Mom, I’m gonna be on T.V!
If you’re just joining us here, welcome, and welcome back if you’re a frequent flyer. The long story short, I decided to drive to New York, to audition for America’s Got Talent. We have gotten to the part where rubber is hitting the ground. It’s dark, cold and way past most people’s bedtime. Every border crossing story, start with the part about actually crossing the border. Which in this case, could not have been more enjoyable. It had crossed my mind, to just say we were going for a last minute adventure into the heart of Manhattan. But at the last minute, as my window rolled down, I looked the kind officer in the eyes, and said:
“We’re driving to New York City because I’d like to Audition for America’s Got Talent.”
He paused, just long enough that I became a little more nervous than one almost always gets when dealing with customs officials. He sort-of smiled, and by that, I mean he didn’t smile at all. But it felt like he almost thought about wanting to. He asked: “What do you do?” Oh god. A question I have come to loathe in so many ways. It thrusts me into this existential crisis every single time. But I swallowed my pride, let go of the pressing egocentric need to be misjudged by this authority, and just said: “I’m a magician.” That was it. We rolled on through. Smiling, breathing a sigh of relief and looking carefully at road signs to make sure we started heading in the right direction.
The drive was not a road-trip. It was not so much a journey to be enjoyed in a loud-music, road-trip kind of way. It was more an opportunity to stay focused, converse minimally, mentally prepare, and also allowed for mindfulness. There was a critical moment where my co-pilot got distracted by our conversation, and didn’t tell me about an exit in time. So we missed it. It was only mildly annoying because when I got back onto the expressway we just came from, there was no possibility to exit where we needed to, from the reverse direction.
Don’t you have a GPS?
Great question. I don’t want to talk about.
Okay fine. I’ll talk about it. Mildly annoying became rather infuriating. In an effort to make the adventure more meaningful, I downloaded the directions, so they’d be accessible in “OFFLINE MODE” in maps. When I was unable to get back onto the right track, having wasted 20 minutes of precious consciousness, we switched on my data, and waited for maps to connect. Which they didn’t. I was getting really frustrated, really impatient, and wanted to give-up.
“THIS IS STUPID. I’M TURNING AROUND. WE’RE GOING HOME.”
Elycia has a super-power. She grounds me. She doesn’t take my shit. She doesn’t lose her cool. “It’s okay babe, we’ll get there. We always do. Let’s just pull-over and breathe for a sec.” So pull-over we did. After another 20 minutes, 3 phone calls to a mobile-service provider that shall remain nameless (and clueless) the data to my phone was restored, and we were on the right track. I stopped to fuel-up the car at one point, where I learned that in the U.S. there are two different nozzle sizes for a diesel vehicle. Don’t worry, that only took up…you guessed it…another 20 minutes.
It probably would have been more if it were not for some nice seniors who were sitting in the rest stop at 4:45 in the morning. We shared our Canucks with the kind men (“thank you for your help, sorry for not knowing, goodbye”) and took-off. Elycia was tired, and nodded-off at a couple moments, for a maybe a half-hour at most. The most rewarding memory of the car-journey was the final stretch out-of Jersey, right before we drove into the Lincoln Tunnel. I say most rewarding, because this was Elycia’s first-time in New York City. It is probably my favorite city in the world. I had described what it meant to me. What it and its history meant to my art. Outside of all this, she has always been excited to see it.
Just as the Big Apple’s skyline came into view, I turned on a radio station. This was the first time music accompanied our drive. I like driving in the silence. As the radio came on, one of my favorite Muse songs just happened to be beginning. I look over, and there is this girl, whom I love and care for very much…who strangely trusts me to fall asleep beside me, on an over-tired, under-caffeinated journey…she slowly blinks her eyes open, and sees this special, beautiful, magical place. She smiles. I feel a surge of awesome. All is well.
