Trip to Miami X Factor audition teaches more about family than fame
When I decided to tag along with talented 15-year-old Amanda Puyot, traveling to Miami with the St. Petersburg teen's family when she auditioned for Simon Cowell's new singing show The X Factor, I thought I'd be documenting a teen's dash for reality TV fame.
Instead, I got an up close look at a proud family pushing their dauighter a bit to follow her considerable talent wherever it leads her. Amanda may not have enjoyed having a nosy reporter along for the biggest audition of her life, but I really dug getting to know people who seemed to be solid, honest and hoping for the best.
Here's the story that resulted:
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Amanda Puyot may be the most laid back auditioner in this zip code.
As thousands of hopeful vocalists packed into the parking lot of the BankUnited Center here Thursday, shouting and singing themselves into a frenzy for tryouts to join onetime American Idol star Simon Cowell’s new talent contest The X Factor, Puyot pecked away at her Gameboy DS, intent on racking up points in her Pokemon game.
Yards away, a crowd of more than 7,500 people screamed for the show’s cameras, greeting a surprise appearance from pop star Gloria Estefan with waves of applause and chanting “Let us in,” as the wait to enter ticked past two hours.
But even though she’d packed into the family minivan and driven here from her St. Petersburg home with her parents, grandparents, aunt, aunt’s boyfriend and a nosy reporter, the 15-year-old talent show veteran wore a teenager’s impenetrable mask of indifference.
“I’m not as excited as my mom – because she’s crazy,” Puyot would later joke to a camera crew. “My nerves are very, very deep inside.”
Last week, she won a “front of the line” audition held by Miami Fox affiliate WSVN-TV, guaranteeing her and three other acts would be among the first to see producers screening talent.
But in practice, that just meant Puyot, her family and other contest winners were plopped in with the physically disabled auditioners, allowed to wait for hours in a shaded area while producers whipped the larger crowd into a frenzy for various camera shots before auditions began.
And as others fretted over lyrics or wondered whether Cowell would be among the 25 producers judging talent (he wasn’t), Puyot wondered
whether making the show’s second round of auditions Friday would keep her from an important dance rehearsal.
Her family says this is just her way; quiet to the point of disinterest before an audition, and a dynamic performer when the time
comes to shine.“Other contestants, they get nervous, but before she sings she messes around,” said grandmother Estela deJesus. “They say ‘Time to audition,’ and she just goes.”
Still, sometimes even her relatives aren’t sure how much she wants to win contests like these. And while the clock ticked down to her
rendezvous with X Factor’s producers, the question loomed:
Can you beat thousands of other singers if your heart’s not totally in it?
The trip to Miami was planned with the precision of a military operation; and nearly as many provisions.
Janella Puyot had prepared well for her daughter’s trip south, packing the family minivan with two coolers worth of drinks, sandwiches, a bag filled with snack size bags of Doritos, more bags filled with fruit and a separate loaf of bread. Whatever else happened on this trip, no one was going hungry.
If Amanda is the reluctant star, her mother is the quiet force, scouting opportunities and prodding her daughter to enter contests and
It was Janella who saw the email with details of WSVN’s contest and entered her daughter; at the audition, she is the one who has all the
permission forms allowing Fox to film them.
“Five million dollars; that’s what changed my mind,” said Janella Puyot, who almost ignored WSVN’s email until she saw the amount of The
X Factor’s grand prize. “She wants a car. Well, you can buy 20 Porsches with $5 million. It’s securing her future.”
Janella believes singing saved her daughter’s life, telling a story of how Amanda hummed so much as a baby, when the sound stopped, her mother ran out to discover she had gotten into her grandmother’s medication.
At age 15, she’s sung the national anthem for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Lightning, competed in a world showcase in Las Vegas, performed with local Phillippine cultural groups and more.
As a student in St. Pete High’s demanding IB program, Amanda Puyot worries about missing too much school. Ask if it helps to have her
family surrounding her here, and you get a teen’s typical retort: “No!”
But as grandfather Nick deJesus looks on, recalling his emigration from the Phillippines in 1976 with seven children (including Janella), he can’t help seeing the promise of his journey to America fulfilled.
“It was God’s work,” he said, looking heavenward. “That’s what it was.”
Looks like dance practice may have to wait a while.
Amanda got about halfway through Smokey Robinson’s Who’s Loving You before producers told her to stop. They needed her back at 7 a.m. Friday morning, in the same clothes she wore Thursday. After talking with the press follwoing her first audition, she will not be allowed to reveal if she goes any further.
Turns out, the family didn’t get to watch her try out; only one person was allowed to squeeze into the small, black curtained cubicles where
pairs of producers judged performance. And, of course, Janella was there.
“I was praying,” said Janella Puyot, who laughed and cheered as if she was the one about to win $5 million. According a Fox spokesperson, the show’s previous audition in Los Angeles, which drew 15,000 people on the first day, only put forward about 10 percent of auditioners to the next day's tryouts.
And Amanda was still coolly confident, even while describing what might be her biggest victory as a singer. “They just gave me a golden
ticket and my mom was very happy,” she said. “I guess I’m happy too,” she added. “Very, very deep inside.”