droopy Dog: You know what? I'm happy.
(Droopy Leaves)
Randy: Man, he had as much emotion as Droopy the Dog.
Paula: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Simon: I liked the voice, but that has got to be the most boringest singer
America, in the world, in the universe, ever.

I doubt that this is what happened on the auditions for some of these people, but I'm sure I'm not that far off.

4. You're in the Final 24. Your story will only get you this far. NOW, you have to sing like your career depends on it - because it does. In these three weeks, people select their favorites, and you had better give them one hell of a good impression. If you don't get the screen time, then you are admittedly at a disadvantage, but by singing to your potential, you can get people to vote for you - and in this format, with only two people leaving a week, you have an even better chance to show that you should be going to the Top 12. Make sure you have a song from sometime in the past 10 years, make it a song that you know you can shine on, and sing the heck out of it. Time after time, this segment has rewarded people who have taken risks and have severely punished the people who don't take chances - ask Sarah Mather, who could have been a contender to win the whole thing, but she sang uninspired and the audience called her on it. This segment has also been an equalizer to those people who got very far
who didn't get the face time - like Latoya London, who got to the Top 4 last
year - but she got there when she wowed everyone when we first saw her in the round of 32. David Brown got the hook this year in week 2 because he sang 2 lack luster songs and hoped that the popularity that he got early on would carry him. Wrong.

5. Singing is not the only thing in American Idol - you better have personality. ALL of the people who are threats to win the whole thing this year have a personality and have no problems showing it. They also have something else in common - they are grateful to be there and grateful to have your vote - and they make sure that you know it. That's what stopped LaToya from winning American Idol last year and was it one of the reasons why Fantasia Barrino won it. Mikalah was brilliant in week 1 - she created a persona for herself that while upsetting some people, polarized a voting block for her and gave her a pass to week 2, where she put on a great effort. If she keeps that up, she has to be a serious dark horse to win the whole thing. For al of you who are still left, make sure you stay happy with Ryan, don't argue with Simon and thank your millions of fans who are keeping you on the show.

For the 12 of you left (or for future contestants), read the rules and learn how to either get a better edge on staying in the competition or how to prepare for the competition for next year. And for 7 of the 8 people who have been eliminated and complained that they didn't get enough airtime - based on what I saw with how you sang, spoke to Ryan and had the opportunity to strut your stuff for the 30 million of the audience out there - there was a reason for it.

Gordon Pepper can be reached at


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