After watching this year's Super Bowl & the ensuing televised aftermath, "The Voice" was the next thing my fellow party-goers and I landed on (we're artists - we can only take brute force on display for so long). Like many before me, I was captivated by the "blind audition" process and almost overstayed my self-imposed curfew to watch the entirety of the show. A couple days later I found myself looking up audition information online, and before I knew it I had signed myself up for a slot at the cattle call in Chicago on March 3rd. They were looking for duos as well, so I texted Jen and it was all settled - except that neither of us really thought we were going... until we did.
It was all over in 24 hours. Jen picked me up at 8:00 AM. We listened to tunes, talked about deep thoughts, as you are only capable of doing on road trips, and occasionally sang our two prepared songs - Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and "Someone Like You", all the while giggling about the very idea of making such a long trip for such a long shot. But hey, we had a free Saturday.
Only once did we venture into "which judge would you choose?" territory, when we drew close to Chicago, and for the record I think it ended in a draw between Cee-lo and Adam.
We found the convention center around 2:30 PM, paid our $20 (!) to park, and realized with some dismay that we were stuck there on the outskirts of downtown until the great corporate entertainment beast allowed us to leave. Our audition slot wasn't until 5:00, but we needn't have worried about how we would spend our time. Our destiny was a long, long... long line. For the next seven hours. I still dream about it.
When we emerged from the parking ramp - which resounded with the echoing screeches of frazzled post-audition tweens - we encountered a messy line which extended as far as the eye could see down one hallway and over a skyway in the other direction. Just as we were about to head down the hallway to find the end of the line (which may not have existed), a man began to shout instructions for those of us arriving for the 5:00 audition.
"Go down to the food court and wait."
That was it. That was all we were told until several hours later. Everyone in the food court looked as bewildered as we felt. There were no comforting stage managers in neon colored t-shirts handing out pamphlets of helpful tips. There were no representatives from the show at all. Just a teeming mass of fame whores (a term I picked up from a passing fellow performer and have come to quite enjoy) and their entourages. An occasional scream from those watching the escalators for post-audition singers with tell-tale pieces of red paper at least let us know where the auditions were happening. We got the least fattening, non-dairy thing we could find on the menu at McDonald's and sat down on the floor to await further instruction. It did not come.
A sidebar: It has to be said that going into this whole thing with the carefree attitude of two people confident in their abilities but with no expectations whatsoever made all this traveling and waiting far more tolerable than if we had thought we were about to be superstars. I think we were alone in this.
Finally, we couldn't take the antics of so many nervous bodies roaming aimlessly around us. That, and we were mildly irritated that we didn't at least have an idea of where we were supposed to be directing our attention. It was nearing 5:00, after all. A (mostly closed down) food court does not inspire, and so we headed off toward where we had first entered the building. We were not the only ones who had grown restless, and for about a half an hour there was a lot of emotional ripples - not unlike what one feels before a riot, a rock concert or a revival - flowing throughout the crowd. Once we were pushed to the side by security - the only authoritative force in attendance - to let the latest round of auditioners through. That seemed to break the spirit of rule abiding that had been tentatively in place since we had arrived. A rush of people headed for the mythical end of the line.
It took us 20 minutes to get there. I have no idea how many turns I took, how many hallways we filed down, how many thousands of people I walked past. All I know is I now have a distinct frame of reference for how Alice felt falling down the rabbit hole. What had we gotten ourselves into? Hilariously, when we emerged into a large empty ballroom and security began coiling us into relatively organized rows to fill the space more economically, people ran to get ahead of Jen & I in line. Five miles of humanity in front of us, and some jerks thought they could slice a few minutes off their wait time. Some people.
Jen updated our Facebook status & whipped out a play she was supposed to be memorizing for a job back home. I mostly watched people - which was awesome. There was a douche-y hipster guy and his girlfriend directly in front of us (one of those who had run to take that place) who did nothing but point and sneer. There was a frizzy-haired sixteen year old, attended to by her older sister and mom, who slowly descended into the cranky hungry whiny type. There were a million girls in heels no one should be forced to wear. Most of them occasionally changed height.