We navigate the streets of early Sunday morning Manhattan, which were luckily quieter than you probably imagine them to be. We find the convention center. We find a parking lot nearby which was unluckily even more expensive than you probably imagine it was. There was a memorable, quiet beat, as the parking attendant approached the vehicle. I turn to Elycia: “The show begins right now babe. From the second we step foot out of this vehicle, it would be safe to assume somebody, somewhere is watching us.” She nodded quietly, with a look of tired acknowledgement. I turn off the ignition. I pull up my hand-brake. Hand the parking attendant my keys, pay him the $80, and tip him. We both just stare out of the window.
We got out of the car. I grabbed my suit, and hung it on the side mirror of a large production vehicle parked in the same lot. Grabbed the rest of my gear, as Elycia grabbed hers. We walked from the car, down the street to the convention center. It was a brisk, yet sunny, 7 minute walk. We got to the front door, where already, a small line-up had formed. People waiting to enter the building. 7:39 AM.
The line-up moves rather quickly, we get to the security check-point. Bag inspection. Right away, I realize I screwed-up. I try to travel with as little as possible, thus, I packed everything I needed for our 3-day séjour into one backpack. However, on the FAQ section of the email outlining the details of the audition day, it said in very large, very bold font:
NO WEAPONS, SHARP OBJECTS, EXPLOSIVE OR PYROTECHNIC DEVICES.
Failure to comply with this rule would result in immediate removal from the premises, and disqualification from the audition process. Well that sucks. Because in the very front pocket of my backpack, the most easily accessed pocket…I had a very well-balanced, hard-tempered stainless-steel, full-hollow ground, freshly sharpened and slightly costly German straight razor. Fuck.
I kept my cool, and assessed the situation. The security guard was a very kind, and only kind-of hard to read woman. She asked if there is anything sharp or dangerous in my bag. I thought about the question, and answered as honestly as I could. “Oh. My. God. I completely forgot. I feel awful. You see, I’m a magician, so yes. In this large pocket, the kind of hard to access one, all the way back here…under some underwear, and toiletries, I have a gimmick that I use for an effect I do, and attached to the back of it, is a small safety-pin. Do you want me to get it?” She looked at me, with a sort of sympathetic/”you’re pathetic” kind of look on her face, and sent me on my way. Perfect.
Seriously, there should be a TV show about a group of professional smugglers who moonlight as magicians.
We walked enough stanchion-defined steps, to make even the most un-calibrated of step-counters on any of the Skinny-Vanilla-Latte-drinking peeps in front of me at Starbucks right now, happier than a magician sneaking a straight razor through security. At one point on the walk, I saw a well-built, good-looking black man, with an epic batman tee on. It was a white shirt, it had the usual logo, but the border around the logo, was made of a gold-trim. Navigating the course, towards the wristband checkpoint, allowed me to come within ear shot of him, at which point I smiled: “Love the shirt man!”
He was conversing with some stern, Russian-looking hunk beside him, he looked over at me, said “Thanks” and then did “THE SECRET SERVICE MOVE”. You will know exactly what I mean. He took a step backward, with one foot. Placed two-fingers, firmly against his right ear-drum, and mouthed something into a general diagonal-down manner, as though the shoulder of his t-shirt was a microphone. All of this was made ever-more epic, lest we forget, he was jacked, and wore a gold-trimmed batman shirt!
I just kept walking. We got our wristbands. Mine was a nice shade of performer-blue. Elycia’s was a friends-and-family-orange. I’m so weird. Why do you read this stuff.
We now get past another security guard, who is checking we are indeed wearing our appropriate wristbands, his name was Fred. He comes back at the end of all this, so don’t forget about Fred. Anyway, we walk down a couple sets of stairs, the convention center, by the way, is one of the biggest in the city. The reading does not do the physical travel or time spent, any justice. We get to a new line-up, where we must present our government ID’s, and essentially “check-in”. This new line-up moves rather quickly as well, we made friends with the guy waiting in front of us. He was an impressionist. I said “I won’t ask you to perform for me right now, but is there anywhere online I can check out your work?”
He replied, in a perfect Stewie Griffin voice: “Come now, Alex. It would be a pleasure to perform for you in the flesh. Do you think I’m here just to share my youtube links with these people.” He quickly, and effortlessly switched from voice, to voice. It was incredible. Elycia and I laughed, and we laughed hard.
