Tuesday, April 19, 2011

X-Factor Auditions, Part Two: The registration...

Kind of creepy to be walking around White Plains at 4:30 in the morning. No lights on, no cars, no people. I felt like I was in a zombie movie. And, really, at that hour, I'm sure I looked like I was in a zombie movie.

But that was what I had to go through to get myself to the Prudential Center on time. Take the Metro North train into Grand Central, grab a shuttle to Times Square, hop on the subway to Penn Station and then take yet another train to nobody's favorite destination... Newark, New Jersey. That's where the hopefuls were gathering to wait for a chance to be on Simon Cowell's new show, X-Factor.

On one of the trains, there was a good looking kid in back of me who talked openly about a great number of things. How X-Factor was going to be different from American Idol, how worthless his agent was, how badly he had to take a shit, and how he left his other outfit in the bag on his lap. "THIS?!" he said. "No way, man! I'm not wearing THIS!!! I'm gonna change when I get in there."

A seventeen year old Thomas Jane/Justin Bieber hybrid with (probably) a squeaky clean boy band in his past, an agent... and a costume change. And, this wasn't for the audition, mind you. This was just for the registration. The auditions would be held the following day.

I was convinced right then and there that this dude would make it onto the show.

The little bastard.

I've heard a variety of different estimates for the crowds on that Wednesday. Fifteen thousand, eighteen thousand. The Star Ledger estimated twenty thousand, but, if I were to offer up a guess, I would have to go with 16,428. Give or take a dozen Rhiannas. And I'm certain that a strong majority of those folks were standing in front of me by the time I arrived at 6:40 am. In the rain. It was crazy. And it was the longest line I'd ever stayed in without the promise of a roller coaster at the end of it. Instead, if I stood my ground, I would walk away from that endless ordeal... with a wristband.

I suppose it's inevitable, in a line that long, that you would come to learn a good deal about your neighbors. I certainly did. It was truly comforting, in a way, actually, as-- y'know, while we all had different backgrounds and all came from many different places, we were able to find quite a bit of common ground. Most of the people around me, for instance, shared a love for laughter, a passion for music of course, and, most importantly, more than anything else, a fervent desire to smack me in the face with their gigantic and pointy umbrellas.

That we were so sardine-packed a crowd made most of this fairly forgivable, but after awhile it really got to be ridiculous. About every third minute there was a thunk on the top or the side of my head. Thunk! ...Thunk!!! .....THUNK!!! Thunk, thunk!!! I felt like the whack-a-mole.

Through the magic of my iMac computer, I was able to recreate what I think is something of an accurate representation of said events, without, unfortunately, the many, many hours of thought-provoking swear words that were swirling about inside my head...

All this was so much more than bearable when compared to the woman I was stuck behind for the better part of three hours. "I don't understand why this line isn't mooooooving!" she whined. On and on and on, and without taking a breath, she rambled, "Why do they have us WAITING out here like this?! Don't they know it's RAINING??? This isn't right! It's NOT RIGHT!!!!! They shouldn't have us waaaaaaaiting out here like this!!!! ...In the rain??? In the RAIN??????? It's not right!!! It's just! Not! Right!!!!! ......I just don't understand why this line isn't even MOOOOVING!!!!"


...is what i wanted to say. But I didn't. Because I am a gentleman.

Also, I wanted to preserve my delicate vocal chords. Because I am a diva.

At any rate, sometimes it's just better to scurry away from people like that. And, to be fair, it very, very much was a long ass wait. FOUR HOURS after we stepped into that line, we were finally-- finally!!! FINALLY!!! --told by a man in a headset that it would probably only be another two more hours before we walked into the building... And then he complained to the group standing next to me that there weren't enough people stabbing me in the cheekbones with their umbrellas.

Two and a half hours after that I was in the building, about to receive my very own wristband! This nice young woman fastened it on for me and told me that I had to keep it on my wrist for the entire audition process. "But, don't worry," she said, "you can still shower with it on."

And... I dunno, something about the way she said it kind of bugged me. I mean, I know I was probably just being paranoid, but I couldn't help but wonder if that was something she mentioned to all of the contestants, or just the people with scraggily beards. There was just something in her eyes that made me think that she wanted to tell me more...

"In addition to bathing, you could also brush your teeth with your wristband on... And, just so you know, your wristband will not get in your way should you decide to ...(ahem!) change your socks. Oh, and, I should probably tell you, too, that your wristband will most likely not fall off if you want to just go on ahead and apply a little deodorant tomorrow, so... m'hm..."

