The X Factor is a reality singing contest created by Simon Cowell, the former judge of American Idol. Recently, I caught up with Iranian American Sarah Afshar who tried out for Season 1 of the X Factor USA and made it all the way through to the next rounds of the audition process.
It's not everyday that people make it this far in a reality singing contest, especially someone of Iranian descent. I asked Sarah about her experience and also asked her tips on how to make it through.
What made you audition for the X Factor?
I have always been a fan of the reality singing shows. A lot of talented people such as Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, i.e. have started out on shows such as American Idol. I was watching the X Factor before it came to the US. In fact, I started watching when Leona Lewis was a contestant and I thought to myself that it would be a fun thing to do.
Did you ever think you would get as far as you did?
To be honest, no. As confident as I am, there are so many serious singers that try out and get turned away. I went into the entire process thinking with an open mind because in the end, I would still have the experience.
Tell me about the audition process...
I signed up the day before the actual audition. I stood in line at 9 am, where I signed up to audition the next day. They ask for two forms of ID and the actual form you must fill out prior to auditioning. In exchange, they give you a wristband. You must keep the wristband on. You cannot take it off and you can't get it wet.
The day of the actual auditions, I stood in line at the convention center from 6 am until about 2 pm. Then, inside I had to wait an additional 1-2 hours before standing in another line where I did not get to audition until like 4-5 pm.
Although every venue is different, at the convention center each section is separation by a cubicle and in the area where auditions were held, there were about 40 cubicles.
Thousands upon thousand of people try out, so you could hear so many people singing at once.
What happened when you finally had the chance to audition?
The first judge I had was a woman. I noticed she was telling several people no. I wasn't sure if I had a chance or not, but went into the entire audition with an open mind.
What did she (the judge) ask you?
She asked me a little about myself and then asked me what I was going to be singing.
What song did you sing? What made you choose that song?
I sang the beginning of Ain't No Other Man by Christina Aguilera and went into Adele's Rolling In The Deep, as I used my 5 inch stiletto as a beat to kind of harmonize and make the accapella more interesting. She asked for another song. I started to pour my soul and sing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
The beginning of Ain't No Other Man is very powerful and I truly wanted to showcase that. Afterall, it is a contest and you need to put your best voice forward. I think singing Adele's Rolling In The Deep was a risk. A huge risk, as so many people were covering her. I wanted to throw something current in the mix and attempt to do it better than the original without making it self indulgent or gimicky.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a song that I love and connect with on various wavelengths. I wanted to sing it because I am a huge fan of Freddie Mercury and Queen, show appreciation for the vast majority of British judges (which most were), I know it is a hard song to sing, and I knew that I could project it amazingly.
What did she say afterwards?
She said thank you and asked me a little more about myself. She said "Congratulations, you're through".
That must have been a great feeling for you. It's not everyday an Iranian American makes it through.
It was a great feeling. It is also great to represent Iranians around the world, considering we are misunderstood by people.
What did you do after you made it through?
Every time a person makes it through, they are directed to what is referred to as the "yes" room, where you fill out paperwork. Then, when you audition again you have to wear the same exact clothes, sing the exact same songs, do everything the same way you did in the first audition for every audition after.
So, it's like a process?
Do you intend to try out again?
I haven't tried out since season 1. I'm thinking about it. It was a lot of fun. It was a great experience.
Oh yeah? What was your favorite memory of this entire X Factor experience?
A lot of things, but I think one of the fondest ones is making new friends. Especially true friends, who I still talk to almost everyday.
What was it like seeing your friends on live television?
It was great. I was happy to be a part of the experience and see them getting the opportunity to showcase their talent to the world was amazing.
From past to present, who is your favorite X Factor contestant?
There are so many incredibly talented people from the show. Even serious singers that didn't get the opportunity to make it through. I truly believe there are a lot of talented people. I really love Melanie Amaro, Leona Lewis, Danyl Johnson, Rhydian, James Arthur, and One Direction. Rebecca Ferguson is amazing. She has such a hauntingly beautiful vocal style.
If you had to choose a favorite for season 2 in X Factor USA, who would you choose?
So many talented people, but I found that Vino Alan poured his soul into his performances the most.
Vocally, have you ever been compared to anyone? I think you sound a lot like Christina Aguilera but, you're different too. You have so much soul and power in your voice.
Thank you so much. She's very talented. I have been told everyone from her, Christina Aguilera to Aretha Franklin to Ann Wilson of Heart to Whitney Houston to Mariah Carey to Yolanda Adams to Alannah Myles to Lady Gaga. They are all amazing in very different ways, but I have my own style. I think I sound like Sarah Afshar.
Who are your musical influences?
Mozart, Puccini, Bach, Prince, Freddie Mercury, Bessie Smith, Maria Callas, Julie Andrews, Leontyne Price, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Ann Wilson, Madonna, James Brown, Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor, Bob Seger, pretty much those who are unique and have contributed a lot towards changing music and the music industry.
What advice do you have for those who are going to audition for the X Factor or any kind of reality singing contest?
Be yourself, but also take a risk. Sing loud, but don't oversing or scream. Don't sing something that is covered a million times and if you do, deliver it like it has never been delivered before. Do something different with the song without ruining the song. Also, be true to yourself and be confident.
How can someone get confident for a contest like X Factor?
Confidence does not always come naturally. I just look at it like most people are going to love you, however; if you do have those that hate you, at least you are getting somewhere. If people love me and some people hate me, I know that is a good place to be because it's better than being boring. If you don't have some haters, you are not doing something right.
Mersi. Tune into X Factor USA on FOX on Wednesdays and Thursday 8/7 c.
The X Factor USA