It was late on a sunny afternoon in the coastal, working-class city of Ashdod, and most people were heading home, some stopping to pick up last-minute groceries for dinner.
But in one corner of a nondescript shopping strip in the Dalet neighborhood, music history was (possibly) being made, as several dozen young singers tried out for “The X-Factor,” the next music reality show due to hit Israeli television screens later this year.
“State your name and tell us what you’re singing,” repeated the harried-sounding judge to each hopeful standing before him.
Within seconds, most were interrupted mid-song, thanked, and waved off the stage — a simple platform and microphone in front of Kley Zemer, the local branch of a national music-store chain. Once in a while — perhaps only twice or three times in the hours-long auditions — was a singer allowed to complete his or her rendition, and asked for extensive personal details.
“Who are you?” one of the judges asked a good-looking, curly-haired young woman who looked as if she was dressed for a job interview rather than a national reality TV show.
“Alexandra Chazanov, 20, from Ashkelon,” she answered.
“Did you try out in Tel Aviv?”
“No,” she said.
Chazanov sang Rita’s “Until You Leave,” much to the approval of the crowd and her two friends, both of whom are serving in the army with her and came to support Chazanov for the audition, they said afterwards.
“I was so nervous,” chattered Chazanov. “I’m not sure how I did.”
The Ashdod auditions were just one day in a long lineup of tryouts being held throughout local towns and cities. Reshet, which bought the rights to the television music-competition franchise, has been searching for weeks for contestants to compete on the show, according to Keren Broza, who handles public relations for the TV channel.
Reshet senior executive Erez Ben Harush announced the show’s purchase back in February, commenting that the channel aimed to “bulk up” its lineup of popular reality shows, which already includes “The Voice” and “The Amazing Race.”
An executive from FremantleMedia, owned by German media group Bertelsmann, stated at the time that it had been searching for some time for the right “X-Factor” partner in Israel.
Created by Simon Cowell — a British television producer and the blunt but compelling judge on Britain’s “Pop Idol” and “The X-Factor,” as well as “American Idol” — “The X-Factor” has become an international franchise, with contestants drawn from public auditions like the one held in Ashdod.
The show looks for singers with that undefinable “something,” the “X factor” that hold the key to fame and fortune. As in “The Voice” — another popular contestant show — “The X-Factor” also has its judges mentor finalists in their efforts to improve their performance in their bid to win.
The Israeli version of the show is still auditioning its panel of judges and MCs, said Broza, commenting that the former may come from performance arts other than music.
For would-be contestants, the tryout process is long, including open-mike auditions, followed by more formal auditions with the program’s producers, auditions in front of the judges, a training camp, a visit to the contestant’s home, and then the series of live stage performances.
Last week, the judges saw and heard hopefuls in Rishon Lezion, Ashdod and Kfar Saba; this week it’s the turn of Hadera, Kibbutz Hamadia, and Kfar Yarka. The casual open-mike audition sessions often last four hours, and sometimes as long as five or six hours in centrally located towns such as Kfar Saba, where interest is high. Contestants can check the X-Factor Israel Facebook page for the list of locations, calling in their names and audition songs.
“For someone like me, who’s been singing for as long as I can remember, it’s my one and only chance,” said Chazanov.