This past Friday I spent nigh on 5 hours of my life standing in line for an experience that lasted all of 7 minutes. Maybe.
I never auditioned for American Idol. I never wanted to. Granted there were a lot of people who said that I should, or asked me why I hadn't, or asked me if was going to, or asked me why I wouldn't, but it simply wasn't something I ever thought was for me.
"I'm not a pop singer. And I feel more comfortable playing an instrument anyway. And I don't have the 'look'."
I don't think I ever replied exactly like that. I have, for your benefit, condensed it down to what I think I might've said had one caught me on a day where I had had enough sleep, lunch and coffee all in the same day. Which never happens.
Then, this year, The Voice sauntered its way onto our television screen.
The first time a commercial for the show came on Zack turned to me and said,
"You should totally be on that show."
"Oh c'mon. With American Idol you were always saying that they picked a lot of those people based on their looks. Here it's not even an option."
I shrugged. But secretly I was interested.
From that point on, it seemed that every time the commercial for the show, or the actual show was on (Yes, we watched it. Yes, we were rooting for Dia.) either Zack or Caleb or Phoenix would turn to me and say,
"You should try out for this show."
At first it was cute. Then it grew to a level of annoyance that, upon them even turning my way, I would narrow my eyes and scrunch up my mouth really tight, like one of those old people faces made out of pantyhose.
Then came the announcement that they were CASTING! FOR SEASON TWO!
"Do you think you've got what it takes?"
BLAM! BLOO! WOW WOW WOO WOW!
I chewed the inside corner of my lip. Ran my tongue over my front teeth. Scratched my nose. Yawned.
The thought I was trying to suppress wriggled out from underneath the weight of my subconscious and ran smack into my not subconscious and lay there gasping for breath for a moment. Every other thought that was vying for my attention - Desire For Chocolate, Do I Need To Pee, Is that Hawke I Hear, I Really Should Have Drunk More Water Today Why Didn't I Drink More Water, When Vincent Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear Did It Affect His Hearing All That Much Really And Could He Have Potentially Grown His Hair Long To Hide It - all stopped and stared.
"Maybe!", it squeaked out finally.
"Maybe what?", I replied. In my head.
All the other thoughts swiveled their attention back to the tiny squeaky thought.
"Maybe you have what it takes."
I stared at it for a moment. Raised my eyebrow. You know, in my head. Because I have eyebrows inside my head, too.
"I should be kicking you out right about now. However. You may stay."
"Thank you very much. May I have some water now, please? And a nap?"
Shortly after that I found myself on The Voice website. Then I was signing up for an Artist Login that made everything feel very official.
I kept it a secret for a little while. Then I showed Zack the email.
"Whoa-hoh!", he said. “Good for you! This is gonna be awesome.”
I told my family.
I told my counselor.
I told a couple of close friends.
There was a point where what song exactly I should audition with became a big deal. At one point Zack was scrolling through the top 100 songs on iTunes trying to find a popular song for me to learn. I was scoffing at his suggestions.
“I”m telling you,” he said, “this is a pop show. You’re gonna have to learn pop songs.”
I don't listen to the radio. Everything on the Top 100 list was crap. I think I recognized maybe three artists? Maybe six. But I wouldn't know the songs. At all. Is this good? I dunno. I'm woefully ignorant of current culture. This either means that I am very cool or that I am getting old.
I ended up narrowing it down to three songs that I love to sing, pretty much all the dang time:
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
One by Harry Nilsson
All I Need Is Everything by Over the Rhine
These are very popular with myself.
Friday, August 5th, rolled around. I got up. Got the boys off to school. Zack left for the studio. Caitlin, my little sister, showed up at 10am to help me with Hawke and I crawled back in bed.
I laid there and stared at the ceiling.
Do I really want to do this?
I had been sent an email with my "OFFICIAL ARTIST AUDITION PASS". There was even an audition time on it. 2pm. I was to print it out and bring it with me, along with my photo ID.
Do I really want to do this?
I said that I would.
But I could totally go to a bookstore and write and read and have some coffee and spend that time on something FUN.