Around 7:30 I finally spoke to someone (I'm not a casual chatter). Entourages had been told to leave the line - well, yelled at to leave the line would be more accurate - and the douche-y guy had realized he'd left his ID in his car so he'd had to step out of line while his girlfriend ran to retrieve it (karma win!). The girls who'd been in front of him were taking turns removing their heels and leaning on one another. One had on a giant pair of designer headphones - which, incidentally, I never once saw her take off in the ensuing hours, even while in conversation - and had flown down from Minneapolis. The other, I learned, was going to rap for the judges. She was a history major and had begun rapping about history she learned in class. She was going to do a mash-up of Sum 41 and some other group I didn't recognize. I desperately wanted her to be in my audition group.
The line, it has to be said, moved at a steady pace. It wasn't intolerable. The stale air and mass anxiety eventually got to me a little, but finally we were herded into lines for our documentation to be checked. At every point there was surprise at our status as a "duo"; we began to think we were the only ones. Then, mercifully, a group of about 500 of us got to sit on folding chairs in another giant ballroom, where we thought we were finally going to be given some sort of instruction, but instead the incredibly tired and loopy staff displayed their lack of knowledge regarding the chicken dance and tried to get us to sing "Lean On Me" en masse, which, it turns out, very few people know anymore.
When groups of ten started to be occasionally led out, we knew we were almost there. People would cheer wildly when another string of fellow singers were ushered away. After about 45 minutes it was our turn. We were put into another line. If this is tedious to read, imagine the dismay we felt. At least there were urns of water posted periodically along this one. The presence of water telegraphed that we were indeed closer than we had ever been. They wanted our throats sated! There had to be a reason!
We were finally led to a series of rooms, outside of which each group of ten awaited their fate. We were assigned a handler, who - bless him - told us over and over that he knew it had been a long day, they appreciated our time, we were all beautiful and he couldn't wait to hear us sing. He was tired and adorable and only the slightest bit condescending.
Another lightning-fast 30 minutes or so went by, and we were called into a big bare room separated from all the others by faux divider walls, so that we could hear auditions bleeding in from everywhere. Nearly everyone had to pee, but hadn't dared step out of line, so it was an incredibly uncomfortable-looking all-female group that took our places in two rows of folding chairs in front of two judges and what had to have been two PAs.
They were all perfectly lovely, I was surprised to learn. I would've have been growling my words after fourteen hours of being confronted by mostly awful singing (let's be honest), but they were chipper and encouraging, yet in a bit of a hurry. We were called up randomly and asked to sing the most powerful part of our chosen song.
Jen and I were called second. We did a spot-on verse & chorus of "Someone Like You" and sat down to watch the rest of the show. It was that quick; no time to think about it. The lead judge smiled and asked us if we were in an a capella group - which I can only take as a compliment, hopefully meaning we'd kept our pitch perfectly - and we were done. We'd lost the historian/rapper in the chicken dance ballroom, but the frizzy-haired teen (with her mom looking on) gave us an off-key rendition of a song I don't remember. Ultimately, two girls got yesses and one got a maybe (ugh) for callbacks. One of the yesses completely deserved it. She had a funky look and an Xtina-style voice, complete with improv'd-sounding runs. The other will never make it past callbacks. She had a thin voice but a goth/hipster thing going on that I'm sure the judges thought might carry her for awhile. The maybe girl had a solid country aesthetic that I think they were trying to decide whether or not they had enough of in the competition at that point. The rest of us, I surmised, were either not good singers or didn't fall into an easy category.
Since the audition I've watched the show a couple times and realized they're really only looking for singers who belt. Even when they choose people with rock or folk or alternative singing styles to make it to the higher levels, they ultimately ask them to battle, diva-style, which means hitting high, long, loud notes. And that's not us. We can belt when our arrangement calls for it, but it's not our bread and butter.
After the audition, Jen & I rode the escalator back toward the food court, where a handful of friends & family awaited the last of the auditioners. Tired, amused, and mildly disappointed (more so than we wanted to admit), we headed into the city to a Greek place I like for a celebratory glass of wine and a snack. We toasted our adventure, posted a funny picture on Facebok and got back in the car to head home. At about 5:30 AM I laid down in my bed back at home, grateful for my pillow and amazed at the ride one can take in under 24 hours.
...so, what did I learn?
Lesson #1: You only need to audition once for a nationally syndicated television show. Whether you make it past the initial audition or not, once will last a lifetime.
Lesson #2: Own the fact that you are not mainstream. Own it!
Lesson #3: Road trips are always fun.