Last week, as I watched the latest excruciating installment of American Idol, I noticed a common thread in each wannabe's performance. One after another, these hopefuls defiantly proclaimed that their friends and family had assured them they had amazing voices.
All evidence to the contrary.
That clinically insane broad from D.C. with the multiple voices (in her head, is my guess) insisted that Simon Cowell was just trying to "annoy" her when he proclaimed, "You have the worst voice I've ever heard." But he wasn't: Even her mother had to know that this woman was godawful, and you'd think that at least one of her friends would have taken that friendship seriously enough to be brutally honest before the cameras started rolling. Sadly, none was. What's worse, you just know that some of her so-called friends are sitting in a trailer somewhere laughing their asses off as they watch the replays on VH1's Best Week Ever highlight reel.
But then, none of my friends -- a crew loyal to a fault, homies who'd lie down in traffic for me -- batted an eye when I told them I planned to audition this past Sunday for the second season of UPN 20's Gimme the Mike, the homespun reality knockoff of Idol that more closely resembles Amateur Night at the Apollo meets karaoke night at Armida's. They've seen me perform before, of course, and while I'm no Clay Aiken, I can sing on key and generally don't pose a threat to myself or others. And I didn't disclose to them that I planned to suck on purpose -- to see how the other half lives, as they say, to see what it's like to be Hung like William.
And as it turned out, sucking wasn't that tough. Because when I pulled into the Colorado Mills parking lot, a blast of adrenaline shot through my nervous system and momentarily paralyzed me. Apparently my brain hadn't alerted my adrenal glands that this was, you know, all in fun and stuff. Or maybe it was the audition itself that threw me. Although I wasn't unnerved at the idea of singing in front of a bunch of strangers -- I've been doing that most of life -- this was the first time I'd tried out for anything since sixth grade, when I was up for the illustrious role of "Lamb Number Three" in my school's holiday pageant. So when I stepped out of the car and headed for Jillian's, my heart was racing and my legs wouldn't stop shaking.
I'd expected the process leading to the tryout to be as cumbersome as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles, but it was surprisingly smooth. I submitted my registration packet, was assigned a number (705) and then waited for that number to be called. In the meantime, I mingled with fellow contestants. Some of them were hapless also-rans fresh off the karaoke circuit. But others, like 25-year-old Jason Nash, aka number 704, were the real deal.
Nash, who'd moved to Mootown from Arkansas less than a week before, has a great set of pipes that could give some of our better-known minstrels a run for their money. And unlike me, he was taking the proceedings as seriously as an IRS audit. I ran into Nash outside of the restroom, where he was warming up. I was writing in my notebook, and he assumed that I was one of the judges. "Let me run something past you," he said. "Tell me what you think of this..."
He then launched into a dead-on, soulful rendition of Fuel's "Hemorrhage" that completely floored me. Since he was wearing a do-rag and looked like a cross between Andre 3000 and Usher, I'd expected him to be either an R&B thug, à la R. Kelly, or a run-of-the-mill hip-pop MC like Nelly. Man, was I wrong.
"I'm alternative, man," Nash enthused. "I mean, I can do R&B, too, but I'm a rock fanatic. I'll rock you out of your seat. I love R&B, but I grew up on Metallica and Black Sabbath, man."
We hadn't waited thirty minutes when our numbers were called, and we were led single-file into a holding area. I've always heard these types of things referred to as "cattle calls" -- and at that moment, I understood why. I felt like a calf being led to the slaughter. Thank God for Nash, who entertained the rest of us as we waited anxiously for our chance to impress -- or in my case, depress -- the judges, displaying a charisma that disarmed us all as he offered flawless interpretations of songs by Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks and Usher.
"He's wasting all of his good material on us," opined number 703.
But I'm pretty sure he saved a little something for the judges, because they seemed nonplussed when it came my turn to move into the makeshift audition area. The audition was nothing like I expected. There were just five people, myself included, in the room -- a cameraman and three judges, none of them KS-107.5's Larry Ulibarri, Gimme the Mike's poor-man answer to Cowell -- and a lot of blinding studio lights. I thought the middle-aged soccer-mom judge was going to question my cover as she leafed through my packet -- I'd put "writer" as my occupation -- but no one stopped me. So I made my way to the stage, stood on the X and waited for my cue. After soccer mom got the time code from the cameraman, I held up my number, said my name and belted out the first verse of the Beatles' "Oh! Darling."
Suffice it to say, I was horribly out of tune and had zero stage presence -- my hands were in my pockets the whole time. I wasn't wearing any of the "performance attire" that the application had "strongly suggested," nor did I fill up the entire sixty seconds I'd been allotted. But that was all part of my plan. I was hoping that the judges would savage me for sport, like the countless other hopefuls I'd seen skewered on Idol after they turned in similarly cringe-worthy performances. But Ulibarri wasn't there, and soccer mom, God love her, was as gentle and kind as a hospice nurse helping clean the crap off of some poor soul. "Thanks," she said stoically. "Be sure to check the website on the 14th for your name."
That was it, I thought? No sending me out crying in search of a straight razor? No "I've heard better sounds come out of a cat being squashed by a Peterbilt?" My sixth-grade choir teacher was more critical than that. For crissakes, my friends are more critical than that when I'm trying to do well. Talk about a buzzkill.
I'm not foolish enough to think I'll make the show, which begins airing Wednesday, March 9. But I'll be looking for Jason Nash.
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