Hopeless Auditionees are found on many a Talent Show. The first couple of episodes will show the auditions process — and these will always turn up.
They have no talent, a false belief that they do and may be subjected to some abuse from the judging panel before being sent home. Some have criticized these sorts of appearances as "cruelty to the mentally-ill".
Actually examining the audition process, however, reveals that these people believe they are good enough because the people running the show have led them to believe they are. The auditions usually run on a three tier system, with the celebrity judges being the final tier. The first two tiers will approve people who are very good, people who are maybe good enough, and people who are awful for entertainment value - letting the awful ones believe that they're there because they're good.
In short, it's a sadistic ritual wherein real people are humiliated in front of an audience of millions for the sake of a few giggles. Naturally, this is a subtrope of Expectation Lowerer; the audience feels better by watching people worse than them.
Every once in a while, a Hopeless Auditionee will actually pass the auditions. If they get far enough, they may even become an Elimination Houdini. If a Hopeless Auditionee can't wrap their head around the idea that they might not be the most talented thing on two feet, they're Giftedly Bad.
Were traditionally given the Vaudeville Hook treatment. Compare Terrible Interviewees Montage. See also Inept Talent Show Contestant. Contrast Failed Audition Plot, where a character who fails an audition early in the story decides to pursue their dreams regardless.
- Always a highlight of any Legion of Super-Heroes audition are the people with lame powers trying their best to impress the Legion.
- One Judge Dredd strip in the Metro newspaper (and reprinted in the Megazine) showed a talent show where one of the failed contestants (an Elvis Impersonator no less) comes back and holds the panel hostage. Dredd beats him up and arrests him, only to be criticised for the lack of style in his violence. Dredd arrests them too.
- Dreadful Musician Cacofonix hosts a talent contest of the reality show style in Asterix and Obelix's Birthday, and proceeds to find the contestants are singers even worse than he is.
- "Kaz Superstar" was a Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi story for DC Comics (Cartoon Network Block Party) lampooning the William Hung act on American Idol. The girls' manager Kaz auditions at a talent show and is so awful he is kicked out of the studio by all three judges. But his act gets notice and soon he's in high demand while Ami and Yumi are relegated to has-been status.
- Brazilian film Xuxa Popstar includes one such montage, in which various guys audition to be the Popstar talent agency's brand new star set to be launched during the big runway show at the end of the movie. Said men include several wannabe dancers, several men who gratuitously take their tops off — one of which does so while singing a nursery rhyme —, two men that start arguing halfway through their audition, and an older man who auditions by reciting poetry. By the time we get to this last one, main character Nick Yoner is already visibly exhausted. For those who are curious, it can be seen here.
- Bring It On hosts a tryout to recruit a new cheerleader. Some of the auditionees have epically poor cheerleading skills, and some, including a ballet dancer, rapper, and musical theater actor, have the wrong skill set entirely. Ultimately, the team selects Missy, a gymnast who tried out as a last resort because the school had no gymnastics team.
- Anything with Simon Cowell, such as American Idol/Pop Idol, Britain's Got Talent, The X Factor...
Simon Cowell: Last year I described someone as being the worst singer in America. I think you're possibly the worst singer in the world. Based on that performance. And I'm absolutely serious. I've never ever heard anything like that in my life. Ever.
- Probably the most infamous example of a single auditionee was William Hung, an Asian-American man who became known throughout the world for his atrocious singing. His spectacular bomb has actually made him famous, ironically enough. Also subverted with Hung. While he's far from a good singer, he took the critique positively and the judges didn't really kill him at all. Plus he is very aware that he can't sing. It was that he took the criticism well and admitted to simply doing his best that was the crux to his charm and subsequent fame; he was sincere. Other Hung-wannabes that have followed did not realize that. Since then he has made a guest appearance on Arrested Development as a cast member of the Show Within a Show Mock Trial with Judge Reinhold where he is the lead singer for the show's live band "William Hung and his Hung Jury". This is a lot more professional work than most American Idol contestants have ever gotten.
- The judges have since made a few unofficial rules for potential contestants, the biggest being "Don't sing Whitney and don't sing Mariah." It's almost a guarantee that anyone who tries will become one of these because 1) both singer's songs have been painfully overdone, and 2) most people don't come anywhere near their abilities, and always end up screeching and wailing way out of their depth.
- America's Next Top Model mostly averts this. They never show the entire auditions process. Of the 35 or so girls who make it to the semi-finals, the audition week episode mainly shows footage of the girls who eventually make it into the house, plus two or three unsuccessful semi-finalists to convey at least a little bit of tension. The aversion is doubly surprising because the CW officially releases pictures of the contestants who made it into the house before the cycle even starts, so theres little to no tension in the first episode for many viewers. Yet, this free space is rarely abused to make fun of the other contestants. However, some of the semi-finalists, while not being exceptionally terrible models, are clearly picked to fill this trope anyway, either in the form of a special kind of Alpha Bitch, Loser Archetype, or by causing drama with Tyra Banks.
