Friday, February 13, 2004

Call of the cattle 

It all started a month ago when my best friend N rang me up.

"I have something to tell you," she said.

I played dumb because well, I didn't know what she was going to say. "What is it?"

"I'm going to audition for Canadian Idol."

"REALLY? Omigod that is SO COOL!!!"

And so, at the crack of dawn, I woke up, picked her up and we made our way to Lansdowne Park, where more than 1,000 aspiring wannabes queued up for their chance at Canadian pop "stardom." I use the quotes because frankly, last year's winner, Ryan Malcolm, is so unbelievably bland that I can't see him progressing beyond half-hit wonder status anytime soon, even as he preps for his Big Canadian Tour. But this isn't about mocking last year's Idol winner. It's about the process.

First answer: no, I didn't audition. I really couldn't be arsed, as my Brit friends say, because I didn't want to hang around all day waiting....waiting...and waiting some more. Never mind that as a classically trained singer, much of what passes for pop music eludes me in that it clashes completely with the proper way to sing. N has been taking pop vocal lessons for a few years now and this was her day, so I wanted to be around to give her support.

We arrived at Lansdowne at about 6:45 AM and the place was already mobbed. The doors had opened 9 PM last night for those who wanted to get an early audition. Though it crossed N's mind, she's 26 (so just making the cutoff point for age) and like me, too old for that kind of shit. Sure, it was a gamble coming in so "late" but the line moved quickly, and we crossed our fingers that she'd get an audition today and not tomorrow. As we moved up the line, we befriended two girls behind us; neither's goal was to be the "Next Canadian Idol", but they were just there to have fun and get experience, which was N's goal as well. This would be her last shot, and why not? Luckily most of her friends and work colleagues were incredibly supportive and excited that she was going through with it; there was a lot of vicariousness going on. Our friend M nearly convinced me to give it a go as well, though sanity prevailed.

Anyway, I passed the time by joking around about the most inappropriate songs one could present to the Idol judges. Worthy candidates included songs by Metallica, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, and so on. I started singing "Freakin' at the Freakers Ball" but nobody paid attention. Many were too busy screaming their lungs out at the first glimpse of a TV camera, what with all the local stations there to witness the melee. Most people were too sleepy, nervous, or zoned out.

N and I were very much the "old kids" in the line; the average age had to be about 20 or 21. So many young people convinced they were it, or at least there to get some experience. Though most kept their mouths shut, a few vocalized; one girl who by appearance alone seemed a good candidate to get tossed, what with the dog collar, leather jacket, piercings and cropped 'do, had a very strong, clear voice. It'll be interesting to see if she makes it past this round of auditions. One of the girls behind us turned to a large young man in the next row up and asked if he'd auditioned last year, which he had. She recognized him from the TV broadcast. He knew the drill, but he looked as clued out as the majority of folks.

Moving further up the queue, the security guards showed up to collect ID cards and fasten wristbands on the contestants, who were also required to sign the most prohibitively "CYA" release form I've ever seen. No rights, no nothing. So it's really not a good idea to sing something you've written because voila! The Idol people now own it forever and ever. Of course, everyone signed it without hesitation, or at least, not a whole lot of it.

Finally, we reached the front of the line, and the contestants were asked to step forward. Not being one, I was kicked out of the line and waited in the back. When N emerged, she now had the distinction of being Number 710. The good news is that her audition would be today; but she'd have a long, long wait.

It took some more time before the auditions began, and so the crowd was "entertained" by a couple of producers, who introduced Idol host Ben Mulroney (blathering on about having "lots of fun" and the usual bullshit) and then Mr. Malcolm, who not-so-casually slipped in the news that he'd be back in Ottawa in mid-March as part of his tour. He has an "entourage" now which followed him as he made his way to the stage to speak. That cracked us all up.

By 10 AM it was obvious that N was all right, having made an instant support group of fellow contestants. Her audition won't be till the late afternoon at the earliest, and it'll be in two stages: first, groups of five go in together and sing, one by one, in front of show producers, who then pick out which should move on to round two, where each contestant sings alone. If they move on, then they face the scrutiny of the TV judges on Monday or Tuesday. Which means, of course, more waiting, and more queueing.

So now I wait. How will she do? Will she enjoy herself and sing well? Will she make it past the first round or both? It matters, but not so much, because just making the decision to get up at an ungodly hour and going was gutsy enough. I'm plenty proud of her now, but I'm waiting for that phone call later in the day, that's for sure.

UPDATE: I got the call around 7 PM, and well, instant stardom is not meant to be. Evidently the groups of five were housed in tiny trailers, making it all too easy to get stressed out and psyched out. N sang fine, but the judges didn't let her get to the next round. But the other folks she hung out with were in the same boat. So, no, they won't be stars, but I think some friendships were forged. Looking back on it from the day after, it was a little bit crazy and a lot exciting. But I don't envy the folks moving on to meet the celebrity judges. It just means more waiting, more nerves, and more tension.

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