And that's when I knew that I didn't really want this. But that I should do it anyway, because I said that I would. And who knows? Maybe. And if “maybe” then maybe I would want it.
If you like me I'll like you. Or something like that.
Zack came to pick me up at 1:30pm to take me downtown to AmericasMart. It's this humongous group of three buildings that I had never been in before. Twenty-nine years that I’ve lived in this town and I don't think I've ever been inside AmericasMart. After having been there now, I'm okay with the fact that I wasn't, or hadn't, before. Did that make sense? Possibly. I'm going to go with it.
I was a wreck on the way there. I was picking a fight and word stabby.
"Do I look okay?"
"YES! Of course! You look beautiful!"
"Well, you didn't say anything when I got in the car and I didn't want to ask but because you never tell me I look nice I had to ask. AGAIN. I just want you to notice me blah blah blahasdaoruitqhrigaosidgnaorihghrgoaidgablahblahblah...."
This is where I would like to walk up to myself in this remembering of it and punch myself in the head.
Who is the biggest dramatic dumb dork right now?
Raises hand. Me. I am. Hi. Where’s my trophy?
Zack dropped me off at the corner of Peachtree Street and Harris. Kissed me.
"Good Luck. I love you."
I got out and walked to the first entrance I saw with the AmericasMart sign on it.
A woman was standing just inside the door. She took one look at me and said,
"Go back out, turn right, turn right at the light, turn right again and you'll see the line."
"Ack. Okay. Thanks."
I turned right one block too early, ended up walking the long way 'round and finally, FINALLY, found myself at the back of the line.
I passed so many people walking to the back of that line. They all stood there, hearts practically hanging out of their chests, every kind of person one could imagine, the hope and longing was so strong the buildings were humming with it, it was coming off of them like heat waves on pavement.
Speaking of heat waves it just so happened to be about 98 degrees outside that day. Positively balmy. I was so pleased to feel my shower freshness disappear into the rivulets of sweat running down my back. I practically heard my hair declare, "Well sh*t. I give up."
I won’t go into detail about the girl behind me who was going on and on about her recording deals and how she’s worked with so and so and been with him and her and them and those guys. When a man with a microphone walked by the line and said,
“Who wants to sing on the radio?”, she squealed and yelled, “I do!”
She was pretty, and tall, and because she sang A LOT, I can tell you that she had a decent voice. I finally couldn’t take hearing her talk about her anymore and put earbuds in and proceeded to listen to The Boxer Rebellion. This made me look strange, I’m sure, as they seem to cause me to launch into a lot of really bad air drumming. Fortunately the line was moving relatively quickly and soon I was inside of a loading bay area of some kind. The line snaked around 5 times before it finally led back outside.
This was in the last bit of the line before heading back outside.
Then, blissfully, I was being ushered into the actual inside of the nirvana of air conditioning. A big burly man checked my ID against my audition pass, a nice lady checked the content of my bag.
"Oooh. You brought yo'self a orange! It's kinda small doh ain't it?"
"It's a clementine."
"Oh yeah! I had one uh deez before. I jus' figure if I'm going to eat a peez o' fruit I gon' get a big one! You fine. Go on up the 'scalator."
Up the escalator I went. And up. And up. Then there was a wide open space with just a huge banner at the end. As if to say, This show is such a big deal we are going to devote this entire space just for this banner.
And yet another escalator. Then another wide open room with twelve lines. Six on one side and six on the other. A nice man directed me to the left lines,
"Pick from lines 2-6. Whichever is shortest."
I picked line number 4. Stood. Waited. About two and half hours had passed since Zack had dropped me off. Waited.
A girl asked me,
"Do you know what's going on up there?"
I shook my head. Nope. All I could see a ways up was a long table. With people sitting at it, looking official and stuff.
Finally I sat down on the floor, peeled my clementine, drank my water and pulled out my book, “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. One of my favourites. If you’re fond of reading you should go read it. Right now. Go on. Get out out of here.
I was munching away on some cashews, blissfully reading, when one fell down into the dark abyss of my cleavage. I looked around to see if anyone was looking in my direction. Should I go fishing for it? Would it seem I was getting my jollies? Or would people think, Oh look. She must’ve accidentally dropped a bit of cashew into her mammary crevasse. I debated. I went for it. Right then a woman in the line next to me leaned over and said,
"Do you go to Trinity?"
