We talked with Jason Raff, executive producer of NBC's America's Got Talent, prior to the show's open auditions in Milwaukee this Sunday.
Most talent-based competition shows on TV today focus on one talent, like singing or dancing. But for the last dozen or so years, NBC’s hit summer competition show America’s Got Talent has left the term “talent” ambiguous and open to personal interpretation. When it comes to the televised auditions, judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Mel B get to see a wide spectrum of acts.
In preparation for its return to TV next year for its 13th season, the show is currently holding open auditions across the country, including Milwaukee! The open auditions will take place Sunday, December 3, at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater. While the show’s judges (and host Tyra Banks) won’t be in attendance, producer Jason Raff will be overseeing the auditions. Participants picked in Milwaukee have the chance to appear in front of the judges in Los Angeles in March.
Hopefuls can register for an audition spot online, or even submit a video audition on the site.
We talked with Raff about what Milwaukeeans can do to make a good impression.
What should people expect when they come down audition?
I think it’s a great opportunity for anyone that wants to come down. It’s very low pressure. We come out there to meet people and say ‘hi.’ We have a keyboard. If you’re a dancer, we have a dance floors. And you have 90 seconds to show us what you can do.
What are some tips or suggestions you have for those thinking about auditioning?
Practice. Practice your 90 seconds that you want to do. You want to dress to impress. You want to stand out from the crowd. We go out to these cities to see your personality and ask questions about yourself and who you are and how you got to this talent. And just be confident, even if you’re not confident or really nervous. Just walk into the room like you’re Beyoncé and just show us what you’ve got.
What are some of your favorite things about Milwaukee?
You know what? This is our first trip ever to Milwaukee. We’re doing the show now in its 13th season and we’ve never been to Milwaukee. So, we always have good luck when we come to a city for the first time. And I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get there. We’ve had a lot of [auditioners] from Milwaukee come to Chicago, but this year we thought we’d come out there and make it easier for you guys.
Since the show’s been around a dozen seasons, how do you challenge yourself and set goals for each season?
We are only as good as the talent we find. The show will exist with whatever judge or host goes in there. That’s easy. It’s all about getting people to come out. I always tell people that even if you’ve never auditioned for anything in your life, it’s a great shot for you to come out. You come out to Milwaukee and hang out with us for a couple of hours. You won’t be embarrassed. You’ll meet a lot of great people, because you’ll be hanging out in the holding room for a little bit. At the very least, you’ll have a good story to tell at the end of day about auditioning for America’s Got Talent.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
People will come to my audition room and show their talent and just give you goosebumps. Because you know in a couple of weeks you’re going to put them on in front of the judges. And by the summer they’ll be seen by millions of people performing on live television. It’s the most amazing thing ever. To see that happen and see careers being launched, to go to Vegas and see acts with a history with AGT, it’s one of the most rewarding things.
With the diversity of all the performers, I imagine that keeps things interesting for you.
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. It’s great when someone comes into your room and does something you’ve never seen before. After doing this for 12 years and now on our 13th year, that’s always exciting. It’s not just singers. It’s not just dancers. It’s comedians. It’s magicians. It’s a little bit of everything. We never define what talent is. If you can do something funny with your body, come on down. We want to see it.
Do you have any favorite or special stories about any of the performers?
Yeah. I’ve probably auditioned over a 100 thousand people over the 13 years. You just never know what’s going to happen. I remember an audition where a man stripped down to a speedo and smeared peanut butter all over his body as his talent. We didn’t end up putting him on but that one sticks out as pretty unusual at the moment. And I had to start worrying about peanut allergies and if any of the other people had peanut allergies.
I remember meeting Darci [Lynne], who won last year, when she came to the room. I remember Grace [VanderWaal], who won the year before that, do an open call in New York, and sang for the first time. Like I said before, you just get goosebumps when you know their life is about to change. And that you were there to see it all.
Has it gotten easier or harder getting the word out about auditions?
I think it’s even harder. I think there are a lot of competition shows and a lot of people think “Oh, I’m not going to do that. I’m too nervous, I’m too bad.” As I said before, we urge to people to audition for literally anything and give it a shot. Anything can happen, and you’ll spend a few hours with us. I’ve seen a lot of people this year who’ve driven their husband or their girlfriend who’s been reluctant to just give it a shot. You just never know what’s going to happen. And as long as you show up in Milwaukee by 7 p.m., you’re guaranteed to be seen. We never turn anyone away.
Do you have anything else you hope to do in Milwaukee if you have some spare time?
I think our audition day is going to be full. We have days where we’re there from 7 am to midnight and meet as many people as possible. But I do hope to see some of the city.