The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 19, 2012

'X Factor' is only the beginning for Gustavus' Ben Westphal

ST PETER — Ben Westphal entered the hotel past a screaming throng of fans. They were lined up behind large barriers, hoping to catch sight of the next stars of Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” television show.

Inside the hotel, cameras and producers were everywhere. They filmed everything as performers scratched out room to practice, or fret, or both.

After several hours of waiting, someone finally called Westphal’s name. The Gustavus Adolphus College sophomore was beckoned through a set of large doors and onto a stage.

And there, just 10 or 15 feet away, were Louis Walsh, L.A. Reid, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato -- “X Factor” judges and superstars in their own right. And they were waiting to hear Westphal sing.

“The judges were right in my face,” Westphal said, “much closer than it looks on TV. It was really intense looking into the eyes of Britney Spears and L.A. Reid. I felt helpless in a way.”

No stranger to performance, Westphal was only 5 when he joined the Metropolitan Boys Choir. At 8, he began touring with the choir; over the next eight years he performed in 43 states and almost every country in Europe. At 16, he participated in Project Opera. And in high school and church, he was regularly cast in plays and musicals.

Now, he’s a singer/songwriter with an impressive collection of original, rock-infused pop tunes. In lieu of regular live gigs, Westphal promotes himself on MySpace -- www.myspace.com/abrighterdaymn -- and has several records to his name.

Westphal said writing music is his “main passion” and his voice has all the necessary elements for pop success: infectious, crisp and just saccharine enough.

But standing on a stage at the Sprint Center in Kansas City where “X Factor” auditions were held in June, Westphal said he couldn’t help but feel this was a different kind of performance.

He composed himself and began to sing Andy Grammer’s “Fine by Me.” But the judges stopped him and asked for something more upbeat.

Westphal re-composed, and then sang one of his originals: a foot-tapping, catchy tune called “Nothin’ Wrong With Me.”

Reid started bobbing his head. Spears said she didn’t expect such a strong voice. Lovato added that he was cute. All four judges said yes.

Two months later, Westphal was invited with 119 other performers to participate “X Factor” bootcamp in Miami Beach, Fla. Over the course of a week, judges used the bootcamp to determine the final contestants for the TV show. During his live audition, Westphal sang a revision of “Baby Got Back.” And though he was complimented for an original choice, he was dismissed on day four alongside 40 or so other performers.

Though Westphal did have cameos on an “X Factor” episodes earlier this month, he won’t appear on any further episodes this season. He is, however, featured in some of the show’s online content.

Westphal said he learned a lot from the experience. Most of his singing has been in a studio, so he wants to do some more live performance to work on his stage presence. He’s also begun work on another record.

“I’ll be back next summer,’” Westphal said. “I’ll definitely do it again.”

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