I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but on the train ride home I started to see it as a welcome reminder to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow was the audition. Kind of a big day. Best not to show up looking like a ripe zombie.

The five things i fell in love with today...

1) I don't believe in omens. Which is good, because before I walked out the door that day, my house key somehow managed to flip its way off of my key ring. Pretty weird, actually.
2) I've never been a Simon Cowell fan at all (at ALL!), but I did begin to understand him a little more after listening to a 14 year old in line butcher Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for twenty minutes.
3) My scraggily beard. I kind of miss it today.
4) I recovered some dude's wallet on the subway early that morning and he seemed genuinely touched that a stranger returned it. Made me feel good. And it made me wish I believed in karma.
5) Best thing I'd heard in line that day, bar none... "It's CHICKEN!!! Chicken ain't meat! Chicken's a bird!"

Song of the night...
"Umbrella" by Rhianna

Movie of the night...
"Leonard Cohen: I'm your man"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

X-Factor Auditions, part one: Why would I want to do this???

Most of the regrets I have from my childhood come from a place of fear. I was too scared to lift the bat off my shoulders in Little League, so I struck out. I was too afraid to be myself around the girls I liked, so I struck out. That type of thing.

When I was in high school, I auditioned for the All South Jersey Chorus, which is just about as prestigious as it sounds. But it meant a lot to me. And I thought I had a pretty good chance to get in. I had the house to myself the night before, and had belted out the required song in a way that made my cat not run away in terror. And, y'know, like Sinatra sang, "If you can sing out loud and the cat's ears ain't bleeding, you can make it anywhere!"

But the day of the audition came and I completely choked. To prevent favoritism, the judges were sitting behind a chalkboard so they couldn't see if we were a member of a school in their district. I'm pretty sure they called it a Blind Judge Audition because I remember thinking, while I was halfway through my song, that they probably would have preferred it if it were a Deaf Judge Audition.

I was very funny and clever when I was in high school.

But, really, I sounded awful. I was so nervous, so terrified. My voice cracked on the very first note and it just got worse from there. It seemed to go on forever, and all I wanted was to be put out of my misery... I'd had better Saturdays is what I'm trying to tell you.

I should say that I got over it eventually. It's not like the moment had scarred me permanently. But it really did bother me quite a bit. And, yeah... I guess it still does a little. I mean, I love sports, but I was never going to be a great athlete. I've always been a hopeless romantic, but I was terribly geeky as a kid.

But, dammit! I knew I could sing better than that! I'd heard myself the night before and I was actually pretty good! Seriously! I was there! I sounded alright!!! It wasn't a fluke, I had simply let my fear overtake me. And that really is a difficult thing to live with, whether you're talking about the All South Jersey Chorus or the Broadway stage.

Fast forward just a few short (short) years later to the present day... I fell in love with a girl who broke up with me, and I'm heartbroken. What's worse? I'm a diehard Mets fan. So it's clear to me at this point in my life that love and baseball were not going to be the cure for my sorrows.

I was flipping through the TV one day last month, however, and I saw... a challenge. Simon Cowell was producing a new show called X-Factor. It was going to be similar to American Idol except it was open to just about everyone. Groups, and everybody else, ages 12 and up. And! The auditions were going to be close by...

This was it! This was not only what I needed to get myself off my ass, but this was also my chance to stand up and reclaim whatever dignity I'd lost all those (not that many, really) years ago!

The winner of this show is getting $5 million, but I didn't have any delusions of grandeur about that. I just wanted to do my best. Step up to the plate and take my shot. Take a swing, take a chance and see what happened.

So, the next day, I put in for some vacation days and I prepared myself to go to the city of a million dreams. The city of hope, the city of light, the city of promises fulfilled... the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The five things I fell in love with today...

1) South Jersey!!!
2) Surviving humiliation. And it was humiliating. There was a woman in between me and the judges who was playing the background music to the song I was singing. I'd been so dreadful that, apparently, the judges were making faces at my expense. Every time this woman kept looking over to them she had to restrain herself from laughing at whatever the hell it was they were doing from behind that blackboard. Those bastards.
3) Surviving high school in general, really.
4) I did get a hit once in Little League... once. And it was a fluke, but I stood on first base with pride nonetheless... Well, no, it was more shock than pride, but, whatever.
5) Frank Sinatra.

Song of the night...
"There goes the fear" by Doves. This is a really good post-breakup album to listen to; it's called "The Last Broadcast." Also an excellent First day of Spring album. Makes me happy.

Movie of the night...
"(500) Days of Summer" A great post-breakup film to watch. Particularly, for me, this breakup. Lot of similarities there. I'm such a Tom.