Author's note: This will make more sense if you start here.
Over the past several hours, the line has shifted enough to place me across from a guitar-wielding 8 year-old who is wearing a fringed leather suit--the kind rarely seen outside of Frontierland or Barbeque Festivals--and solemnly playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” over and over. His identically-fringed mother plucks a wad of Juicy Fruit from her mouth and slings it into the hedge. “Sounds real nice, Taylor, now let’s do the other one”.
He launches into a song I don’t immediately recognize until Mom starts screeching “Ooo ooo that smell! Can’t you smell that smell!” Actually, I can. It smells like Summer’s Eve and a trial separation. Sigh. I wonder if reporting them to social services would get me inside any faster.
“Keep goin’, son. I need to save my voice,” That Smell says as she pulls a pack of Camels out of her purse and steps out of line.
Taylor switches back to “Simple Man” and stares at me with a well-practiced, intense expression that aimed for RAWKSTAR! but landed somewhere around CREEPY!, like one of those costumed dolls advertised in the back pages of Parade magazine. He continues to look at me, but I refuse to be charmed. Sorry, Taylor. There’s a reason I didn’t see August Rush.
BeBop blasts another list of numbers through his megaphone and—holy snappin’ assholes!—I’m finally going inside. After hallways and stairways and chutes and ladders I reach…another line. Taylor, That Smell and I are stopped by yet another polo-clad PA who gives us an exaggerated “none shall pass” hand signal while gesturing to a douchetastic earpiece that probably doesn’t broadcast anything but other PA’s making fart noises and giggling.
Some enterprising members of the hotel staff set up a refreshment stand beside the PA and after catching one deep fried whiff, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, that pre-dawn fistful of Cocoa Pebbles I’d crammed into my mouth. Unfortunately, my choices were to pay $8 for the last dessicated chicken tender or let my stomach eat itself. That Smell ganked the batter-dipped orphan before I could make up my mind, but seeing it exhumed and dropped into a checkered paper casket made me think that being a hungry hungry hippo was the better option.
A few more ticks on the Swatch and I was waved through to The Holding Room, aka the hotel ballroom, which had been specialed up for the occasion by taping handwritten “America’s Got Talent” signs on the door. People who’d been called inside hours ago were sitting glumly on the floor picking at uneaten bits of chicken. It was like the Waiting Room of Lost Souls with more karaoke singers and card tricks.
A bored-sounding Brit intermittently announced a handful of numbers for the actual audition rooms, each one accompanied by “You are NOT the father”-style shrieks of joy and relief. I snagged one of the few open seats, beside a disheveled man who was talking to a woman wearing a Viking helmet. “That’s the thing about fate,” he said in a voice weighed down with an accent. “I would have met her in 2004 if I hadn’t been deported”. I pretend not to listen, while secretly hoping his talent involves hiding in the trunk of her car.
The producers made an announcement that we needed to channel our inner Madeline and arrange all of the chairs into two straight lines to film the show’s intro, those staged scenes where all the participants showcase frenzied of levels excitement, reachable only by being on a reality show or stepping into a bear trap.
A tiny little drum line was selected to march down the aisle for the money shot, shouting “America’s Got Talent!” into the camera. The kids nailed it, but we still had to reshoot several times because of the pawing in the background, people clawing past each other trying to get one of their Crocs on the tee-vee. I was schmooked out of the scene by That Smell who was foaming at the vag to be on camera. “This is my shine time!” she shouted in my face. “This is my shine time!”
After that we shouted the name of our city, declaring that it, too, had talent. Then they made us scream other places: Nashville has talent! Chicago has talent! Tulsa! Austin! Oklahoma City! Seattle, San Francisco too!* If they use all of those shots, the serious AmGoTa viewers may wonder why the same roller skating skeleton attended every single audition.
FINALLY at about 5:30 I hear my number. I queue up with a woman who tells me that she hasn’t eaten since Thursday so “If I’m on TV, I’ll look skinny.” It was good idea in theory, but maybe she should’ve started sooner. Like 1985.
We’re led down yet another hallway, parked in front of another closed door and another group of chairs and told—sigh—to sit tight until we hear our numbers. Sorry, Mario, your princess is in another fucking castle.
At this point, my bladder has reached the “find a toilet or call the National Guard for sandbags and temporary shelter” stage. I make a move toward the bathroom and am immediately stopped by a PA. “Sorry,” he says, guiding me back to my chair. “That’s being used as a rehearsal space.” I’m delighted by someone’s selection of “shitting” as audition material.
But no, apparently there’s a bagpiper warming up her pipes** in there. It’s either that or a violent reaction to the chicken tenders, shat to the tune of “Amazing Grace”.
The crowd thins as each remaining contestant is called behind the door to see the judges. Before going in, the PA repeats the same paragraph to each contestant: the audition is 90 seconds but if you razzle dazzle, you might get a few extra ticks, an arrangement that reminds me of losing my virginity.
I hear my number and the door opens. I walk in—wishing that I didn’t have a second trimester pee baby—take my spot on the X and get to tell jokes to three people. Shoving the funny into 90 secs is hard for me, since my act is based on rambling setups told as I fidget, jam my hands in my pockets and laugh at my own cleverness***.
After 90, they tell me to keep going, so I launch into the rest of my set. I go through the bits about babies and travel and movies and then, right after the dead hooker joke, they were like, “OK, that’s probably enough”.
There was some shuffling of paperwork, some questions about where I’d performed, and they told me that they’d be in touch in eight weeks. EIGHT WEEKS. What the foccaccia?!?! I wanted immediate gratification—a golden piece of Inkjet paper I could wave in the face of the obviously jealous bagpiper—or crushing rejection that drove me into the cheesy, beefy arms of Taco Bell. I wanted them to say SOMETHING! But instead, I listen to Simon & Garfunkel-approved sounds of silence for the next sixty days.
I peel off my number, grab my bag and try to remember how to get back to my car. This is my shine time.
*The heart of rock and roll? Still beatin'.
**This? Is my new fave euphemism, narrowly edging out "checking for squirrels".
***These are my major foreplay ingredients too.