We were now standing in-front of a beautiful, young woman, equipped with a Macbook and a color-coded binder. Her name was Lauren. She smiled, she asked us our names, where we were from, and generated fodder for a great conversation. We laughed. We joked. We had fun with her. She handed me the infamous sticker, denoting my contestant ID, which I affixed to my jacket. I was handed some paperwork, and we were invited to proceed into the main waiting area.
I will briefly mention, that prior to entering that room, we visited the restrooms. We had to change and Elycia needed a mirror to touch-up her make-up. Entering the men’s room, I walk into the stall, lock the door, and immediately realize: I had forgotten my entire performance outfit hanging, on the mirror of that production company truck. I told my dilemma to an employee of the show, asked what would come of me if I wasn’t back by the time they called my number to audition. He assured me all would be fine, and that I’d just get bumped up to the next group. So I do the 10,000 step journey in reverse, quickly passing through the various checkpoints in reverse, find the parking lot, run up to it. The young parking attendant comes out of his booth, with my suit-bag in hand and a big smile on his face: “Here you go man”.
I went back through security, showed-off my wristband at the various check-points, said hi for the third time to Fred, walked down the stairs, and entered the same bathroom I’d left my backpack in, to change and prepare. Trying to stay calm, cool, and collected. With a slightly elevated heart rate. I walked out, and met my beautiful lady. She looked way better than I did, and I was so proud of us both.
When we passed the first set of doors, to enter the waiting room, we were greeted by a small wall of PA’s (production assistants) whose sole role was to hand out green pens. Which one would presumably use to fill-out the small package of legal documents, handed to us by Lauren. A gentleman handed me a pen, which came from a big box he was holding, full of identical pens, and he said: “Please make sure to bring it back to me.” I instantly thought this was a little strange. I almost let the moment pass for what it seemed to be, a slightly odd, but trivial moment of awkwardness. Why was it awkward? Let’s get this straight.
This is a multi-million dollar project. I am in a convention center, that will be filled with thousands of hopefuls throughout the day. As they try their best, to get the attention of one of the few people (producers), who can let them (the hopefuls) perform on one of the most watched shows on television (AGT). There are literally thousands of staff members, from across the continental U.S. that work together to make the whole thing operate. They scout talent, vet potential applicants, perform administrative tasks, and communicate with higher-ups. So please tell me why in the hell are you concerned about getting your stupid, cheap, green bic pen back?
Well, if this thought troubles you as much as it did me, you are starting to think the way that this world of show-biz requires you to think. Which is equally awesome, as it is terrifying. You see, the truth is, most of your arguments as to “why give the green pen back” are plausible, but probably wrong. You might say: “Maybe they didn’t have a lot of pens. Or maybe they wanted to be environmentally friendly.” The had boxes, filled with pens. If they ran out, they could afford to pay someone, who would then pay someone, to run out and buy the company that made the pens. Then, someone would just come back with the building of pens.
What about reduce, reuse, recy- NO! I was just handed a stack of papers. Which weren’t double-sided. The latter could have been sent to me via email and signed electronically. So, none of that. The truth of the stupid green pen is a little more complex, and beautiful then just an economics or environmental-impact one. It was yet another checkpoint for the staff to get to know some of the applicants.
This new stranger, asked me sincerely and emphatically to bring his pen back to him. I paused. Let all the above thoughts until now register, as I gave him a blank-stare, allowing my brain to catch up and process the request. I replied: “Of course. I hate when people don’t give my pens back! What’s your name man? If I can’t get it back to you personally, I’ll make sure I have someone bring it back to you!” “Cameron. My name’s Cameron” he replied. That was that. We walked into this giant room. Think convention center hall, more than room. There were cameras, lights, and people decked-out in special badges and lanyards, who were running around with ear-pieces and walkie-talkies.
“Do we have to sit with these people?”
