Simon Cowell Simon Cowell

Thousands of singing hopefuls braved the harsh weather to attend the very first US auditions for Simon Cowell's new talent show The X Factor at the L.A. Sports Arena. The estimated crowd of 18,000 was so vast, it even caught executive producer Rob Wade off guard.

"I mean, look at this!" an excited Wade told TV Guide Magazine, at 6:30am on March 27, while pointing at the crowds that were gleefully cheering for the cameras despite the steady drizzle. "We thought around five thousand [would show up]. It could have been two. So I'm really, really happy."

With a multi-million dollar contract at stake, the producers expected the level of talent to be high. "I think the 5 million dollars is going to pull out some people who normally wouldn't audition for shows like this, so I think we're going to get a lot of quality," said Wade. "I also think we're going to get all those people who maybe when they were 20 years old had a shot at it, and it didn't quite work out, and now, 20-30 years later they can have a second shot."

The X Factor allows contestant age 12 and up to compete, and although instruments are off limits, there are no restrictions when it comes to how many people perform simultaneously. "You can be a soloist or a vocal group, a boy band, duo, a girl band or a family group," explained Wade. Halfway through the competition, the contestants will be put into teams and the four judges will serve as mentors for the finalists.

"You'll see them helping them with song choices and vocal coaching," said Wade. "They really nurture their talent and bring them through the competition and that also means that there's a dynamic where the judges are competing against each other, which is really exciting."

If anyone's looking forward to being mentored by the famously blunt Cowell, it is former American Idol hopeful Ronald Hodge, who in 2008 made the Top 50. "That other guy, Randy [Jackson], cut me. So thank God he's not here," said Hodge with a laugh. "Simon Cowell's the good one. I found out he was doing his own thing and I had to come back, so I can give him a kiss and tell him that I love him."

When it comes to standing out in a crowd of thousands, Hodge, who was about to sing Paramour's "The Only Exception," knows the drill. "You have to live in the moment," he told us. "It's all about being in the moment and owning the moment." Beyond that, it's all about the X factor.

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!