Monday, April 30, 2012

Remember That Time I Was on That Popular TV Show?

When we arrive at Cow Palace at 6:30am on audition day, there are already hundreds of people in line.  We're an hour earlier today than we were two days prior when we came to register, and still, there are already hundreds of people in line.  Old people who look tired as they sit on folding chairs they brought with them and listen to their children/grandchildren warm up.  Young people -- who, by the way, are missing their second day of school this week to be a part of this process -- wearing clothes that are a bit too mature for them and talking excitedly with other young school-missers.  People you wouldn't expect to be there, like the nice man in the business suit holding the briefcase (I think maybe he'll sing an opera or something) or the gentle giant, massive enough to be a linebacker for the 49ers with a voice that belongs somewhere in my memories of growing up in Polynesia.  And of course there are people who obviously belong there, if not for their "talent," than definitely for the fact that they look like something out of Alien vs. Predator.  Or a Vegas strip club.  There was one woman who wore a white feather headdress double the size of two beach balls.  We couldn't decide between calling her Chicken Girl or Effie Trinket.  Someone else, a tall, skinny gentleman with dreads, wore a bridal veil, body suit, fishnet stockings and platforms.

We were in amazing company, for sure.

I'm there, not to audition -- the thought of doing so still makes my stomach clench with nerves a little -- but to be company and support for a friend as she takes those first courageous steps towards realizing a dream.  I'm here because this is such a unique experience, a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It really is, because barring even more friends who want to audition (seems unlikely) I'm not actually sure I'll ever do this again. 

This is not for the faint of heart.

We're waiting in line for about 3 hours when a woman (I call her Adele because she has that kind of British accent) finally climbs a ladder, gets on a megaphone, and tells us we'll get inside the arena "in just a second," but first there are some things the camera crew has to film us doing because, after all, "you've got to work for that 5 million dollars, we're not just going to give it to you!"  The first thing we do is cheer and make hand motions (you know the one), then we do some silent screaming (I really can't make this craziness up), then they put on some pop music and make us get in circles and dance.  More silent screaming, more dance circles, then the producers walk through the crowd and have a few people sing for the camera, you know, What's your name, Where are you from, Sing us a little something.  Finally, they drive four black SUVs in front of the crowd, and we're told to "Pretend your favorite judges are in these cars and just GO WILD!  That's right, pretend they're in there!  Scream!  Let them know how much you love them!"

Four hours after Adele begins talking, and we're still in the hot sun, waiting to be let in the arena for auditions.  I think to myself that this is what it must be like to be a glamorous star.  Or maybe not.

When we finally do make it inside, it's a madhouse the likes of which I've only seen a few times before (once was at an NSYNC New Years Eve concert back when I was at the tender age of 17).  There are something like 5,000 people here now, and though there are roughly 30 audition booths through which potential contestants can be ushered, they've only got 8 of them (EIGHT OF THEM) open.  The judges are supposedly a mix of music industry "experts" and producers from the show.  Secretly, I suspect they answered Craigslist ads and just showed up.

It'll be another 4 and a half hours before my friend actually auditions.  We kill the time by figuring out which song she'll sing for her judge, making friends with the people sitting around us (one drove down from Washington state, another was from Florida), and staring at a girl who looked like she just climbed off the set of The X-Men.  Some jerk gets on the megaphone a few times and says jerky things I file away in my brain as the shallow crap industry people in L.A. spew on us lesser beings when they're forced to interact with us.  When she finally does audition, she's put in the line for normal people (as opposed to the line they created for the weirdos), given about 20 seconds to speak and sing, and is then moved along.

What has maybe struck me the most about this entire process (I can't seem to call it anything but a process now), is that it really is a not-so-clever creation of a false narrative that we, as TV watchers and crap consumers, will be spoon-fed once this film is edited and cut and manipulated into the newest season of this show.  What struck me next was that these people could care less about youYou want to be a singer?  How great for you.  But will you make good TV?  This is not new, it's not surprising.  But it is a little disheartening and, for some, maybe even a little disenchanting. This is not real, this is not even remotely real. 

Am I surprised by what we experienced that day?  Not really.  It makes for a good story, right (funny how the actual truth can make for a good story)?  But it does make me a little sad.  Sad to know that we give in to this sort of thing, that we buy it, consume it, and maybe even sometimes believe them when they call it "reality TV."

