September 09, 2006

Adventures In Sitting, Mostly

WARNING: This is a long and detailed report of my impressions of Audition Day for American Idol. If you aren't interested (I mean really, really interested), don't read it. If you want a shorter version, read the Vampire's version on his blog.


Well, we are finally done with our American Idol adventure. For this year, at least.

The worst damage was to:

1. Our finances. Prepping for a big audition like this is expensive if the singer needs sheet music, a tuner/metronome, clothes that fit and don't have holes or hideous stains, shoes ditto, extra music lessons, etc... plus the Food Issue specific to Target Center. I'll get to that in a moment. Not to mention the money I wasn't making and the employer I was alienating thereby because all the running around kept me away from my keyboard this week, and because of #2.

2. My body. Not only has whatever is wrong with my heel (spur? glass shard embedded in bone? something even nastier?) gotten much, much worse because of all the standing, but I've developed an Ominous Abdominal Pain. If both don't get better soon, I'm going to have to go to Specialists who will do expensive and painful and humiliating Tests on me, at the very least. And I have some combination of a cold and my allergies blowing up on me. Ugh.

3. Sleep Patterns. The Vampire is not used to getting up at 3am, and to have to do so twice in three days is more than his fragile sleep patterns can manage. While I get up at 3am fairly frequently, the list of Things To Do in my head kept me from being able to take full advantage of the two hours of bedtime I had available on those two nights, and also kept me from sleeping more than fitfully for the four or so hours I had available the other nights this week. After yesterday was over I got a 2-hour nap... and then wasn't able to sleep last night. It will take a while to get back into the swing of things.

The Best Benefits were:

1. We learned some good things about how to do this next year, if American Idol comes again. Among other things, it turns out the standing in line at 4am for Registration was not only unnecessary, it wasn't even in our best interests in terms of the auditioning process. Next time we'll mosey in on Thursday at a reasonable time of day and avoid the lines. It means longer waiting to audition, but who cares? You get to *sit* while waiting to audition, among other things. If we do this again in town, it won't be nearly as difficult and exhausting. If we have to go to Chicago or some such, it'll be a different story.

2. The Vampire thought that he'd be really overwhelmed and nervous, and that he'd make a horrible mistake or fall apart during the audition. Instead he did just fine - so that's added confidence in his own ability to cope under pressure, which is a good thing.

3. The Vampire got just a bit more focused with this experience. He didn't work as hard as he could have, but he did work harder than he'd ever done before over a longish term, and he saw the benefits of doing so. He also learned more about what he would be up against when he starts auditioning for things in the Real (Adult) World - which means that he's a bit more realistic about the future, and what he needs to do to prepare for it. He's not entirely There yet, but it was a big step.

4. The Vampire had a great time, and really enjoyed the experience a lot. Given the sacrifices involved, I'm very happy about that - with the lack of sleep and the pressures, he could have processed this as a negative experience, but instead he is cheerfully planning for next year.

That said, here's the rundown on the Audition Day:

I decided after our experience at Registration that it wasn't important for us to get there early, as long as we were there in time to get in line... I wanted the kid to get as much sleep as he could.

I got up at 3am, after making preparations until 1am. I don't think I slept much between those hours, either... I got up half an hour before the alarm went off. I ironed clothes and packed them (the auditioner theoretically should have an extra change, in case someone spills something on them), gathered together various necessary items. The Pirate got up just after 4:00 and hied himself to Super America to pick up sandwiches and bottles of Evian - both the info sheet that American Idol gave us at registration and the news shows said that we could bring food and water to the auditions, and water is a necessity for people with bladder issues (me) or singing issues (Vampire).

I woke the Vampire up at 4:10 or so, and finished packing while he got ready. We were off by 5:00 and had no traffic problems, got to the Target Center by 5:15 or so.

The line was very wide and long, but slightly more lively than the crowd on Wednesday. We spent the time chatting with friendliest of our neighbors. Oddly enough there was very little singing - more on that later. But the mild weather and the friendly chatter made the experience fun - and this time we brought a camp chair, so the waiting part wasn't physically difficult.

The line started moving right at 6am, and went in fairly reasonable fits and starts, so we were in the doors and to our seats by 6:30 or so.