- Subverted cruelly by the talent show parody Superstar USA, which ran parallel to American Idol's third season. Basically, the bad auditioners were treated like stars while the truly talented were told "You will thank me for saying this: NEXT!" One can imagine why the show wasn't picked up for another season; the potential damage to a person's psyche - whether it's a girl who really can sing running offstage in tears after being told she's terrible, or someone truly horrible told they're a star only to be later humiliated in front of a live audience note on national TV - was disturbing. According to That Other Wiki, the person chosen over the others ("winner" just doesn't sound right), Jamie Floss, didn't seem to mind that the show was a joke and actually had small roles on TV dramas. Thankfully, her album was never released.
- Britain's Got Talent:
- Famously subverted by Susan Boyle in the 2009 season. Both the "introduction piece" and the reactions of the jury showed that everybody expected this trope to come down in full force. Then she started to sing, proving you should never judge a book by its cover. To their credit, the jury admitted how wrong they were in their assessment.
- Zigzagged in the case of Emma Amelia Pearl Czikai from the same show. She came on stage full of confidence, bragging about how much people loved her singing, then she started to sing...and was absolutely terrible. She was every inch the Hopeless Auditionee. But during the semi-finals, Stephen Mulhern brought her on for the Spin-Off Britain's Got More Talent to perform an operatic aria...and she was wonderful. Seriously, she was like the Jekyll & Hyde of singing.
- In the later series, David Walliams obtained a reputation for using the Golden Buzzer to send even weak or unpopular acts that had been rejected by the other judges through to the live shows if they got a reaction from the audience. There was debate over whether this was Loophole Abuse or the intended purpose of the Golden Buzzer; and further if he genuinely believed in them as a quirk act or one deserving of a second chance, or he simply intended to allow the act to be humiliated some more.
- America's Got Talent pretty much gives away who the hopeless auditionees are by playing upbeat or otherwise mocking music during the pre-performance interviews with them. Some also get a Record Needle Scratch when the interview music stops and they're shown walking on stage. The hopeful ones almost always have horror stories and overly dramatic music playing for their segments.
- Invoked with Leonid the Magnificent; a very tall, flamboyantly gay Russian guy with a thick Russian accent, who has been a participant of the first two seasons. His second time around, he comes on stage in huge platform shoes, no shirt, spray-painted silver, with a giant headdress, and two women on leashes who dance while he does virtually nothing but pose and make faces - far less than what he'd done in the first season. He still gets put through to the next round, much to David Hasselhoff's anger (and he walks out afterward). He gets eliminated the next round, though.
- Completely subverted by Prince Poppycock, a stage persona who performed in a full 18th century French gentleman's court formal outfit, complete with white face paint, a huge white wig, and high-heeled shoes. With a magnificent tenor voice and incredible stage presence.
- Presumably because this trope is becoming increasingly viewed as mocking the poor saps who get rejected, later seasons cut far back on it, only showing a handful of particularly bad ones.
- So You Think You Can Dance
- Fans have, from Seasons 2-5, had to put up with a geeky-looking fellow who insisted he be called "Sex". His talent was marginal at best. Compounding the fact is he took his mother with him who was insistent that he was an amazing talent getting a raw deal.
- The show also gave us Ian "How you been?" Benardo, a New Yorker with an inflated sense of self-importance who, after being rejected from the show, went and tried his luck on American Idol. The way he acts almost goes into parody. He may not actually be serious at all. He's an actor, and he went on those shows specifically to parody the usual self-important contestants and get a rise out of the camera. The reason people think he was real is because he is a good actor and stayed in character the whole time. He and his friends have mentioned on Facebook that he isn't egotistical at all in real life, although he is Camp Gay.
- Averted by Wipeout. The contestants who make it past the initial rounds make it because they're actually capable of passing the courses in reasonable time, and are given proper recognition for their accomplishments. However, at the end of every episode, there is a montage of the most spectacular failures and hilariously bad falls (not in a mocking manner, but because it's genuinely funny). In the first round, everyone is made to look like Hopeless Auditionees since it is almost impossible to complete without wiping out multiple times. The best of those are then put through the second round where skill, balance and stamina are actually tested.
- Same thing with American Gladiators and the UK version — the requirements to get on the show was a rigorous set of physical tests (shuttle runs, chin-ups, etc.), and you'd need to get through multiple regional levels before the national level. Most of the contenders who did get on the show usually displayed at least some form of aptitude in any of the events; they were not mocked for failure, but given credit for going up there and giving it their all.
