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'Voice' Lessons: Thousands Vie for a Chance to Face the Swivel Chairs
January 25, 2013  | By Noel Holston  | 6 comments

There were no high-tech swivel chairs in sight at the Atlanta auditions last Sunday for the forthcoming fourth edition of NBC’s mega-hit The Voice. No bells-and-whistles set. No Shakira, no Blake Shelton, no Adam Levine, no Usher. Just one anonymous talent scout, a primly fashionable woman tapping notes with long fingernails on her Mac, and a line. A long, long line.

My wife, Marty Winkler — singer, songwriter, would-be national sensation — had been given a 2 p.m. check-in time. When I dropped her off and kissed her good luck shortly after noon, the line already snaked from the second floor of Atlanta’s AmericasMart complex down a flight of stairs to a sidewalk cordoned off with metal barriers and into the cavernous parking garage below. It was easily 500-people long.

Word up and down the street was that 2,000 singers had auditioned the day before and that at least that many would flex their pipes that Sunday afternoon.

The hopefuls were young (mostly) and middle-aged, male and female, black, white, brown. There were guys with dreadlocks who looked like young Bob Marley, Kenny Chesney lookalikes, and guys in football jerseys and jeans who looked as though they’d gotten lost on their way to the 49ers-Falcons playoff game at the nearby Georgia Dome.

There were women dressed as though they’d been at an Atlanta Symphony fundraiser and young women in short, short skirts and high, high heels. Marty (pictured above) said her favorite was a guy wearing a shirt and matching pants festooned with bright, purple satin stars. She herself wore a black velvet turtleneck to set off her short, almost buzzed white-blonde hair, black jeans and black sneakers with rainbow-striped laces. Understated funky/adult eccentric was her goal.

I would post pictures but, alas, I did not have a camera with me. The contestants themselves, meanwhile, were told emphatically that if they were caught snapping photos with a cell phone, they would be kicked out.

Marty got out of the cold and inside the building around 1:45 and finally got her chance to audition at about 4. She had taken a sandwich and the latest copy of The Week with her but never got around to either.

You’ve heard the phrase “everybody’s a comic.” Well, in this case, everybody was a singer, and for many, the line itself might be the biggest audience they ever had or would have. Of course they sang.

“There was that tingly mix of fear and anticipation,” Marty said. “Some people sang solo — everything from old country hits to Adele’s ‘Hometown Glory’ — and they always did so to applause or yells of encouragement. It was a hyped up crowd, but very convivial.”

At one point,  she launched into “Amazing Grace.” “That’s one I knew people would join in,” she said, noting that her faith was rewarded by an impromptu chorale around her.

“My favorite sing-along,” she said, “was a young white guy who made a speech about how it was great to be waiting with everyone and how he had come to love us all (he was being very tongue-in-cheek). And then he burst out singing ‘Gallileo, Gallileo,’ and the entire room, easily 200 people or so, joined him on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ It chugged along until the guitar solo, where it broke down to whoops of laughter and applause.”

Once her group got to the holding area close to where the actual auditions were underway, they were told to keep it down. “‘Go ahead and warm up,’ we were told, ‘but do so quietly, out of respect for your fellow singers.’  The women's room had the usual divas warming up at the top of their voices.  I myself went into a stall to hum and quietly pee.  ‘Save it for the judges’ was my motto, for all the good it did me.’’

The judges turned out to be that single aforementioned scout. “She was 30-something, nicely dressed, hair pulled back in a ponytail, very professionally made up, with a laptop,” Marty said. “She had a candle burning on the desk she sat behind, a scented one, which I thought was a nice touch. She apologized for the laptop. She said she need it to take notes but for us not to think she wasn’t paying attention if she looked at it.”

And no, Ms. Winkler, my Divine Ms. M, did not make the cut. No one in her group did. But she was happy with her performance and pleased that she was allowed to do a whole verse and a whole chorus of “Superstar,” the Bonnie Bramblett-Leon Russell classic she had chosen for her audition. A lot of the would-be superstars didn’t even get a chorus.

As she was leaving the audition, walking alongside other “slightly dispirited folks,” Marty said she heard a young woman “so obese her love handles had love handles, speaking loudly into her cell phone: ‘Well, CLEARLY, they don’t know talent when they hear it.’ I just looked upward and bit my lip so as not to laugh.”

How tough is it to make it onto a show like The Voice? More than 4,000 singers auditioned in Atlanta over the weekend, and a like number will try out at sessions in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York. That’s 20,000 singers. Only 40 — a little more than two-tenths of a percent — will be asked to the semi-finals and only half of them will get to face those swivel chairs.

To hear one of the unlucky thousands, check out the sampling of Marty’s recordings, both original and covers, at www.myspace.com/martywinkler. Her music is also available via www.amazon.com, www.reverbnation.com and www.cdbaby.com.

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I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!
I'll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later

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Jan 21, 2023   |  Reply
I checked out Ms. Winkler's youtube vide - awesome voice!
Aug 8, 2015   |  Reply
Great article!
Nov 4, 2014   |  Reply
It is nice to see singers working together and just having fun. This sounds like it was such a positive and encouraging audition. Bohemian Rhapsody is one of my favorites to warm up to. Im looking forward to trying out in Atlanta next time. I just started taking voice lessons in the area and they are going great! Look forward to more posts!
Mar 28, 2013   |  Reply
BTW - that great photo up above is the work of Athens photographer extraordinaire, Bob Brussack. He does GREAT work.
Jan 25, 2013   |  Reply
jackie sanderson
Ms winkler can sing to me any time, great voice Lucky Guy.
Jan 25, 2013   |  Reply
Thanks, Jackie! We're both lucky. I post my gigs on Facebook so if I'm anywhere near you come on out and introduce yourself!
Jan 25, 2013
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