Remember four years ago when someone contacted me about appearing in a White Castle ad after seeing the video of me on YouTube playing “Video Killed the Radio Star”? The experience, fully documented here, was quite a trip!
Well, I soon may have another tale to tell.
Back in December, I received another message via YouTube, this time from a field producer for America’s Got Talent asking if I was interested in auditioning. The producer wrote that my act was “amazing”, adding, “it wouldn’t surprise me if someone from our office has already contacted you.”
Uhhh, no. No one ever has.
The prospect of appearing at one of those open cattle calls didn’t particularly appeal to me, but after some emailing back and forth, I learned a few things that made me reconsider. First, this would be an invitation-only private audition, featuring a limited number of acts that they’d seen video of and knew they were interested in having on the show. Second, they went out of their way to accommodate my needs. For example, the official line is that auditions should be acoustic and if you need more than a minute or two for set up, you should instead bring a DVD of your act that the judges and you will watch together. I wrote the producer to confirm that, since the theremin is a purely electronic instrument and I require 10-15 minutes to set up, I would need to prepare a DVD. She wrote back saying, no, they really wanted to see me play live! They moved my scheduled audition time to right after their lunch break so that I could set up while they were out. Flattering!
One constraint is that your audition lasts only 90 seconds. Since they found me via “Video Killed the Radio Star”, I figured I should stick to that song. But how to present it in context and in such a small amount of time? I worked up the following introduction:
“This is my theremin. It’s the world’s oldest electronic instrument, invented over 90 years ago. It’s unique in that one plays the theremin [a quick oooOOOooo] without touching. Theremin players tend to fall into one of two camps. They either play classical music [opening phrase of Ode to Joy] or else they play weird experimental music [a quick oooOOOooo with lots of effects added]. I, on the other hand [start the backing track for VKtRS], have made it my mission to play the most inappropriate music on the theremin that I could imagine: New Wave hits of the late 70s and early 80s. Like this classic, notable as the first song ever heard on MTV.”
At this point, the intro to the song was finished and I went right into my playing. The 90 second mark came right at the end of the first chorus, which I figured would give the judges a good sense of what I was about.
After much practicing of the 90 second routine (as well as the entire song, on the off chance they did not cut me off), at last the day of the audition arrived. They indicated that they would provide an amp, which made transport significantly easier especially since it snowed 3 inches that morning. I gave myself plenty of time to clean off the windows of my RelayRide, navigate the parking lots and shuttle bus of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and find my way to the ballroom. As I was getting off the escalator, a small group of people carrying leftover fries called me by name. It was the AGT field crew for whom I’d be playing and who probably recognized me by all the gear I was lugging! They were very friendly and had me set up immediately. As I unpacked, I looked around and asked where the amp was.
Ruh-Rohh! The sound rental place had canceled on them that morning. They had nothing except a boombox.
After patiently explaining that, no, I couldn’t play anything without some sort of powered speaker, they got on the phone with a convention center crew member who managed to track down a 1/4″ to mini adapter. I would plug into the boombox. Not ideal, but perfectly OK for these circumstances.
While we all waited for Adapter Guy to arrive, they had me wait in the hall outside the ballroom. By now, other potential stars had arrived. They all looked excited and nervous. They also all looked like they were 16 years old — the girls wearing tight mini-skirts adjusting their makeup and the boys wearing designer jeans. I think I was older than most of the stage parents. I smiled as I realized that I was not in competition with any of these people. At least, not yet. If they wanted a wacky theremin player to appear on the show, it didn’t matter how many singing and dancing teenagers they saw. I was in a class by myself.
After another 10-15 minutes, Adapter Guy arrived. I plugged in and it worked — the day was saved! I actually shook Adapter Guy’s hand to thank him, much to his amusement. The AGT crew allowed me a couple of minutes to set my effects and levels and then I went right into it.
So how did it go? It wasn’t the best I’d ever played it, but there were no major flubs. I was satisfied. The guy videotaping the whole thing seemed amused, the field producer seemed somewhat fascinated while the other two women sitting at a long table on either side of the field producer (I don’t know what their jobs were) just stared with impossible-to-read faces the entire time. On the plus side, they did not cut me off after 90 seconds and I played through to the finish (it was a good thing that I practiced the entire song!). In the end, I’m not even sure how much of the decision will be theirs. They will be reviewing all the auditions from the various cities with their higher-ups and contacting the contestants in a couple of weeks. If I’m selected, the next step will be another audition in New York in front of the celebrity judges. That would happen around the end of March or beginning of April. Unfortunately, if I am selected, I won’t be able to tell anyone except for a few friends. The confidentiality rules are pretty strict. I’ll take notes though, and hopefully be able to write about my experience once it’s all over.
After I finished the song, they asked me a few questions about the theremin (how it works, etc.) and that was it. They let me break down and pack my things in the ballroom as they all sat typing into their laptops. The room was deathly quiet, except for the field producer who I caught humming “Video Killed the Radio Star” under her breath. I’m taking that as a good sign.