Monday, February 22, 2010

My Mariah Medley and Why It Failed

When I was an American Idol contestant a couple of seasons ago, the hard part wasn’t the singing — having extraordinary vocal ability is something you’re born with, and I was born with enough for triplets — but coming up with autobiographical information that would make America root for me. The production assistant I was assigned, Staci, made no secret of her frustration when, after inviting me to tell her something sad about my life, I recounted my parents not getting along well, and leaving adolescence having never known a whole day’s peace. She rolled her eyes, began sending a text message, and said, “What else you got?” I told her how excruciating arthritis in my right shoulder had compelled me to have it surgically replaced some years before. She rolled her eyes and said, “What else you got?” I told her I’d been estranged for years from the person I’d loved most and best in my life, my daughter. She looked up from her cell phone for the first time and said, “Tell me more.” When I was through recounting my terrible job of hiding how much it hurt when my daughter treated me as the booby prize and her mother, who’d insisted on divorce when our daughter wasn’t yet three, as the grand prize, she actually closed her cell phone entirely and said she thought we might have something to work with.

“You’ve entered the competition not only because you love singing,” Stacee thought aloud, looking at the ceiling, tapping her pen against her teeth, “but because you think that winning might make your estranged daughter love you again, right?” Her expression made unmistakable that I was supposed to answer yes. “Yes,” I said. “Exactly right!”

“Awesome,” she said, yawning as she scribbled a note to herself. She flipped to another page on her clipboard and called the next name on her list.

I wasn't surprised to be in one of the roomfuls of Hollywood Week contestants that got good news. I hadn’t imagined them able to say no to my Mariah medley, which had inspired Simon to muse, “You know, I think you’re even better than you know.” I replied, “Oh, I doubt it. No one’s that good.” But there was a twinkle in my eye when I said it, and I winked at him for good measure. “Cheeky,” he noted, approvingly. A very special look passed between us.

Now the 51 of us hoping to become the Final 24 who would sing for America’s votes — and be paid, if only nominally, to perform on the annual finalists’ tour — were herded into another big room to wait to be summoned for an announcement of the judges’ decision. Production assistants circulated among us, urging us to try to look like passengers on a newly hijacked jetliner — that distraught, that apprehensive. They turned the thermostat up very high to make us sweat, and then very low to make us shiver. We weren’t allowed to use the restroom. Two contestants who shared a joke and laughed nervously were told either to get with the program or go home.

It appeared, as the long day dragged on and on, as though I'd been forgotten. There were only nine of us left, and then six, and then only four — I, another guy, and two girls — with only two slots still open, one for each sex. We compared the various tragedies our various production assistants had helped us develop. The other guy, a rock dude with long hair and generic vocal gruffness, had a four-year-old son with a slight stammer. He’d been urged to say the boy had a serious neurological condition he wouldn’t be able to afford to have treated unless he won the competition. The mother of one of the girls, a generic soul mama with gigantic eyes and very glossy straightened hair, had been an unwed teenager who’d run away a couple of years after her birth; the young soul mama had grown up with her grandparents. The producers had told her to say her parents had been killed by a drunk driver while walking home from church.

Finally, there was a blandly pretty young blonde who shared my enthusiasm for Mariah, but of course didn’t have anything like my chops. She’d led a charmed blandly pretty blonde life, and could think of nothing sadder than that her younger brother had asthma. The producers suggested he be dying of lung cancer — oh, the cruel irony in view of his never having taken even a puff of a cigarette! She had learned that she intended, if she won, to give all the money she would make over the course of her career to medical research in hope of sparing anyone else the premature loss of a younger sibling.

I was pretty sure I was doomed, and blamed Stacee, whom I saw again just before I went in to hear the judges' verdict. She told me to be sure to point out, quaveringly, that this was my last hope of realizing my most cherished dream. Randy affirmed that I was by far the best singer they’d heard that season, and that he’d bet his children’s college money that superstardom awaited me, but that they'd had to pick Mr. Gruffvoice because of his sadder back-story.

Naturally, they showed none of that when the show was actually broadcast.

No comments:

Post a Comment