Hot Lixx Hulahan vs. America's Got Talent
Mercifully I am given a proper audition time so I don’t have to show up at the crack of dawn and wait like everyone else. As expected, the halls of the San Francisco Bill Graham Civic Auditorium are crowded with aspiring boy bands, cheerleading squads, teen crooners, tap dancers, baton twirlers and the like. I check in and a few minutes later I am ushered upstairs. I am sitting outside a conference room and inside I can hear a young balladeer plucking away on his nylon string guitar and singing an impassioned version of something distinctly Enrique Ingles-ian. He is, in all honesty, quite talented. He finishes and walks past me on his way out. He is the classic young fella that primetime television audiences go apeshit over - tall, dark and handsome. Conversely, today I would best be described as short, pale and ‘with smell.’ I haven’t washed the ‘flametal’ outfit even once since I started this whole air guitar adventure and lately I have come to feel a little uncomfortable sitting close to others while wearing it.
The audition room is full of hot lights, several cameras and a crew, as well as a table lined with producers all wearing headsets and looks of pained, excruciating boredom. It would be immediately intimidating if I cared, but I don’t and these people could use something to laugh at. I tell the stoic panel my name, my age, and where I am from. They give just enough reaction to prove they are still alive and then ask what it is I will do.
"I play air guitar."
There is some snickering and at that I feel inspired enough to go forth with my bad self.
When I finish, the panel, thus far impassive to a fault, suddenly breaks into a collective open-mouthed laugh. The head guy says, "That was awesome." He tells me to hold on and then says something into his headset. The panel starts asking me about air guitar. First they ask what would seem like obligatory questions: "How long have you been air guitaring?" "When did you first realize…" etc etc, but the inquisition quickly devolves into a comfortable, albeit excited, conversation. I honestly get the feeling I had brightened their morning. They weren’t even remotely as enthusiastic towards the Latin panty-moistener before me. My guess is that I am one of very few people they auditioned who actually was having a good time. The others I watched in the common waiting area downstairs were largely stress-cases. Moms were yelling, kids were crying, coaches were demanding that their team try one more time… A total powder keg of anticipation, expectation and desperation.
I am led down the hall and into another room. This space has even more lights and more producers than the last. As soon as I walk in everyone asks if I am "the air guitar guy." I concede that I am and they all sit back with big smiles and ask me to do my thang again. They tell me this is not another audition, they just want to see me perform because the last panel "thought it was awesome." I perform again and get a similar reaction, as well as a reminder from my neck that rocking before noon is never a good idea. Afterward they ask me to do an "on camera" interview.
I am escorted back to the main waiting room where all the other talent are waiting for their chance to audition. I am led to the center of the room next to the heartthrob who is in the process of being interviewed "on camera." Eavesdropping, I come to find out he is a revered teen singer back in Mexico. He has been playing since he was a child and has performed for both his Presidente and even the Pope. He is so comfortable and confident with himself that I wonder if he realizes that he is sharing space today with hand-farters, bug eaters, and air guitarists.
When he is done I am seated in his stead and mic’ed. The crew fits lights around me in ways that will hopefully make my forehead look less like a fivehead. Just as we are about to start, the interviewer looks blankly to the ceiling, pushes on his earpiece, and says, "What? A live horse?! Ok…" He looks back down at me and asks me to wait because he and the crew need to go film a lady with a horse who isn’t allowed in the building.
Twenty minutes later they return, sweating, and we resume setting up for the interview. Again, just as we are starting, the interviewer takes a call on his headset. "What? Live snakes?! Ok…" and with that he leaves for another 20 minutes.
By this time the waiting room is filling up. More choral groups, more dance teams, more cheerleaders. In the corner a woman on a unicycle is performing a sort of wheeled ballet. She is amazing and totally into it and I suddenly catch a glimpse of what this show could be. If the show is cast with the likes of her, people doing unusual things with total sincerity, it has great potential. But from the looks of the rest of those around us she is a rarity.