I asked in the most humble and non-pretentious voice I could muster, while gesturing to the pocket of chairs, full of people. You see, in the middle of the room, there was a giant black-and-white checkered floor, you might know the one I mean if you watch the show avidly.
On the perimeter of the checkered-floor there were chairs set up to face-inward, toward the floor.
The room was filling fast, but there were still a large number of vacant chairs, but it seemed everyone was sitting in one, very specific pocket of chairs. As though someone asked them to. I didn’t want to get distracted by all the other amazingly talented individuals. I wanted to sit away from everyone, if possible, for as long as possible. This has always been my approach in the waiting room on the way into an audition. It allows me to stay focused, and mentally prepare.
A nice gentleman with a clipboard, stood next to a camera operator said “No, sit wherever you want.” So I held Elycia’s hand, and led her past the two big cameras, pointing directly at the checkered-floor, and the big AGT sign in the middle of the room. Doing so, I confidently exclaimed “CROSSING” (a term that just alerts production crew, that you’re crossing the set). We sat in a vacant group of chairs, behind the big AGT sign, next to the back of the checkered-floor.
It was maybe 15 seconds, that our bums were in the seats. Before a young, friendly looking PA came up to us, and started to engage us in conversation. Before he could get a follow-up to “what are your names and where are you from” out of his mouth, Elycia’s bubbly and friendly charm took her over, and she started asking him questions! “What’s your job here? Are you like the people-pumper-upper? Do you like working here?” She quickly fired off. He said his name was Cameron, and the words that he spoke last to us were: “We really like your energy, so one of our producers Mandy, will come over in a second to talk with you about being on mic’d and put on camera, so please just stay put.” As he finished this sentence, a 5’5″, blonde, cute but professional looking woman, with an ear-piece, a clipboard she held tightly, and adorned in identifications badges that hung from her neck “VIP Access this, STAFF this, NBC that”. She walked over to us with purpose and speed. “Hi. I’m Mandy. I’m one of the producers for the show. We’re going to get you working with Brian, but you need to get mic’d first.”
Elycia and I looked at each other. I was so overwhelmed. It was like a dream. “You’re going to come with me now.” She said firmly, to reassure us, and get us moving. I apologized, gathered my belongings and we followed her brisk pace.
She moved us to a separate waiting area, at the far side of the big room. It was denoted by special tape on the floor, a couple rows of chairs, and had it’s own security guard. We set our bags down, and I started to prepare everything I needed in order to be able to perform, should I be asked to do so. In front of us, there was a man rehearsing. He used two different colored lipsticks, along with dodgy-looking feathers, to make really poor-looking hand-puppets out of both his hands. Like in the image to the left, but far less aesthetically pleasing.
We’ll call the man Alien-man, because he had a headband on, in the middle of which was a 10 inch flexible spring, with a sort-of pom-pom thing attached to the top. At one point, he gestured at his freshly lipsticked-hands, and newly-painted nails and asked if I could cover his plastic bag with his jacket. I looked down, his bag seemed to have some random, inexpensive oddities in it. I looked back up at him, confused. “You just never know these days” he said.
I wanted to say: “I just left my passport, about 500 USD, all the clothes I have with me, and a very expensive straight razor in a backpack of a public bathroom, while I ran to grab a thousand-dollar suit that I left in the parking lot, on the side-mirror of a stranger’s truck… and you’re interrupting my creative process to cover your plastic bag with a jacket in a sectioned and secured waiting area? Please.” But I didn’t. I just smiled, covered-up Alien-Man’s bag with his plaid-disguised space-coat, before going back to doing me. I instantly started thinking about just how strange all of us performers are. After all, my creative process involved the spreading of 52 playing cards across the carpet, and scrambling through them one at a time chaotically.
As I gathered the cards from the floor, a fairly attractive and professional looking 30 something year old guy approached me and said: “Alex?” “Yes” I replied, still stooping. “What are you doing?” He asked. Whatever answer or reason I gave, had to do with Rainman and stating that it had to do with me calming myself. It was neither funny or revealing. It was stupid, that this so called Master of Mystery was caught stooping on the ground. I should have had everything prepared and in performance order by the time I walked into the waiting room. Oh well, live and let learn…or whatever.
