In front of 4,000 spectators at “The X Factor” auditions in Seattle last June, a cappella group The Sonneteers turned heads—and ears.
But when the 11 girls finished singing Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” and walked to the front of the stage to hear their reviews, judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and L.A. Reid weren’t glowing.
The girls were rejected. Their three minutes of fame over, their hopes of moving on shattered.
However, there was one crucial part of the audition that “The X Factor” producers kept off air: Sonneteer and Springs resident Lilly Merat’s solo to “Hundred Yard Dash” by Raphael Saadiq, which was on the audition tape demo that got the girls on the show to begin with.
“Simon Cowell used the word ‘wonderful’ to describe me,” Ms. Merat said during an interview at home last week. “I was like, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use that word on the show so ...’” she trailed off, laughing. “You can’t really be down on yourself after that.”
“Now we’re going to hit them back with Lilly as a solo artist,” her father, musician and coach Alfredo Merat said, beaming.
On December 29, Ms. Merat submitted an audition video for the show’s second season. She and her father are now waiting and hoping for the same phone call they received this past summer that could potentially launch the 22-year-old into stardom.
“We all know how hard it is to make it in the music industry, and these shows are making careers,” Mr. Merat said. “Every means to bring you to where you need to go is a good try, to me. Here is this new ‘X Factor,’ ‘Idol,’ ‘The Voice.’ Those are unbelievable opportunities that did not exist when I was 20 years old. If they did exist at the time, I would have loved to be on them, as well, to give it a try, win or lose.”
When the first season’s auditions came around last spring, Ms. Merat was busy wrapping up her undergraduate career at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, and planning her next move. “The X Factor” couldn’t have been further from her mind.
And so, without his daughter knowing, Mr. Merat sent in a video of Skidmore’s The Sonneteers, singing “Hundred Yard Dash”—prominently featuring Ms. Merat.
A call from “The X Factor” followed soon after.
“It was a big surprise to hear that I had a chance to go cross-country to audition,” Ms. Merat recalled. “We got to skip two rounds of auditions and just go directly in front of the judges and 4,000 people.”
None of the 11 girls knew the size of the audience would be in the thousands, Ms. Merat said. But when she entered KeyArena—the largest arena in Seattle, she caught wind that the extras involved with the filming process received free tickets to watch the auditions.
And it was at that moment that her nerves set in.
“Beforehand, I was near vomiting. Honestly, dry-heaving pretty much,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve been so nervous. It was an out-of-body kind of thing. I just had no idea what that would be like, waiting for that. The anticipation was almost worse than the performance.”
The waiting lasted nine painstaking hours, which were filled with interviews, pre-performance preparation footage and filming the lines.
“They would have extras in a line and then have us go into the line,” Ms. Merat said. “Obviously, reality television is pretty contrived. But we were by far the largest group. People noticed us because we’re 11 girls and pretty girls.”
“Looking at the show, you don’t realize how much work actually goes into it,” Mr. Merat interjected. “Because they have to tape everybody. Every person who made it to that stage, win or lose.”
The girls waited backstage, listening to the audience screaming, for about an hour before performing, Ms. Merat said. And what eventually aired is what she called a “false portrayal” of what actually happened. She said the solo microphone equipment couldn’t capture the group’s sound and pointed out that her solo didn’t make the cut.
“It’s an audition, let’s face it,” Mr. Merat said. “So there’s so much to learn from it. Wouldn’t you say the same thing, Lilly?”
“Yeah, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can get on stage in front of 4,000 people and not pee my pants,” she said.
And while she waits to hear her fate from “The X Factor” producers this time around, Ms. Merat is working on her song bank and still dreaming big.
“I used to think about the ratio of people who want to do this and the people who get to pursue it,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Maybe this is not worth it to try.’ But then after one year of college, I knew that no matter what the odds are, it was worth it for me to try.”
“She can do it,” Mr. Merat said. “It’s almost impossible to make it now, but she can do it.”
“He’s been behind me all the way,” his daughter said. “Even when I was doubting myself, he wasn’t. But I’m ready. I have been for a while, to pursue it myself, to be ...”
“Ready to fly,” Mr. Merat said.
Lilly Merat will perform at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack on Friday, January 6, from 5 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit wolffer.com.
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