ST. PETERSBURG — Even after watching hours of Fox's new singing competition The X Factor this week, Janella Puyot still didn't get it.
How could producers 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? (See Juice item at right.)
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 the show's superstar judges when she auditioned for The X Factor in June (Fox asked journalists not to reveal results before auditions were broadcast).
But as family members gathered Thursday to watch footage from the Miami auditions, they were exasperated and surprised by how little the broadcast resembled what they actually endured. Amanda herself wasn't at her aunt's house; she cited a cold, but also admitted she didn't want to relive the experience.
Cynics might say the family should have known. Since Fox's hit competition American Idol first debuted in 2002, fans have seen it showcase mediocre talents for ridicule, ignoring more talented singers.
But after two different multi-day auditions in April and June, involving carloads of family members driving to Miami, they were mystified. They couldn't fathom why so little of the tryout ordeal was shown on camera (five people passed out from the heat in June) and how some singers clearly less talented than Amanda moved forward.
"Those people are only after money," said an angry Nick deJesus, Amanda's grandfather. "I can't believe it."
It is a typical lament. But the family also has a point: How do you fail in a singing competition when the thing you did best was sing the song?
Not sure enough
Stepping onstage in June before a crowd of 3,000 at the University of Miami's BankUnited Center, Amanda faced probing questions right at the start.
"Is (singing) your driving force, too?" judge Paula Abdul asked, after Amanda noted her family was "the biggest force 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, show creator and star Simon Cowell wasn't convinced.
"It's like you've been programmed from your parents backstage by remote control," said Cowell, citing a pet peeve (because she had already auditioned for several no-name producers in April to get this far, the family would later wonder if judges had their minds made up early).
In a flash, it was over: Four no's. Even the senior citizen who warbled old show tunes got more encouragement.
Outside, Amanda tried to look nonchalant while a steady trickle of spectators told her the judges 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 she turned to face another audience member offering encouragement, there was water brimming in Amanda's eyes.
Time to reassess
Long known as the girl who sings — at Tampa Bay Lightning and Rays games, for local Philippine cultural groups, with superstar producer David Foster — Amanda is now considering a step back.
Ask if her seeming indifference to competitions like X Factor is a way to protect against disappointment, 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, but doesn't much 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 judges warmed to a teen girl who 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."