I whipped my hand out and made a big show of brushing off the front of my dress.
"Not anymore. But I used to!"
Dear God. Please let her have not noticed that I was trying to stave off the potential cashew butter in my bra.
We struck up a conversation until my line started moving faster than hers and the people around us were becoming visibly annoyed. I said I'd find her on Facebook and then realized too late that I didn't know her last name. (She found me though. Hi Paige!)
When I got up to the table I was given a blue wristband by a girl who was so bored I almost reached over to prop her chin up for her.
Someone else directed me to the right side of the room where another person showed me to a row of ten chairs. There were about 40 rows of 10 chairs on the left side of the room and the same on the right side where I was. All were full or being filled. Across the room people were erupting into cheers and everyone on “my” side of the room quickly gathered it was because a row of people were being directed someplace else. The rows around mine sort of started to bond. Singing and dancing and laughing. I was texting the "play by play" as it were to my family and a couple of close friends.
At one point my dear Jenny R. messaged me,
"Just remember; they cannot eat you. No matter what."
"Oh geez. This is worse than a Shamalayanamama film. Whatever his name is."
My sisters were telling me that I had this. No problem.
I wasn’t so sure.
Betsy told me she was sending a Chocolate Prayer Cupcake with Holy Spirit Sprinkles.
That made me hungry.
The rows across from me were being ushered out of the room. Everyone started to get louder as their nerves began fraying.
Finally my row was asked to line up and we followed a girl up another escalator to...
More rows of chairs.
In the bathroom girls were primping and doing vocal exercises.
"If you sing the melody but while blowing your lips it will help warm you up."
"Do re mi fa so la ti do! Do ti la so fa mi re do!"
Another half hour later a woman counted out ten of us in sequence and led us to a wide hallway with rooms on either side, all with signs, all with ten people standing outside, all with gray carpeted doors, all with a human being wearing a headset standing outside.
I was waiting outside of room A2. Waiting. You know. Because that is what life was about now, it seemed. I was going to wait, being led up different escalators to sit in rows of chairs, to then stand outside of doors until I could no longer remember what I was waiting for exactly. Just a mind numbing series of halls and white walls and...
THE DOOR WAS OPENING.
The ten of us, now my treasured companions in this saga, watched as the people who were in the room came out, a bit dazed looking, and had their blue wristbands cut off. But there were only eight people. We were whispering now. "Only EIGHT." Rather the other nine were whispering. I was quiet.
The door was closed again. Then an adorable couple came out. He of the black hair, she of the perfect waves and fedora hat. They were each holding a red piece of paper in one hand and each others hand in the other. A man seemingly appeared out of nowhere and instructed them to head down the hall. The rest of us, lined up like cattle, watched in wonder, some even started to applaud, as they walked further into the building towards the glowing light of promise. Which was probably a window or something, but from where I stood, it looked an awful lot like promise. But I’ve been mistaken about that before. Sometimes promise is found under a rock, or buried in ivy, or inside old warehouses. Or inside me.
We handed over our audition passes to our headsetted human being and then walked through the door into a drab, boring, gray room. There, at a folding table, the kind one finds in any church fellowship hall anywhere ever, sat the casting director. Next to her sat another woman wrapped in a blanket. I suppose she was cold. We had been told outside that the casting director was the main director for the show. The head honcho. Great. You know, no big deal or anything.
We sat in the chairs provided and the Head Honcho Casting Lady lifted up the first audition pass and called out the first name.
A girl with a church voice.
A girl with a small quavery voice.
There was only one guy in our group. A nice looking man with a white "doorag" on his head that was then topped with a white ball cap with the tag still on it. I found myself wondering why he was wearing both. Had he forgotten that he had already put on the rag...of...doo? Was his head prone to getting cold? Did he realize the tag was still on his hat? It was dangling near his ear, did it bother him? His name was Wayne? Leroy? I don't remember now. He sang. It was...okay. I noticed he had to adjust his key lower when he got to the chorus. I wasn't impressed.