The only unpleasant part of this process was that in disregard of the instruction sheets and the news reports, Target Center decided to search bags and confiscate all food and water at the inner entrances. Which meant that our $20 worth of water and sandwiches were thrown away, and that later the Vampire and then I had to stand for an hour or so in an obscenely slow line in order to pay nearly $20 for two small hot dogs and two small bottles of water. In effect we paid $40 for two small hot dogs and two small bottles of water.

There are no drinking fountains at the Target Center. Obviously it is their policy to force people to buy their outrageously overpriced concessions or accept bodily damage as a consequence of dehydration and blood sugar deficit. The concessions people are fully aware of their monopoly on the attendees' bodily wellbeing, so they feel no pressure to actually perform; snails move more quickly and certainly more efficiently. They probably smile more, too.

I can understand such a policy for a concert or a basketball game, where the participants are there for a couple hours and would take no actual harm from refraining from drinking or eating if they couldn't afford the obscenely priced salt-laden junk food they offer at their poorly staffed concession areas. But for an event that lasts from 6am until some point in the late afternoon or evening, it's a rotten thing to do - especially if you knowingly allow it to be advertised otherwise by both your sponsor and the media. It was Robbery, pure and simple.

And definitely a Target Center issue, rather than an American Idol issue. I must say that the AI staff was uniformly pleasant, well-informed, extremely efficient and well run. Clearly they have Audition Day down to a science, as well as an art.

The first thing they did after we starting filling up the auditorium was teach everyone the Group Song that they always televise on the audition phase of the show. In our case, because we are the Home Town of His Royal Purple Badness, we sang "1999". In three part harmony.

It was a lot of fun.

After that there was some waiting, and then they hauled out Ryan Seacrest, who briefly spoke to the crowds, did his little speeches in front of the camera, did an (inaudible) interview with someone from Entertainment Tonight, and left. During this time the producers led the crowd in a couple staged cheers and shouts, including (at Seacrest's insistence) a 'Boo' at the mention of Simon Cowell. This sat ill with the Vampire and I, since we like Simon and don't think much of Seacrest (to say the least).

Ah, well. As the kid says, it's fun to be involved with any celebrity event, no matter how little you care for the celebrity himself.

Then we did the singing of "1999" for the cameras. Unfortunately the Vampire had gone to the concessions stand to get water, and missed this entire portion... and I had trouble paying attention to it, because by the time the singing started the Vampire had been gone for over half an hour, and I was getting worried that he'd gotten lost or wasn't being allowed back without his ticket or some such thing. I went out to find him, and eventually found him halfway through the line at the one open concessions stand. It wasn't a long line. It was just very, very... relaxed... behind the counter. I took the kid's place and he hustled back to the stands, but it was too late. He'd missed the televised singing.

After the song we waited while they set up the tables and curtains for the auditioning sections. Then we waited some more while the stands were slowly emptied for the auditions, one portion of one section at a time.

In our entire section of several hundred people, only one woman practiced her intended song while we waited to get in line for the actual audition. Unfortunately she sat directly behind us, and sang the da**ed thing over and over for more the entire time we waited for our section to be let down to the audition line. She was good, and had a pleasant enough voice, but it was an ordeal to be forced to hear the same verse sung exactly the same way over and over and over, right into our ears.

After the first hour or so I wanted to stab her with my knitting needles (yes, OF COURSE I brought my knitting). It was very distracting and annoying, and made it impossible for the people around her to focus on their own internal (silent) processing; that may not be uncommon behavior elsewhere, I don't know, but in Minnesota it's considered very rude.

A few other determined contestants also chose to practice their songs aloud - but they moved out into the hallways to do so, in order to avoid bothering others. I loved them. I wished them well. I cheered internally but enthusiastically when our torturer was eliminated.

In terms of stands and the order of emptying, we were more than halfway down the line - but the Vampire reminds me that the stands in front of us were more sparsely packed for some reason (they were the stands allotted to the people who stood in line early on Wednesday), while the stands behind us were very tightly packed. So the Vampire probably was just short of the middle of the pack when he auditioned. I stayed in the stands (only auditioners were allowed on the field) and kept an eye on all our friendly acquaintances from the two lines we'd been in this week, and on our seatmates.

