The Reality of Being an Audience Member on America’s Got Talent

Back in 2009, reality shows were still a novelty, with Survivor, American Idol and The Bachelor bringing in big ratings. So as my husband and I strolled along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on vacation with our two teenage sons, and a young man approached us, asking us if we would like to be in the studio audience of America’s Got Talent, I answered with a, “Hell, yes!” (I probably actually said, “That would be very nice, thank you,” but that’s not as fun to write.)

And that’s when we learned firsthand just how “real” reality shows are…

Tickets in-hand, we followed the instructions on the sheet, driving far beyond the city lights out to the suburbs, where we then stood in line for hours as the line slowly grew longer behind us. “We’re going to see real stars, guys,” I said, still not grumpy after the second hour. “And we might be on TV!” Dropping our cell phones into plastic bags on our way into the auditorium, we took our seats and waited for the show to begin.

And waited.

When one participates in the taping of any program, that “one-hour show” takes a half-day to produce. But still undeterred, we waited in anticipation for the rising of the curtain. Finally, a gentleman comes onstage, welcoming us to “AGT Chicago Edition.”   

Wait… what?

“As you all know, we travel throughout the country,” the announcer explained. “Auditioning everyone in cities across nation. But today we’re going to do a little creative editing, so for the sake of this episode, we’re in Chicago. Every time you hear the word, ‘Chicago’ tonight, I need you all to cheer. Let’s practice… Hello Chicago! (We whooped and hollered). Just like that! And we’re now going to practice our cutaway shots, Ready?”

And that’s when we shot take after take of our ‘reactions’ to the performers, when in actuality, the stage was empty. We cheered, booed, and clapped as instructed. Yes, that cutaway shot you see of that young lady’s look of shock or that young man’s cheer is shot ahead of the actual action happening on stage. (I say, “young lady” and “young man” because the young pretty people are seated at the front of the auditorium.) So, while it looks like the audience is gushing over that seven-year-old opera singer, they’re simply gushing on cue.

After our work was done, the judges, David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne, and Piers Morgan finally took their seats, and the real show began, and for a couple of hours we were treated to silly acts, captivating talent and entertainment that only a reality show can churn out. And for the afternoon, we were part of the magic of Hollywood… I mean, Chicago.

  Heidi McCrary is a writer and author of the novel, Chasing North Star – available locally and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at and