As we were leaving the arena, we saw a little girl walking to the parking lot with her mother.  She couldn't have been more than 13 years old.  And she's crying.  Her mother is hugging her, trying to comfort her, and this tiny little girl is just sobbing.  She didn't get through and it just about broke my heart.  I hope someone tells her that this wasn't real, it wasn't the truth, and that there are far better ways to pursue your dreams.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Love Affair with the PNW

My love affair with the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, is pretty easy to explain.  Seattle was the first place I moved to after leaving Hawaii.  It's where I went to college (go huskies!).  It's where I found my independence and, in a very real sense, myself.  It's where I was able to be selfish for the first time -- with my time, my dreams, my future -- and have that be perfectly okay.  It's where I fell in love.  And it's where, when I look back, I remember being really deep-down in-the-gut happy.

Sure, Seattle has its pitfalls: it really does rain for 10 straight months of the year.  I never realized how many different shades of gray there are until I lived under the clouds of this city for an extended amount of time.  There isn't as much diversity in the northwest as there is, say, in the San Francisco Bay Area -- but really, that's to be expected, isn't it?  It's cold there in the winter.  A biting, stinging cold that, coming from Hawaii, was hard to bear sometimes.  I remember thinking by the time December came around that I was just about 100% over the cold.  

But none of that really matters to me when it comes down to it.  I love this city, with its mountains and bays and bridges.  And I love who I am in this city.

So in case any of you are planning a trip up north in the near future, here are some things to do and check out:

Take a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula.  Even if you have no idea what to do once you arrive in Bremerton or Bainbridge Island (hint: drive until you get to Port Townsend or the Olympic National Forest or the coast near La Push and Cape Flattery -- all are incredibly beautiful and wild places).  The bonus here is that the ferry leaving from or arriving back to Seattle offers you the best possible views of the city you'll ever get (see the second to the last picture above).  On a clear day, you'll even be able to see the Cascades and the Olympic mountain ranges.  It's breathtaking.  If you want a longer ferry ride, head to the San Juans and Orcas Island.

Visit Kerry Park. That's where I took the first picture featured above.  It's another great view of the city (and yet another can be seen from the free observation deck of the Columbia Tower downtown or Gasworks Park near Wallingford) and the Space Needle in particular.

Go on a tasting at Theo Chocolates in Fremont.  It's chocolate.  It's delicious.  And it's in quirky Fremont.  While you're there wandering through antique malls, used bookstores, and clothing boutiques, check out the statue of Lenin (yes, that Lenin) or the famous Fremont Troll that lives under the bridge (pictured above).

Walk around the University of Washington.  Because, really, why not?  If you're there in the spring, you may even catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom.  There are some good, cheap eats along The Ave which borders campus too.

Go to Pike's Place Market because you have to.  It's a great photo opportunity, but don't buy anything there since things are way overpriced.  Make sure you ask someone to point you towards the gum wall.  I know it sounds awful, but do it anyway.  And if you're in the mood for coffee, steer clear of the first ever Starbucks -- why go there when there are Starbucks on every corner these days? -- and instead head to La Panier and order sables.  Trust me. 

Play whirlyball.  Think basketball, lacrosse and bumper cars.  Now add beer.  Oh, yeah.  When you're done, head to Dick's and get a burger.

Take a tour at Red Hook Brewery if you're into beer and laughs.  It's only a dollar and the tour guides are hilarious.  They also let you sample enough beer to make you feel just fine.  If you need to soak up some of that alcohol before getting behind the wheel, there's an restaurant on-site too.

Check out the nightlife in Ballard.  Sure, there's Belltown, Capital Hill and Pioneer Square, but since we went to Ballard on this visit, that's what I'm going to suggest.  The Matador has a pretty good happy hour.  And speaking of happy hour...if that's your thing, download The Strangers Happy Hour iPhone app before going out.  It's amazing.  Ivar's Salmon House also has a good happy hour and outdoor seating right on Lake Union.

There are obviously other typical spots to check out (the Experience Music Project, the Space Needle, Kurt Cobain's house...), but these are just a few ideas to get you started.

Seattle, I love you.
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