Hot Lixx Hulahan vs. America's Got Talent
I get in and out of a litany of cars, planes, buses and vans and eventually wind up in a non-descript basement on the CBS lot in Burbank. The room is full of cameras and lights and people with headsets and, of course, talent. It is the first day and we are all waiting for our chance to do our interview. One at a time we are set up in the middle of the room with a clip-on microphone. An off-camera producer spends equal time asking us questions and trying to feed us lines that will hopefully fit into their preconceived model of who we are and how they (already) plan to edit us.
Their idea is to set me up as a real guitar player. I will answer all the questions without alluding to the fact that I am playing an ‘air’ guitar. On top of this they want me to act all smug, like a ne’er-do-well rocker bad boy. Being that I am none of those things - and that I don’t follow other people’s directions very well - the interview is dead in the water. When they finally figure out that I am not going to slouch in my chair and snarl "Jimi Hendrix is a seminal influence" they give up and let me say what I want. I think we all end up much happier as a result. (And for the record, I pretty much just made up a bunch of bullshit. But hey, at least it was bullshit of my own devising.)
It is late when I am driven back to the hotel. From my 12th floor room at the Universal Studios Hilton I call a bunch of my friends in the area but no one is willing to drive through LA traffic to come visit (who can blame them?) so I take the free time and prepare for tomorrow by doing my routine naked in the open window.
America’s got wang.
It is uncomfortably early when a handful of us are crammed back into a van and driven back to the CBS basement. We are debriefed as we sit groggily in a subterranean room with no windows or cell phone reception. Donuts and coffee are offered but most of us are smart enough to know not to get off to such a poor dietary start. Yesterday we were stuck here for a long time (some of us up to 10 hours) so stuffing ourselves with sugars and caffeine would not have been wise.
Eventually Jerry Springer shows up. He is the host of the show and as such he gets to interview each contestant individually. The room grows instantly giddy and everyone, even me, gets a little star-struck. During his first couple interviews, which take place in the middle of the room with everybody watching, it becomes clear that Jerry is the real deal - a genuinely nice, fun, sincere person. He is totally willing to debase himself for a joke and when possible he tries a hand at everybody’s talent. He learned some dance moves, struggled with a unicycle, sang some songs, and in my case accompanied my air guitaring with some air tuba.
The Jerry interviews take a couple hours and once they are done we are left to wait. Occasionally a producer will pull some of us from the basement for our chance on the big stage but for the most part we get to sit idly. After a day and a half of being stuck in this basement with no outside stimulation (we don't even have a TV to watch the performances upstairs) we catch some collective cabin fever.
After getting to know the other talent I am pleasantly surprised to find our gang is a fun and mellow lot and most are here more for the experience than the competition. Very few people actually think they have a chance at winning and those that do never show any sense of better-than-you-ism. (By contrast I bet this basement during American Idol is a tense primadonna ego-fest.) Eventually we pass the time by foisting our talents on each other. Here is a smattering of the folks I am stuck with:
Every few minutes someone returns from the stage and we immediately grill them. Young girls in tears are returning in droves. One little girl came back and said Obligatory Surly Brit Judge told her she had no talent and to blame her mother for bringing her here. (The Fireman had some choice things to share with her.) Apparently Hasslehoff’s favorite criticism is "come back when you have a real talent." As the day rolls on more and more stories of The Hoff’s lameness emerge. Even the people running the backstage area have less-than-favorable things to say about him. Sharon Osbourne, the third judge, is rumored to be very polite but not a very keen judge of talent.
Finally I am called upstairs. Boy Shakira is onstage when I arrive and he is KILLING. Downstairs he could not interview to save his life. The producer kept feeding him soundbytes but he just didn’t get it.
"Tell us why you do what you do."
But now he is out on stage truly working it. The roar of the crowd is moving. Perhaps misguided, but moving. I hope they stay as enthusiastic when my turn comes up. Ari and I are ushered to the wings with Jerry. When Boy Shakira comes off stage Ari goes out where his stompbox is already plugged in and waiting.
"I am Ari Gorman and I can speak backwards," he says, forwards. He then says repeats himself backwards into his stompbox so that he can reverse it and wow the crowd. Unfortunately the stage DI box is positioned too close to his stompbox and Ari’s foot can not fit where it needs to in order to activate the pedal. He kicks the DI box out of the way but it is too late. His stompbox is playing his voice at half speed. He clicks it again and it plays backwards, again. The crowd starts booing. Jerry is all knotted up. He keeps looking at me and the stagehand asking "What can we do?! Oh, this is terrible! That poor guy!" (Further proof that Jerry was a certifiably humane person.)
Ari comes offstage and the judges have a field day ridiculing him. He is beside himself but, to his credit, laughing. Every 20 to 30 minutes for the rest of the day I would hear "AAAHHhhhh!" which was Ari revisiting how everything went completely sour on account of technical difficulties. I really felt bad for him. What he does is as amazing as it is useless and America deserves to know that.
