Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Grumbleweed Does Reality TV - Gets Screwed

Here's a rather funny story (but, on your honor, dear reader, you must keep this to yourself)........

Earlier in the year, this guy I know flew down to New Orleans to audition for a certain TV talent show. He wore a Scottish kilt to stand out from the crowd. This was probably a good move as it caught a lot of attention - and some flack. Some rednecks were laughing quite openly - "Look, there's a dude in a dress"!

A kilt similar to the one worn by this guy I know

It was a long slog, as all of the city's star-struck hopefuls - about 6,000 people - had to line-up for 5 hours to register with the show's support crew, and then turn up two days later to line-up again for the privilege of standing on a small, silver duct-tape cross on the floor to sing 90 seconds of acapella to a couple of stern-faced producers. No celebrity judges at this stage. No backing tapes. No instruments. Just sing (and dance if you have that in you). And this guy I know doesn't dance, but he had to sing with a serious case of dry-mouth!

There were about 20 curtained-off areas on a stadium floor, each one about 10 feet by 10 feet. Like a black cloth barn with black cloth cattle stalls. This is where all of the hopefuls got to 'do their thing'. It was weird and distracting, as this guy I know could hear everyone else 'do their thing', including some kids whose parents should probably know better, and some ambitious and delusional airheads who would undoubtedly make it through for comedic value.

The "open cull" booths. I borrowed this image from the Google machine

Anyone who was close to what the producers might be looking for was given a "Golden Ticket" (actually a piece of yellow photocopier paper) and went through to another large room to fill out a questionnaire. Anyone who was unsuccessful at this stage was given instructions to leave immediately and had to do the "walk of shame" out of the arena. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Several youngsters left in tears, devastated, being almost carried out by their parents or other supporters.

The coveted "Golden Ticket"

This guy I know - as I said, with nerves causing all the spittle to evaporate from his mouth - sang to two lovely lady producers, and did a verse of Michael Bolton's "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You", but then launched into a raucous chorus of  "Oh Darling" by the Beatles, allowing him to finish on a crazy high note - "I'll never DOOO YOOOOUU NO HAAAAAAAAAAARM"!

This apparently had the desired effect and took the ladies by some surprise, so a "Golden Ticket" was promptly handed over, allowing this guy I know to advance to the next stage. Exciting! He attempted to give the ladies a hug, but they backed away as this was apparently not allowed. So they all did "virtual hugs", which, had they been caught on camera, would have looked amazingly "campy". The thought of that still makes him shudder a little.

The support crew in the second room - full of excited and wide-eyed "OMG, I got through" folks - explained to everyone that they should wear the same outfit upon return "for continuity". Oh goody, thought this guy I know - another day of  "Look, there's a dude in a dress"! 

The next stage was on the following day. Not knowing beforehand that this would be a possibility, this guy I know had to rearrange flights, car hire and hotel. Gaaahh! THAT was a fun afternoon!

On the following day, the 6,000 people had been whittled down to (a guess) 1,500. Still a pretty big crowd. The curtained-off, cloth barn areas on the stadium floor were now fewer and a little larger, but it was the same process all over again. Line up, wait your turn, stand on the duct tape, answer a few personal questions - try to be "interesting" and sing your song. On this occasion, this guy I know faced two different lady producers (nope, still no celebrity judges). They seemed to like his stories about touching Ziggy Stardust's hand when he was 14 and about how amazing it had been to become a daddy again at aged 52! He sang his "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You : Oh Darling" bit again and got a red card (more colored photocopier paper), meaning that he was through to the THIRD stage. He deftly avoided the virtual hugs and made his way through the curtains.

The third stage audition was that same afternoon. PHEW! Thank goodness there weren't MORE changes to flights etc.! What had been some 1,500 hopefuls remaining after the first stage became something like 800 hopefuls (another guess) after the second stage. Now they were getting serious!

More long lines and more waiting around and then - finally - individual auditionees were ushered into a small room (about 20 feet square) to face four guys. GUYS! Singing a "lurve song" to four guys was going to be interesting, but whatever!

So this time, it was a cameraman, a sound engineer and two executive producers (you shouldn't have to ask, but NO - still no celebrity judges). More questions, more "Hey, look at me, I'm cool and interesting"-type answers - but now all to camera. "What's with the kilt?" they asked. "What first got you into performing?", "What do you do for a living?", "Tell us a little about your musical history", "Are you British?", "Any kids?", etc., etc. This guy I know took each question and fitted it to a fairly well practiced anecdote, and he thought it went well. At least the producers laughed when he expected them to!

Mixing things up a bit, he sang the verse of a Gavin DeGraw song - "I'm Not Over You", but instead of going into the chorus, he hit the chorus of "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morisette. He knows with that Alanis song that if he hits the first note at the top of his full voice range, the song doesn't go any higher, so it all comes out nice and powerful! One of the producers started head-banging! It felt good! More questions and a request for another song. From a prepared list, they asked for "Bed Of Roses" by Bon Jovi. That felt pretty good too, but after such long days and very little refreshment (the venue had confiscated food and drink from everybody's bags and back-packs and expected everyone to pay concessions prices for shitty food and beverages), his voice was a little crackly on the top notes of the chorus. He had quipped when he had first walked in and the executive producers had asked "How are you?" that he was exhausted and in desperate need of a good cup of coffee, so he thought that maybe he got away with those odd crackly notes! Such things never did Rod Stewart any harm!

