“You should try out for The Voice!” suggested the friendly stranger… I know it’s meant to be a compliment, but instantly the nausea sets in and a halfhearted smile drifts across my face. You see, I’m still bitter about 15 years ago, when I auditioned for a television program called, American Idol.
There weren’t a lot of opportunities to take the world by storm in my small, Wisconsin hometown in 2004. But a new reality TV show was taking girls like me and making their dreams come true almost overnight. People were glued to their televisions each week as they enthusiastically voted for their favorite singer- and their tragically compelling life stories. I wanted in on the action. My dad had written a check for $50 to cover travel expenses for myself and my chaperone, Laurel, and we were Minneapolis-bound for the Convention Center- the magical building where I would meet Ryan Seacrest. It was a 5 hour drive and we had made hotel reservations at the downtown Radisson. As Laurel pulled her car into the parking lot, a welcome wagon of beggars emerged from the shrubbery and approached our vehicle, imploring us for spare change. We got out of the car, trying not to make eye contact or to step on the many hypodermic needles littering the pavement. A few random condom wrappers had been carelessly flung here and there, adding to the charm. We ambled off to our room to begin preparations for tomorrow’s audition.
I started by laying my outfit onto the bed and was instantly disappointed with my choice. I’d selected a conservative blouse and capri pants- something I wouldn’t be caught dead performing in today. How could I have possibly thought this pitiful ensemble was the winning combo when I packed my bag?! I made Laurel bring me to a clothing store, and after agreeing that we would resort to eating from the vending machine, I cashed the $50 check from my dad and bought something much more provocative to wear. Next up was hair and makeup. As many of you know, I struggle with my natural hair so much that not only do I wear wigs for Hot Pink Hangover, but I wear them during my day-to-day quite often as well. Nothing gives me more confidence than a good wig- except maybe a good brow wax! If I had I been privy to this 15 years ago, I would have donned my most glamorous wig for those 20 seconds in the spotlight and I just might have been the next Carrie Underwood. Alas, I had Laurel to apply my makeup and do my hair, and bless her heart, but I looked like I should have been standing on a street corner doing sexual favors when she was done with me… We decided that for tomorrow, we would tone it down a bit. The final thing to consider was my song selection. I was torn between “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette and “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton. I had practiced both to exhaustion, but decided I would wait until I saw the judges and base my song choice on whether they looked like country fans or rock fans. Tomorrow was the big day, so we retired early and I dreamed of lounging on the deck of my private yacht after serenading a stadium full of roaring fans.
The alarm went off early. I did some breathing exercises to ward off a panic attack, grabbed a pop tart from the vending machine, and put on my scant new outfit. Laurel did her best with my hair and make-up, but in the end I decided that I was too uncomfortable and resorted to wearing my blouse and capris. I wiped off my make-up, and decided that I had to be authentic. I took a deep breath and we left the hotel. The line of people outside the Convention Center stretched for blocks. Even though The Radisson was right across the street, we had to walk half a mile to reach the end. Once inside the mezzanine, we were given a little card with our section number on it. Entering the clammy, brightly lit arena where 250,000 other participants were eagerly awaiting their auditions, I suddenly felt like a factory farmed head of livestock entering a slaughterhouse. And like livestock was indeed the way we were treated that day.
Having sat nervously in the wings for what seemed like an eternity with no Ryan Seacrest sightings, we were eventually marched cattle-style, 4 at a time, down to one of the 16 judges tables. 4 judges were seated at each. I was expecting tables full of swanky record execs and rock stars. Not so much. Think- cd store stock boys, no name musicians, and perhaps a late night radio DJ at best. After 8 hours of waiting for my turn, fatigued, hungry, and vengeful of everyone involved in this operation, I got up to the judges table and sang my heart out through a verse and chorus of “Queen of Hearts.” My judge, a scholarly looking, pint-sized fellow, looked me right in the eyes and said in a nasally voice, “I’m sorry, but you’re not what we’re looking for.” A security person cut the wrist band off my arm and led me to the nearest exit. The ironic part was that I did see someone make it through to the next round. They were dressed in a court jester’s outfit and sang a pitchy version of a Broadway show tune. The judges went wild. To each their own I guess.
In hindsight I know that American Idol was all about the ratings. A handful of truly talented vocalists made it onto the show, but the biggest spectacle tended to get the golden ticket. I should have sang a power ballad, clad in a sequined unitard and thrust my tiny chest at the judges, seductively batting a pair of fake eyelashes in their direction. I wish I would have been that creative at the time. Laurel and I exited the Convention Center and went across the street to The Hard Rock Café. We ate cheese burgers and drank beer that we couldn’t afford. I called my dad and told him that I didn’t make it onto the show. There was a pause and then he said, “That’s okay, baby. You probably wouldn’t have liked playing by their rules anyway.” I told him I was sorry to disappoint everyone back home. Bayfield needed a rising starlet. “You’ve always been an idol to me.” he said.