None of them got through to the second round. And although nearly half of the auditioners had already gone through their paces, and there were supposed to be over 200 second-round auditioners in the end, the judges were clearly hoarding their 'golden tickets' for later, just in case a raft of amazing talents or hidden Nutters showed up. At the time we left no more than perhaps 20 people had been let through. Most of those came from the lower half of the tables, so we kept our fingers crossed that the Vampire would end up at one of those.

Instead he ended up with the table where the producer who led the cheers and song sat, in the upper part of the field. In the entire time I was there, only four people got their 'golden ticket' from that group of tables. One of them was in the Vampire's group of four (they audition four at a time), a very showy and professional Diva type in her upper 20's.

In watching the Vampire's group's progress through the lines compared to the progress of our acquaintances who had been called up before him, it was clear that the judges at his table were not in a good mood, and were cutting people off very quickly; his group got to their table before our acquaintances were halfway through their lines.

There were no introductions, and the judges had no information or I.D. for the contestants, so they did not know how young the Vampire was - most people in line assumed he was in his early twenties, so I suspect the judges thought the same. With that in mind, and the Diva factor, the kid was very happy that he obviously pleased one of the judges (she was smiling and grooving to his song) and that they let him get through nearly three verses before the less enthusiastic judge stopped him. He felt that he'd acquitted himself well.

I did, too.

So all in all, it was a good experience for the kid, and he wants to do it again.

Some extra thoughts:

As is usual in Minnesota, throughout the entire event the crowd was attentive and cooperative. As is also usual in the Twin Cities, the attitude in general was very professional, and the quality of the competition was quite high.

Which I think may be a possible reason why American Idol may not be coming back again next year. They loved the fact that the crowds and lines were polite, cooperative, easy to manage - but seemed frustrated that we were also so staid. There was none of the spontaneous group singing in the lines that evidently typifies the AI experience in other cities, no shouts, no arguing, no fights breaking out.

Minnesota Nice and Professional Work Ethic isn't as warm as Southern Hospitality, and not as entertaining and 'at least I'm better that that' ego-boosting as towns whose civilians have more Bravado (L.A., New York) or more fresh-faced Naivete (Dallas, Seattle). There were very few contestants dressed up in silly costumes or blowing up when they were stopped, very little outrageous grandstanding behavior in the general croud. People treated this more as a professional opportunity than as an opportunity to show off on television - which oddly enough probably makes us less entertaining for the national TV audience. Not enough Freak Show appeal.

Hint: If they do come to Minnesota again, you are almost guaranteed a second round (and probably third) if you dress up like a Loony. They traditionally let through a mix of about 1/2 people who are either dressed in costumes or are truly dreadful in some other way, and 1/2 serious contestants. In Minnesota the ratio of costumed contestants was about 1 per 1,500 this year, at most. If all you want is to get on TV, rather than to compete in the serious rounds, Minnesota is definitely the place to strut your Outrageous Stuff.

On the other hand, there was spontaneous and sincere applause from the audience every time someone got their 'golden ticket', whether it was for talent or for buffoonery. We really are nice. Overall, I was proud of My Town(s); we may not be as colorful as some, but we make for good neighbors and good friends. In the long run, that means a lot.


Blogger mrspao said...

I am still really pleased for him! He did well to get through and will learn from his experience. Thank you for writing about the experience - it must have been incredible to be there.

12:20 PM  
Anonymous galynn said...

Now, it's time for you to sit down...better yet, kick your feet up and lay back on the couch, GIRL!! You deserve it. Wish I could have been a mouse in your bag. But then, maybe I'd have been confiscated. Thanks for writing about your experience. You are just as awesome as the Vampire!!

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good heavens, what a thing to go through.
sounds like a bit of an ordeal but you learned enough to "do it better next time". when can we hear Bren do his song? :) any possibility of taping him for us?

3:17 PM  
Anonymous mamatulip said...

Man, I've been waiting to read this for days now. Damn kids wanting things from me, like I'm their *mother* or something. ;)

Sounds like quite an experience, for you both...I'm clicking over to the Vampire's blog now to read his account.

I'd love to hear him sing...

12:42 PM  

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