The bedroom recording studio inside the Willard Court home feels like a sauna: Window shut. Blinds drawn. Door closed. Padded panels line a corner of the room to help maximize sound absorption.
Austin Corini – a 16-year-old Christopher High School junior now appearing on a TV music show watched by millions each week – is belting out his rendition of a goose bump-inducing power ballad called “Someone Like You” by Grammy award-winning vocalist Adele.
It's no easy number to cover.
An expressive singer, Austin finishes one of the chill-provoking passages, then listens intently to the sounds of his just-recorded voice as it's played back and transmitted through a pair of headphones.
A critique from Austin's vocal coach ensues. She's listening from another room.
“I don't know how else to sing that, Mom,” Austin responds, talking into the microphone. “Honestly…like a push? Like a umph?”
He takes a swig of water. A black rubber bracelet on Austin’s right hand – a gift from a fan – reads, “Music is my life.”
Things wrap up about 30 minutes later in the front of the house, where recording engineer Justin Young of Gilroy-based Young Fire Productions is about to play the completed track for everyone to hear, including Austin’s mom, Jeanine, and two local videographers who were filming the recording session.
A framed sign hanging on the wall over Justin’s head declares, “Music is what feelings sound like.”
Austin enters the room and slumps into an office chair.
“It's about 1,000 degrees in there,” he grins, bleached-blond faux hawk still intact.
Seconds later, group chatter fades to pensive silence as everyone listens to the song from beginning to end. Emotional melody floods the room through a pair of large speakers.
Austin multi-tasks, sending a few texts messages on his iPhone. Nearly 13,000 friends and fans are following him on Twitter.
The song comes to an end, and Justin turns in his seat.
“This is really good,” he tells Austin.
“The X FACTOR”
Thursday's intimate recording session is a stark difference from several months ago, when a panel of four celebrity judges including record executive L.A. Reid and veteran pop star Britney Spears critiqued Austin onstage in front of 3,000 people while filming “The X Factor.”
The TV music competition show aims to “discover the next global superstar or breakout music group.”
Corini is one of thousands from around the country who auditioned for the show in July during auditions in Greensboro, N.C.
Now, with second season of “The X Factor” recently kicking off Sept. 12 and airing weekly at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays on FOX, South County has a hometown hopeful to root for. Austin and his family lived in Morgan Hill for 18 years before moving to Gilroy one year ago.
The first half of “The X Factor” consists of taped footage prior to live broadcasting in November, when the contestant pool has been whittled down to the top contenders. Viewers ultimately determine the winner by voting for their favorites.
Austin is limited by strict legal contract in what he can divulge so as not to let slip any spoilers, but in the meantime he’s riding the momentum and sporting heightened confidence.
“It was like one of those slo-mo things in the movies,” he recalled, describing his first performance for the judges and an audience of 3,000.
Austin sang “That's What Makes You Beautiful” by a British-Irish boy band called One Direction. He followed that up with “Wanted” by country artist Hunter Hayes.
“As soon as I stepped out there, time stopped, and there was silence” he said. “And I see all these people right before they start going crazy.”
The suspense ius equally intense from the sidelines.
Austin’s mom and mentor, Jeanine – a singer herself who minored in music education – has been “a nervous wreck.”
The kind of pressure that comes with being judged by music industry superstars in front of a live audience “would make other kids wet their pants,” she quipped.
She recalls going “berserk” with anticipation during the Greensboro auditions.
Austin's father went along for that trip since Jeanine – a children's pastor at South Valley Community Church – was literally sleeping in a covered wagon while chaperoning summer camp at Hume Lake. She hiked a mile down to the main lodge one evening “and stood in line with all the teenagers” at the payphone in order to find out if her son had made it through.
“I was a mom on a mission,” she laughed.
For those who stay on long enough, “The X Factor” is a potential catapult from relative obscurity to mega stardom – the Holy Grail being a $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music.
Concept credit goes to “American Idol” alumnus Simon Cowell, an opinionated judge known for his searing critiques and executive producing clout that turns raw talent such as Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson into overnight sensations.
Austin agrees the brutally honest Brit can be “frightening,” but says the “mean guy reputation” that made Cowell the sensational Scrooge of “American Idol” during his eight-year tenure isn't so acerbic as it once was.
“His criticism became more constructive,” said Austin. “In real life, he's the nicest guy. He's super cool.”
The same goes for Spears. Once you meet her in person, Austin says, the demigoddess persona accentuated by years of media hype fades away.
“She’s like a normal person,” he said. “She can be your mom's friend or something. Just this nice lady giving you feedback.”
Though he did comment on her fans.
“There's been guys that go up there that are just like, creepy obsessed with her,” he said, of Spears' overly devoted admirers. “It's pretty funny.”
Austin, who isn't one for good luck charms, says he balances the stress of competing and performing by finding solace and strength in his relationship with God.
“When I'm up there, I keep reminding myself that God is up there with me and I'm not alone,” he said.
Not that he's a stranger to the limelight.
The teen crooner has a “scattering of experience” since catching the performance bug at age 8, doing voiceover work for the “Finding Nemo” ride at Disneyland; to modeling for Gap, Old Navy and Target; to starring in several national commercials for Audi and Alltel Wireless.
It's music, however, that consumes most of Austin’s focus these days.
The young soloist who likes to play ice hockey in his spare time finds inspiration in Michael Jackson, Toby Mac and a San Jose-based Christian rock band called I Am Empire.
“I have a lot of musicians come in and out who aren't talented, so it gets really frustrating working with them,” noted recording engineer Justin Young. “It's really fun working with Austin because of how talented he is, and how much fun he has when he does it.”
Whether it’s wooing the crowd at Nashville-based “TeenHoot” concerts (an outlet for up-and-coming teen musicians), singing with the worship band at South Valley, writing original songs, recording another cover for his YouTube channel or practicing the guitar, Austin's outlook on the future is sunnier than Britney Spears' blond hair extensions.
“As soon as I saw the judges...I remember thinking, these people are exactly what I'm trying to be right now,” he said. “I'm seeing the end of the road of my success.”
Between Jeanine talking to her friends, Austin telling some of his buddies and the networking wonders of social media, Austin says he gets approached about the show by Christopher students he doesn't even know.
Whatever the outcome of “The X Factor,” Corini knows it's a major leg up in the career saddle. He plans on putting the experience to good use.
“I've spent my whole life singing in front of half people who like it, and half who don't – and the other half is usually guys,” he laughs. “When I performed in front of thousands people who enjoyed what I did, I felt a higher respect for myself. And it leads you to want more of that. I'm definitely more dedicated now that I've seen what I can get.”