I arrived at Denver's downtown Sheraton at 7:15am this past Saturday full of coffee and contained optimism. Along with what appeared to be a couple thousand others, I was resigned to waiting in one very long, serpentine line for a chance to try out for the blockbuster television show, America's Got Talent.
In line I was initially amused to find that I was standing next to a trio of twelve year old girls who were dressed in an amazing display of mismatched skirts, tights, shoes, and various hair accessories, all finished off with multi-colored bands on their braces. My amusement slowly grew to a quiet rage when, for what must have been the 300th time, they rehearsed their version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." I used to like that song.
After a 4 hour wait in line, I was given a number and ushered into the "holding room," a ballroom-sized monstrosity full of chairs and various groupings of people who woke up earlier than I did that day. It was here that I got a glimpse of those souls who, like me, thirsted for some combination of fame, stardom, wealth, acceptance, adoration, and attention. The room held innumerable dancers, musicians, singers, jugglers, strange-looking outfit wearers, and one guy with the world's most obvious toupee and I couldn't tell if that was part of his schtick. I hoped so, but was doubtful.
I waited another three hours in the holding pen, listening to people rehearsing, making conversation, and dreaming of life in the bright lights. I found myself feeling rather maudlin, wondering how many lives were counting on the instant fame that so surely lurked around the next corner. I wondered if I was no different.
Finally it was my turn, and after another hour of waiting, I was standing in front of three very young looking "producers." They strongly suggested ahead of time that all singers perform a well-known cover song, so I played Ray Lamontagne's "Trouble." It went well, I thought, and I was later told that they liked me enough to have me to stick around and perform for another group of "higher up" producers.
After another three hours of waiting, 120 seconds of playing and singing I was thanked, told that I would hear from them in March if I made the cut, which I think means a trip to LA.
Any bitterness I feel is of my own doing. In my naivete I forgot that this was, first and foremost, a television show. Talent second, television first. This hierarchy explains the "producers only" bathrooms, and the repeated calls from the camera crew to "look excited, go crazy, scream and yell."
All in all I'm glad I went and stuck it out. It was a very long day with a slim chance at a tangible upside. I give myself a .001% chance of winning the million dollars, and about a 30% chance of getting the call in March. But there are at least 6 industry types who have now heard of me and my music that wouldn't have otherwise.
I am an American and I have talent. And I am still wondering what to make of the bizarre glimpse into the making of "reality television."