“Have you ever been on camera?”
Brian asked Elycia, realizing she was wearing the friends-and-family shade orange wristband. “Nope” she remarked, “Not like this anyway.” Before we knew it, we were being mic’d by an friendly, and very professional sound technician. Next, we were directed to sit in two chairs, on the edge of the checkered-floor. While a camera and its operator, located at least 25 feet from our position, framed his shot, checked lighting and sound. Brian joined us again, he layed on the floor beside us. His iPad screen showed him a live-shot preview, along with a sound-level monitoring pane. If you don’t speak geek, Brain was laying on the floor beside us.
The time is 9:25 AM. After some level-checks, Brian talks-into his walkie-talkie and says: “We’re ready.” You won’t believe who joined the checkered-floor party next…It was none other than Alien-Man! He stepped onto the front of the floor, and began performing. His act, literally consisted of him mouthing inaudible lines, and dancing with the small would-be-puppets, that were his lipsticked-feather-dressed hands. There was no story arch. No drama. No comedy. No structure. No reason for his props. It seemed, like there was quite literally, NO THOUGHT to any of this. It reminded me of most magic acts, but worse. I didn’t know that was even possible.
Before you think of me as being too harsh, or perhaps not sharing the full extent of the story, or god forbid, before someone plays the physical\mental disability card, let’s stop for a second to consider. Puppetry, when it’s done well, is an art form. One that should be revered, and respected. Let’s not forget that Yoda, was originally a puppet. There was no other context. If you’re coming to audition for a talent show, you must expect to perform. You must know that at some point you will be summoned to do whatever it is you do. If the best you have is pasting feathers to your hands, and drawing half-assed lips on your hands with lipsticks, you’re not only insulting yourself, you’re insulting me, and the live-performance world that I work so hard to prevent from becoming trivialized on a daily basis.
You are an insult to the centuries of puppeteers and artists who genuinely do good work. I hear those rebuttals forming: “But Alex, he just wants to try. You can’t hate him for that. You started somewhere too.” Look people, it’s called performance art. It’s not called practice art. If it was, I’d invite everyone to perform in the public’s eye. Whenever and wherever they chose. I don’t think any skill should be practiced in public. Aside from maybe Origami…But even then, NO! Learn to fold the paper in the confines of your private space. Then share your gifts with the world. If it turns out this was a person who had some sort of developmental disability, I will not change my opinion, as I feel it would be even more of an ableist move. To that argument I say: Famous People Players
Of course, I didn’t have the balls to say any of that to this man’s face. Nor did I want to be made to look like a complete idiot on national television.
So when Brian asked us to provide a running commentary on Alien-Man’s performance, we truthfully did our best to see the good in this man. Yes, he was just trying something. The empath, the optimist and the human in me sees that and values it. I don’t know what happened to this man, or why he needed the attention of the NBC audience in this absurd and nonsensical way. Whatever it was, it created ample room to fill the artificial interview process that is filming a reality television segment, with tons of patriotic-sounding, very consumable quotes.
“That’s why I love this show. Everyone, from every walk of life. Can come on here, with equal chance. Equal opportunity. It’s inspiring. It’s beautiful.”
Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Remember, this is a reality television show, about a talent show. The whole process took about 40 minutes. Elycia was on point the entire time. Taking prompts like “Okay, now tell Alex how much you love him and how much you believe in him” and formulating quick, vulnerable and perfect replies that kept the conversation going. The most humorous parts of the entire AGT adventure to this point, were brought by people I will simply refer to as ignorant-instagramers.
To clarify, because we were sitting so far from the camera that was shooting us, it wasn’t immediately obvious that we were being filmed. So people would walk into the frame, and then pause. Posing for a picture, with the big AGT sign. Elycia would be right in the middle of a really beautiful moment, professing how much she believed in me, and how proud she was when Brian would pip-up in a loud yell:
“MOVE. DON’T STAND THERE! WE’RE FILMING!”
