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.

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