As X Factor returns to TV tonight, the story of St. Pete teen Amanda Puyot's unseen audition
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Even after sifting through hours watching the blockbuster debut of Fox’s new singing competition The X Factor this week, Janella Puyot still didn’t get it.
How could they have ignored her daughter’s audition in a show filled with off-key singers, misleading editing and a guy who pulled his pants down onstage?
Now it can be told: Janella’s 15-year-old daughter Amanda Puyot, a sophomore at St. Petersburg High School with a long history of dazzling public performances, failed to get past superstar judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and Antonio “L.A.” Reid when she auditioned for The X Factor in June before a crowd of 3,000.
(Fox asked journalists not to reveal specific audition results until that city’s auditions were aired on television).
But as family members gathered last Thursday to watch footage from the Miami auditions – citing illness, Amanda Puyot skipped the viewing at her aunt’s house, but also admitted she also didn’t want to relive the experience – they were left exasperated and surprised by how little the broadcast resembled what they actually endured.
Cynics might say the family should have known. Since Fox’s hit competition American Idol first burst on U.S. TV ten years ago, fans have seen how the show edits audition footage, showcasing mediocre talents for ridicule and leaving more talented singers on the cutting room floor.
But after two different multi-day auditions in April and June, which prompted carloads of family members to drive to Miami, spending hours waiting to support Amanda, they were mystified. They couldn’t fathom how little of the tryout ordeal was shown on camera (five people passed out from the heat at the June event) and how some singers clearly less talented than Amanda were moved forward in the competition.
“Those people are only after money and nothing else,” said an angry Nick deJesus, Amanda’s grandfather, who was watching TV elsewhere Thursday, but called a St. Petersburg Times reporter on his cellphone after seeing part of the X Factor episode. “I feel cheated.”
In some ways, it is a typical lament (Amanda only appeared in brief moments, shown with a microphone to her lips in one instant and applying makeup in the next). Still, as someone who sat through several auditions in Miami, I also think they are right.
But how do you explain failing in a singing competition when the thing you did best was sing the song?
Gone in a Flash
In a way, she could have seen what was coming before she sang a note.
Stepping onstage before a crowd of 3,000 at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center in the same jeans, multicolored top and beret she wore to auditions in April, Amanda faced probing questions right at the start.
“It (singing) your driving force, too?” Abdul asked, after Amanda noted her family was “the biggest forces driving me” to the competition. “Is this something you really want?”
“I like singing,” she said, sounding a little tentative. “If I end up doing it, I won’t let you down.”
But after an expertly-rendered version of Far East Movement’s The Rocketeer, in which Amanda tried a little awkward choreography but nailed the vocal parts, Cowell wasn’t convinced.
“I think it’s like you’ve been programmed from your parents backstage by remote control,” said Cowell, whose pet peeve is child performers urged into competitions by pushy parents. “Say this, hold this, spin there choose this song; it didn’t feel like everything you did was coming from you because you loved the song."
In a flash, it was over: Four “no”s from all judges. Even the senior citizen who sang old show tunes got more encouragement.
Outside, as the auditions wound down, Amanda tried to look nonchalant while a steady trickle of spectators kept interrupting to tell her the judges had made a mistake.
“My family’s doing a good job feeling (bad) for me,” Amanda said. “I don’t know what I feel.”
But as another audience member rolled up to say she should have been treated better, there was water brimming in Amanda’s eyes.
The Girl Who Sings Moves On
Long known as the girl who sings – at Tampa Bay Lightning and Rays games, in the state fair, for local Philippine cultural groups, with superstar producer David Foster -- Amanda is now considering a step back.
Her work at St. Petersburg High School will become more demanding, and she’s worried about managing time. Ask if her seeming indifference to competitions like X Factor is a way to protect against disappointment if she fails -- letting her mother handle all the organizing and visible enthusiasm -- and Amanda gives her trademark answer: Maybe.
“It’s a little like when you walk into a classroom and didn’t study for a test,” she said Thursday. “If you don’t do well, it’s not about (your ability).”
Cowell’s comments seemed to sting most for Janella Puyot, who often enters her daughter into competitions and handles the details of her performances, but doesn’t control what she sings, wears or does onstage.
“I just wanted to share my daughter’s voice with the world,” said Janella, who added she’s considering stepping back too, just before noticing how the X Factor judges warmed to the teen girl who auditioned after Amanda, and talked of seeing ghosts.
“Amanda didn’t have a story,” she said to the TV screen. “If I had known, I would have made sure she had one ready.”