Everyone was told at the beginning of the day that they would not be given a "Yes" or "No" at the end of the day. The producers take all of their notes, all of the tapes and all of the video footage back to LA and decide who - out of those last 800-odd people - gets to travel back to New Orleans later in the year to face the celebrity judges (YES, that's when they finally show up!) This is the bit everyone thinks is the almost spontaneous "walk off the street and audition for The Voice, or America's Got Talent, or The X-factor or any of those shows". In fact, in each city, these shows have already culled the wanabees, probably down to less than 100 people from the initial several thousand - those few people that get the final call-back, and no doubt half of whom are the cute and funny delusional airheads that help to bring the ratings up. Everyone for this show was told that if they hadn't heard anything by early June, then they could assume that they didn't make it. There is no call if you don't get through.

So this guy I know went home and played a hideously painful waiting game. Was he interesting enough? Did the camera hate him? Was his voice good enough to put him in with a chance? Does the one lady producer to whom he sang on the first day and who threw him a lovely smile when she saw him on the second day have any influence? Is he really what a reality show is looking for? Is he insane? Is that a squirrel? .....so many questions!

All hopefuls had signed a document promising not to tell the world about the process or how they did (under threat of disqualification), but I think telling you in a private blog post - this long afterwards - is ok. Especially as this is all third-hand. I mean, it was this guy I know, not me at all.

In a last comment that he suddenly felt compelled to throw out there at the executive producers, this guy I know said something along the lines of "Off the record, and regardless of the outcome of today's audition, I'd just like to say thanks to you guys for doing what you do. You give old buggers like me some hope again - allow us to live the dream one more time". It was meant quite sincerely and he was tired and emotional. He could hear the wobble in his voice. Oh he knows these shows are all big marketing ploys and that they chew-up and spit-out more souls than is probably decent or humane; but they also help a few people live the dream again. He met many such people over that very long weekend, all with great stories - all with histories like his own. Nobody forces any of them to indulge in that potential humiliation. It is done willingly because they all think, "Just maybe, just this once it will all work out - this is the time the dream will come true".

And don't some of those well-established rock stars just LOVE to criticize reality TV shows. "Why don't these pathetic wannabees do what I did and go pay their dues - go play smoky bars and clubs and send demos into record companies and get a few rejections. Rather than taking the easy way out and getting famous by going on a faky, commercialized, sell-out TV show, maybe they should try some hard work and get some real talent"? The most disappointing comment like this I have seen was made by none other than Dave Grohl (Nirvana and Foo Fighters) - someone I otherwise admire and respect. Well, chances are that Dave would be wearing a paper hat and asking "D'ya want fries with that?" if he hadn't been given a break - a chance or two - some opportunities - by someone he's apparently forgotten along the way. Maybe if he hadn't met - oh I don't know - Kurt fricken' Cobain, for example? Susan Boyle didn't even win Britain's Got Talent but the exposure led to her selling millions of records and turned her into an international star. Why is that any less credible than the way Dave Grohl sells fricken' records? The point is that artists bring entertainment to the public - who gives a crap what bus they took to get there? Grohl should count his many blessings and let others gather theirs however they can. Muppet!

Anyway, it had been just over three weeks since the audition and this guy I know was climbing the walls. He wasn't sleeping well and couldn't focus. It was weird times, dudes! It was like he was back in his twenties, waiting on some record company executive who had FINALLY deigned to come to one of a thousand or so gigs in a smoky club or bar to make a decision that might make or break him! Or like that time when a record producer in Germany had wasted an entire year with promises of a major production deal and then just walked away. Or like the time a major record label in the USA had promised to sign him and then changed their minds after a few months for bullshit political reasons. Or the time he played to a packed theatre in Litchfield, UK and a major record company executive sat in the bar sulking because the band hadn't offered him any cocaine. You know, like the stuff Dave Grohl reckons all of these auditionees should have done.

But just in case, this guy I know had been in the studio and recorded the backing tracks for the hybrid songs he sang, you know, just in case he got the call-back and needed to do that on stage in front of the actual judges (one of them sounded something like this, https://soundcloud.com/adrian-grimes/you-oughta-knover-you - but, obviously, that's only my version and not the one by this guy I know).


So, one lunchtime in May, this guy I know was with his young daughter and walked into an office on the local University campus to collect some free tickets for the Children's Museum in the town where he lives. Lots of ladies were standing around, eating cake and drinking Coke or 7-Up or something. A birthday party, he assumed. They all looked at his cute little girl and started with the customary "Aaaaah - isn't she adorable"- type stuff (well, she IS)! 

Then this guy I know heard his phone start to ring and he couldn't get to it and, while fumbling around in his pocket, managed to drop it, cutting-off whomever was trying to call.

Ten minutes later, as he walked out of the building, he redialed the number and a lady answered "Freemantle Media, can I help you?"

The lady on the other end of the phone - Miss Freemantle - couldn't divert the call as this guy I know had obviously cut the caller off and it didn't go to answerphone, so he didn't know who from the company - F-R-E-E-M-A-N-T-L-E (do I really have to spell it out?!) had actually called.

Dude - he just put the effing phone down on the effing X-Factor.


And they never called back. 

Yes, he almost got to perform on Prime-Time National TV in front of millions of people, but ........he dropped his phone.

How's that for a story about "the one that got away"?

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