The first three times it happened, it was forgivable. I almost felt bad for the poor schmucks. In fact, if I wasn’t on this side of the camera, I could have easily been one of them. That is, if we forget about the fact that in a waiting-room for an audition your thoughts should be meditative and focused, not “Mom, get a picture of me in here!” Whatever. I won’t judge.
Conversely, after the fourth time. It just became annoying. I realized why casting directors, producers, PA’s and other tv\film industry people I have dealt with in the past have this general air of superiority and power about them. They need to be efficient.
This isn’t a social event. This isn’t a party. This isn’t an “OMG I’M FAMOUS” kind of day! This is their livelihood.
The faster they can get their tasks done, the more tasks they can get done. The more they get done, means the more people they have seen. This in turn results in happier executives, because expenses are less, and people can get home earlier. There was an estimated 150,000 people that showed up over 2 days to audition for AGT in L.A. last season. The entire process is taking longer, for everybody, because your lack of spatial awareness? Because of your desired instagram post? I don’t think so. This brings us back to the conversation where I learned the term “CROSSING”, which is always preceded by making sure it’s okay to cross!
I’m hoping, through the volume of these posts, specifically through some of these rather wordy digressions, to shine a light on the secret and dirty side of the show business world. So that should you one day be in the position of meeting a celebrity, on the set of a movie, walking by a creative project of some kind, or even just running into your friendly neighborhood mystery entertainer: you will have the experience now to engage respectfully, and with the appropriate etiquette.
Back to Brian. He asked us to talk about ourselves. About the journey from Canada, and how I almost turned around three times. What we were looking forward to? What would it be like to step-onto the stage and perform for the celebrity judges? Who was I most nervous about? Which judge was I most scared of? So on, and so on.
At the completion of this backstory-styled interview, we were thanked multiple times by Brian. They took our microphones away, and brought us back to the secured waiting area for me to grab my belongings, and paperwork (which I still haven’t had time to fill out by the way). We’re told that I will be fast-tracked through the audition process, and we are escorted by a PA to the outside waiting area of an audition room.
The security guard outside the room, a kind gentleman named Michael, introduces himself. He informs me that the group I was now part of have been patiently waiting until I joined them. I smiled nervously. He then informed me, that it was only when I have signed and completed the paperwork that was given to us by Lauren, that everybody could enter and begin the producers’ auditions.
It was his polite way of saying “Take your time, but hurry up!” I have never dotted tees and crossed my eyes that quickly in my life…or whatever.
The last thing I wanted in any of this day, was to feel rushed, or distressed in anyway. In my normal life (not that my life is normal, but it’s not everyday I drive 8 hours through the night, on snowy roads, crossing an international border, to audition for a national television show) I tend to be quite nervous, eccentric, a little manic even. I rarely talk slowly, or confidently. It takes me time, and warming up to people to become more deliberate and calm in my behavior. However, one thing I really noticed on this journey was that the whole time, I had this air of confidence about me. One that was quite uncanny.
I was able to walk briskly, keeping a good pace without panicking or becoming angry at myself when I forgot my suit hanging on that truck mirror. I communicated with people efficiently and with purpose. I didn’t just blabber on, like I’m doing now. During the on-camera session, I felt like I was on. I walked to the audition room with my head held high, and the body language of a badass. I read the forms thoroughly, I filled them as quickly as I could, but I didn’t let my sense of control leave me once. I handed them to Michael. A moment later, we entered the room.
I say we, however, this was the first time Elycia and I were split up by the powers that be. You see, in order to enter that audition room, you have to have that performer-blue wristband. The only other way you can accompany an act inside of it, is if you are a parent\guardian. It was ten of us going in, plus or minus a few parents. The majority of the other performers were in there teens. There were a couple twenty-somethings, and one woman who was probably in her mid-thirties.