Soon Jerry introduces me and urges me onstage.
I walk past a huge Vegas-style sign that for some reason reads "CHICAGO" and I take my place at the foot of the stage. The crowd gives a heavy cheer but I have a feeling it is due in part to the over-charged APPLAUSE flashers overhead. Sharon asks me something and I can’t make it out on account of her accent. Then it dawns on me that two of the judges on America’s Got Talent are not American. Come to think of it, a lot of the producers are Brits too. Is that right? I ask Sharon to repeat herself and she asks about my (neon orange lycra) pants. This leads to her asking about my name which I had to explain was a spin on a character from an old American TV show. I am by no means a flag-waving American but it does strike me as weird that key figures on the show are so out of touch with American culture.
When I tell everyone I am here to play air guitar the audience seem to fully endorse this. Sharon comments that her son, and probably every boy in America, is well acquainted with the activity of air guitar. I ask the audience if air guitar is an exclusively male pastime. Some girls are quick to yell back. Both Hasselhoff and the surly Brit stay quiet.
Each of the three judges has a buzzer. Once all three buzz you then your act is over.
I cue my song and launch into my rocking.
It is hard not to get caught up in the massive power that is "Heartbreaker" and I think that is why I make it a good 20 seconds before the first buzzer is struck. No surprise, it is the Surly Brit who buzzes me. I keep going and am on my knees when the Hoff buzzes me. Hearing the second buzzer kicks the audience into gear. Half seem to cheer me on while the other half start jumping up and down and forming X’s with the forearms. While divided I still think everyone starts to share a taste of how silly air guitaring in public can be. On the final power hit of the song Sharon releases the final buzz.
She is the nicest. She seems a bit taken by my pants but admits that she only waited to see where I was going to go with my routine and not because she thought it was particularly engaging. Hasselhoff cements his image as witless moron by giving me the sophomorically clever "Come back when you have a real talent." This guy makes how much money to come up with comments like that?! Not that I am jealous or vengeful but I have to question his own talents. Did I mention that he’s drunk? His shirt is nearly all the way unbuttoned, his face is beet red, and he is slurring like a guy with no teeth and three tongues. If this is the best he can come up with while under the belligerent influence of alcohol I can only imagine what a dolt he must be the rest of the time.
The Surly Brit speaks last. He seems to orate for dramatic effect, pausing every few words as if to harness the immensity of his thoughts.
"Of all the acts….I have seen…come on…to this show……………yours is…………….by far….…."
I keep leaning in towards him, excited and fully aware of where he is going with this. My face is that of the beauty pageant contestant at the moment they begin announcing that she will be crowned queen.
He finishes, "…the Stupidest thing I have ever seen."
I shoot both fists in the air in triumph and shout "YES! In your face, America!!!"
I walk offstage and Jerry pats me on the shoulder and says "You rocked."
I am led back to the basement where, like those before me, I get to tell my tale. A couple other people say, "That’s what he told me!" when I tell them The Hoff’s comment. The commiseration helps what little disappointment I harbor slip away. I knew why I was here and I accomplished what I came to accomplish. I am also having a great time with all my new friends, and it is all on someone else’s tab. All that is left now is to wait and see how they edit everything together. I figure ‘How much fun can you make of an air guitarist? He’s already doing a pretty good job of it himself.’ Whatever they end up doing with all of our footage it’ll be like a little video yearbook to remind us of our weekend in Burbank.
My ride back to the airport doesn’t leave till mid-afternoon so I wake up early and hit first the hot tub, then the gym, then I wander around the Universal Studios shopping plaza. A gate between two storefronts is open and beyond them lies an employee parking lot set against a cliff offering a nice view. I cruise through the lot and see what might be a better view 100 yards further to the left. A little ways down the path I spot a steady stream of people. I join up with them and before I know it I am in line for one of the rides inside Universal Studios. All the little refreshment stands are just opening up so I go to get a Cinnabon and the woman gives me one for a buck. So I’m cruising around Universal Studios for free, eating a Cinnabon, and thinking "this is a pretty sweet turn of events" when all of a sudden a Weird Al song comes through the park PA system. I call my girlfriend and tell her I think I am caught in a dream.
I ride some rides, air guitar with Shrek and Marilyn Monroe, and make it back to the hotel in time to catch the van back to the airport. Our vehicle is an all-star talent pool in and of itself and once we pass through the TSA gate our group begs the joke:
Hot Pink Feathers
Check out how low and unzipped the singer's pants are. Then look at the little girl behind him.
She was but one of many little girls who spent most of the day avoiding these guys at all costs.
Terry Fator and
Incidentally that guy on the left is now $1,000,000 richer while the guy on the right
came in second place and probably has a pretty successful career already laid out for him.
The XXX Club
Exclusive to those who get three X's before the end of their routine. Come to think of it maybe the club isn't that exclusive.
L to R: Ian (weapons expert), Idybit (who played the world's smallest harmonica), Ari (backwards talker), and I.