One girl just talked for a couple of minutes. She couldn't start. Finally she launched into Adele's "Rolling in the Deep". Her voice was nice but she cracked several times. I inwardly winced for her.
One little girl, and I mean little because she was...tiny...short and little, with white cowboy boots and bleach blonde hair, got up and sang Etta James "At Last". She had a good voice, it was strong and as she sang her whole body moved and swayed. One could tell that she loved to sing.
I walked to the white line marked out on the floor. Actually I kind of clomped over to the line because my foot had conveniently fallen asleep.
All I could hear in my head was,
"Daisy, Daisy sour cream. Fresh and tasty naturally, a dip for you and a dollop for me, Daisy just goes with family so do a dollop do do a dollop of Daisy..."
I stared at the very very gray drab walls. I looked at the two poor ladies who had been sitting there for God knows how long.
"How many times have you heard "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen today?", I croaked out. I was going to woo them with my charm. I was going to just charm their socks right off.
"Uh...not very many times.", the H.H.C.L. was looking over some papers in front of her.
"Well, that's what I'm going to sing for you then!" and I smiled and twisted back and forth a bit. And then launched into it.
Then I sat down.
A couple more people sang.
Then the H.H.C.L. asked the little girl in the white cowboy boots to sing something else.
"Something current. Off of the radio. Something country perhaps? I'm looking at your cowboy boots and assuming country?"
The girl looked dumbstruck.
"Uh. I dunno. I mean, I know some songs but..."
"What was your back up song?"
The director shook her head.
"How Great Thou Art?"
Again, shaking of the head.
"I can sing another Etta James song?"
"No, no. You're a young girl, what kind of artist do you want to be? Do you have anything? Anything current at all?"
"I could sing Rolling in the Deep, I guess, but that girl just sang it.", and here she gestured over to my side of the room.
"That's okay. Just sing that."
So she did. But I could tell she was focusing more on trying to remember the words than really sing. She did fine. The H.H.C.L. looked over at the woman in the blanket. They shrugged.
I thought to myself, if they ask me to sing something current I'm hosed. I was going through every song I could think of that I thought could work and found that I was looping through a mixture of songs from The Cure, The Boxer Rebellion, Aimee Mann and the Daisy Sour Cream jingle. I was royally screwed.
But the H.H.C.L. never even looked my way.
She looked at the guy.
"Wayne," (I'm calling him that 'cause I can't remember his name) "keep your phone on. If you don't hear from me by 8pm tonight that means you're not through. I'm marinating on you. Everyone else, thanks so much for your time. Have a nice weekend."
And just like that, we were done.
The little girl in the white cowboy boots was devastated. Her eyes were already pooling with tears by the time we reached the escalators. She was wearing coloured contacts, they were a very brilliant shade of royal blue and that, mixed with her tears, made her eyes look like glass marbles. I reached out and touched her on the arm.
"You did a great job."
She nodded soundlessly, already on her phone, trying to keep it together. I hurt for her.
Down down down the escalator.
Out out out the door.
I sent out a text to my family,
"I'm kind of shocked at how disappointed I am."
And I was.
It was 7:30 when I walked out of the doors and into reality again. Out to the sight of a man digging through the garbage cans across the street looking for food. Back out to the reality of the heat. Back out to the sight of tourists squinting at signs telling them that they were where they were but where was that exactly? Here. You are here. At this red dot.
The ground outside AmericasMart was littered with discarded hope. I could imagine the feeling of it around my ankles, like kicking through leaves, fluttering and a bit crunchy, already brittle. I folded my hope up. Tucked it behind my ear to look at later. Right then I needed to call Zack. Right then I needed to figure out where in the H-E-double hockey sticks I could get my hands on a good margarita.
A big one.
I ended up getting my margarita. I haven't looked too closely at my hope yet. It's safe though. It's sitting quietly on my bed side table at the moment. I suppose I'll pick it up in time for the ATL Collective show this Wednesday at Eddie's Attic. I'll sing my heart out through the songs of The Clash. I'll bring my hope out on stage with me and give it some room to breathe.
It's 3:45am and I should go to bed. So, Goodnight then, gentle readers.
"Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops... at all."