When I finally get my interview underway there is a large crowd of people eager to see what is so special about me that I get camera time and they do not. I am very aware that as soon as they realize I am here to air guitar there will be a lot of disbelief and disappointment. The producers flip on the lights, push their On buttons, and ask me to "play for a while." I explain that it is much more helpful and authentic when I have music to play along to. They say it is just for ‘incidental shots’ and that viewers won’t know there is no music. In my head I was more concerned about all the people sitting around me, boring holes in me with their furrowed stares. I relent and ‘run some scales’ on my imaginary guitar. I can hear the murmurs and speculations ripple throughout the room but I get the feeling most people are still pretty confused. I am wearing my aviators so I can watch everyone peripherally without them knowing.
After some close-ups of my fingers we set up for some across-the-room shots. Three times I am made to burst into the room in full costume and swagger my way to my chair where I unlatch my imaginary guitar case and start rocking out, with no music. I would have thought at this point there would be no question what I was doing, but I was proved wrong when I heard not one, but two people pointedly inquire, What the fuck?!
I finish the interview with my tongue nearly ripping through my cheek. During all the questions, I am tuning my air guitar absent-mindedly and answering all the questions as if I am The Shit.
"I was given my first air guitar when I was a small child. It was a hand-me-down from my estranged uncle, Emmanuel Labor, the infamous air bandit of Baja California, who taught me tongue-wagging and crotch-thrusting in lieu of chords and scales. I have since moved on to an air Stratocaster because it is lighter and affords me the ability to sweep through my arpeggiated diminished octotonic scales. I can see that you are confused, allow me to demonstrate…"
In Air Guitar Nation, Kriston Rucker explains how competitive air guitar seems like a big joke at first, but after you hear the joke enough times it stops being a joke. I never quite reconciled how what I do is both a joke and serious. So I live dually in both worlds. I will freely admit how absurd it can be to air guitar, publicly, but when it comes time to rock out I fucking rock out with all I have. It is like the joke factor encourages me to rock that much harder.
At this point the entire room has turned their chairs in my direction and is staring, silently, with total incredulity. To hammer the point that I am here to rock their faces off I stand on a chair and rip through some Dragonforce-style solo while licking my invisible guitar neck and pumping my package at the camera. Still nothing from my fellow auditioners. Silence, rapt silence. I fall to my seat in a gasping heap and the interview is done. Eventually one last What the fuck?! breaks the stillness and I pack up to leave.
As I walk out I feel like TuPac, all eyes on me. I feel an explanation is in order so I make a parting announcement to the room. "Whatever anybody is here to do today, I was here to make them look better." This actually seems to settle some people.
I step outside and call Bjorn. He was considering going to his audition the following weekend in another town but after hearing how mine went he opts instead to film an episode of Identity. (He would later appear on that show and assist some guy in winning $25,000. I’m guessing that Bjorn won a cool nothing save some warm backstage deli tray offerings. Do I fair any better? We shall see…)
For the six months following my audition I receive periodic phone calls from the producers. They keep asking me to keep my calendar open should my talent and I be selected to move up the next level. With each phone call I do not get more excited, I get annoyed. I don’t like talking about things, I like doing things. Each time they call it is the same thing, "Are you still available on this date? Do you still have long hair and a sombrero? Do you spell "Hot" with one or two T's?"
I have all but written the show off when thee call actually comes.
I have less than 3 weeks to pull it together and 'compete' in LA.
My boss approves the time off and henceforth refers to the show as America’s Got Wang after the Simpsons episode where Homer calls Florida "America’s wang." My boss, it should be noted, goes by the name Tardon. Tardon Feathered. Tarred and feathered. It’s just worth mentioning.
Just days before I fly out I am told my music did not clear (thanks, Metallica) and that I have to find a new song. This also means I have to find a new outfit since that song and that outfit go together like shoo-wop doo-doodie doo. The producers are notably upset to hear this. It seems they are going to great strides to make sure talent looks exactly like they did in their first audition, right down to the haircuts. I feel like they should have given me more than four days to work this out so whatever doesn’t work out on account of that is their issue.
Of all the other songs I requested, "Heartbreaker" by Pat Benatar was the only one to pass the rigorous legal screening needed for a song to air on network TV. Thankfully it is one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs ever written.
My girlfriend offered the accoutrements to help me look like Pat Benatar. However, after seeing the way her wide cinch-belt made my package appear too diminutive (the male equivalent of pair of pants making a girl’s butt look too big) I shifted my efforts into looking more like Patrick Benatar instead.