Auditioner: America’s Got Talent is “rigged”

America’s Got Talent‘s fraudulent auditioner has overshadowed Howard Stern’s debut as a judge, but what if the show itself wasn’t exactly honest with us about the nature of the audition process? One act that auditioned for this season claims the process is “rigged,” with results pre-determined and the audience coached to support that outcome.

It’s no surprise that the audition process for the NBC reality competition isn’t like it’s portrayed on TV; people don’t just line up and appear in front of the judges. It’s a multi-stage process similar to American Idol’s auditions. But this auditioner is claiming there’s even more to the disparity between reality and TV than that.

In an exceptionally well-written Livejournal post published in early April, the leader of a troupe of circus artists and aerialists writes about their experience auditioning for a show she calls “America’s Got Lawsuits (If You Reveal The Outcome Before The Episode Airs).” It’s written without ever identifying the NBC reality series by name, but the details (“shock jock” judge) make it obvious.

The female writer, identified as “whipchick,” says they’ve been approached seven times–every season–by the show, which we know recruits a lot of its acts; she adds in a comment that producers “were unusually persistent this season — I think they may be running out of people who will agree to be on the show.” The freelance producer who reached out to the group worked with them and “storyboarded every four seconds and provided a recommended shot list to the director,” and before the actual audition, she writes, “we have run the full act once and the fire section three times, for the stage manger, the director, and the fire marshal.”

When they finally performed for the judges and studio audience, they were booed off the stage–odd, for a group that was so heavily recruited and is so well-established. She points out first that “the contract says ‘Producers of America’s Got Lawsuits reserve the right to determine the winner by any means they choose,’” and the really damning accusation comes toward the end of the post, which you should read in its entirety, if only because it’s an engagingly told story:

“Later, my mother reclaims her cellphone from the audience security point and tells me that the audience was coached, their cue to boo was the crewman with the white sign in front of stage right. We learn that the audience was seeded with plants, paid to be there, knowing who wins, the locals who lined up for tickets instructed, ‘If someone next to you jumps up or makes an X, you do it, too!’ Knowing that the contest and the voting and the judging is rigged, I don’t know why it surprises me so much that the audience is rigged, too.”

Later, in a comment, she writes, “the ultimate defense against libel is the truth, so it would be interesting to ask some TV executives, ‘So, does your show rig the audience to boo contestants? Because if you don’t, this isn’t about you, and if you do, it’s not libel.’”

It’s not hard to imagine the audience being encouraged to be more vocal, nor difficult to imagine an audience reacting negatively to an act. But the story does offer a possible explanation for some very odd decisions in the past during the auditions. One viewer highlighted the absurdity of the judges’ reactions to two acts during the fifth season, when a joke audition made it through and one that the crowd loved did not.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.