- The first episode of any Ninja Warrior tournament consists largely of those who are running the course for TV exposure. Expect most of them to fall at the first obstacle, while the serious competitors will get to the Jump Hang or Warped Wall before they lose.
- American Inventor was the best. Some of the inventions would leave you in pain from laughter. The Therapy Buddy was the best: Everything. Is. Going. To Be. All. Right.
- Hell's Kitchen will generally have some contestants who either come from backgrounds with no cooking experience at all, or they're private chefs, diner workers, or otherwise completely unused to working on a line in a fine-dining restaurant and can't make appropriate attitude adjustments. They don't last long, typically. The first season really emphasized that almost all the contestants did not have much formal kitchen experience. Unsurprisingly, those with real experience as chefs made it the farthest. Future seasons featured much more experienced contestants and the Hopeless Auditionees stand out more.
- MasterChef also includes some Hopeless Auditionees; generally not people who have no skill whatsoever, just those with really bizarre concepts or personalities. While some get truly scathing comments, some do manage to get compliments, just not a place on the show.
- Power Rangers RPM parodies this trope by showing various people auditioning for the role of Green Ranger.
- On Glee, Sugar becomes New Directions' first-ever reject due to her horrible singing. She does eventually join the club after a long series of events, but doesn't get any solos.
- The various celebrities involved in The Voice take great pride in the fact that they never ever humiliate an auditioner, no matter how badly they do. Even those singers who get a huge case of stage-fright and literally stop singing in the middle of their acts are given constructive criticism, a chance to calm down (and often literally hugs and hand-holding if they seem to need it), and friendly advice on how to be better singers. The best of these Hopeless Auditionees are told that they should try again once they've worked on whatever problems they displayed. At least two did come back, with much more success the second time around. A couple of the coaches on The Voice have let it be known that there is one sure way to become a Hopeless Auditionee on their show, and that's trying to audition using a Queen song. In the words of Adam Levine, "Queen is so epic that unless you can top them... and you can't... you shouldn't even try."
- Dragons' Den has this in spades, with a fair amount of the show (namely the middle part) being a montage of hopeless businessmen/women bringing in useless products and not getting anything close to an investment, each one lasting about a minute if you're lucky. Sometimes the show will also cut between three different failed pitches in order, showing bits of each failed one in order in a matter of seconds. (Averted in the US edition, Shark Tank, which doesn't have this segment.)
- The Black Mirror episode "Fifteen Million Merits" had a background character who kept getting passed over in the episode's Show Within a Show reality TV talent contest. It winds up being justified at the end, because she's a really bad Dreadful Musician.
- The Gong Show, as a parody of talent shows in general, is naturally full of these people, who often tend to get Gonged.
- Played with in the Corner Gas episode "Rock On!". Most of the people auditioning to be Thunderface's drummer are actually decent. The problem is none of them are drummers, because Hank forgot to specify that part in the ad.
- The Big Leap gets a slew of these when casting the reality show of the same name, before they start seeing the better dancers.
- The Mitch Benn song "Sing Like an Angel" is from the perspective of a Hopeless Auditionee who comes across as genuinely delusional. The focus is on how this unfortunate person is about to be humiliated for entertainment purposes ... and on leaving the studio, still doesn't realise it.
Gonna win fans and admirers,
When they see me on TV,
'Cos I can sing like an angel,
And now everyone will see.
- Dominic Deegan sees Miranda Deegan holding open applications for a teaching role in her school of magic. Despite Dominic, her oracle son, having looked into the future and figured out which two candidates are actually worth the trouble to interview, she insists on interviewing the other candidates anyway out of fairness. Cue a strip full of losers and nutjobs trying for the job, starting with a candidate who's trying not to wet himself (he didn't think he'd make it that far) and ending with one who wants to replace the rest of the faculty with fire monkeys.
- The cartoon adaptation of Legion of Super-Heroes has particular fun with this. The audition episode The Substitutes doubles as A Day in the Limelight episode, and got foreshadowed by a comic relief scene in an earlier episode tormenting Lightning Lad.
- In the American Idol parody Far Far Away Idol on the Shrek 2 DVD, most of the performers fail epically. Actually voting for any of them will result in Simon Cowell declaring himself the winner.
- Many colleges, especially Ivy League and other universities built on their reputation for being hard to get into, will encourage as many people as possible to apply. This way, they can show off that they only accept a small percentage of applicants, making them seem selective and prestigious. This practice can unfortunately lead to giving students the false impression that they're definitely qualified to go to said university — making it a crushing disappointment when the school of their dreams denies them entrance.