In the room, (which was about the size of a large middle-classed family’s living room) sat a medium sized table, dressed with a macbook, a stack of color coded papers, a 90’s looking CD player and sat behind it was a middle-aged, brunette with glasses. There was a little green x, made of tape, stuck to the floor about 4 feet from her table. At the very edge of the room, to the left of the table, was a row of about 12 chairs. I’m Canadian, so everyone entered the room before me. They all found a chair quickly, there was one left, where I sat. Three chairs in, from the right-hand side. As soon as I sat, the producer in her wonderfully crisp, slightly cold British dialect started:
“Hello everyone. Welcome to your audition. We’re going to move quickly. Singers, I know we told you guys 90 seconds. Due to a higher than normal volume of people, it would be great if you could just do 45 seconds. If at any point, I put my hand up, it means I’ve heard enough. This doesn’t mean it was bad, or that I didn’t like you. It just means I have enough to make a decision with. Please begin by saying your name, and what you’ll be performing. Thank you, and have fun. We’ll begin with the contestant whose number ends in 6920.”
The guy directly to my left, with a guitar, stood-up, and approached the center of the room. Stood on the green x. Facing this nameless, slightly scary producer lady. Meaning he was now side-profile to the rest of us. He introduced himself, and named the song he’d be performing. His dad was now the only person on my left. I looked on at the look he had on his face just before his son began. It was one I have come to know, and love. It is the look every parent, friend, lover, family member or relative has on their face before their kin begins a piece of performance, in front of strangers. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean. If not, the only way I can describe it is a mix of fear, pride, curiosity, full-attention, and utter vulnerability.
His son began. The kid had pipes. He was about 16. He strummed his guitar for a couple of introductory notes, and then began. I remember getting goosebumps, and a big grin spreading across my face. He ended at the best moment he could have. I think of everyone other singer in the room, he was the only act that didn’t warrant the producer putting up her hand to cut it short. Which, regardless of what she says, is never a good sign. He said thank you quietly. The producer said thank you. The room was silent. He turned his neck left, seeking the approval us artists all so desperately desire.
His dad had tears coming from his eyes. They both smiled. I quickly and instinctively put my hands together, and started clapping. A beat or two later, everyone joined me. The producer gave me a quick and stern stare.
I looked her in the eyes, smiled, and kept clapping for a little longer. I know, I know. I’m going against everything I said up to this point. I’m taking up precious time, we don’t need to clap. Now, out of sheer politeness, and social compliance, everyone is going to clap for everyone else. Adding at least 10 – 15 seconds between each act. That absolutely warranted her deep-into-the-pit-of-my-soul stare. But I didn’t care. I was moved by that kid. I felt real magic. The reason so many people are in love with this show, is what I felt. Right there, live, and in the flesh. Thanks to the very first performer. I mean come on! You couldn’t write this any better. It reassured me, that if this is how far I got. If I didn’t get any further than this single audition, for this single UK woman, it was worth it.
The numbers were called out, each time, it was somebody else. With 3 exceptions, everyone sang. Again, with 3 or 4 exceptions, everyone was quite average. There was a beautiful blonde man, probably 22, sat beside me, who sang a snippet from Hamilton, he did so a cappella and blew me away. The woman in her mid-thirties did stand-up, and was actually really funny.
Imagine, standing on an awkward little x, sat opposite you is a woman whose job it is to not react or give you much feedback. To witness your talent objectively. No warm-up or opening act. No alcohol. No room for profanity. She did extremely well.
In between the other singers, the last person left to perform was a kid who played sax, he was I think 10. He moved effortlessly between moments of recognizable jazz songs, and classical ones. It was so impressive. His dad was so proud. Somewhere in the middle of his set, a 6 foot, American looking man, in a black pea-coat, lovely hair and the jaw line you could cut yourself slapping walked into the room, and stood with his back against the wall, behind the producer’s chair.
“2461” said the Brit. My time had come.
Suddenly, the exhaustion of being awake for about 24 hours by this point, had disappeared. It was showtime. It was time to deliver what I came to deliver. My eyes focused and my breathing slowed. I stood up from the chair, carried my bottle of water with me. I set it near the leg of the table. I put my hand on her table, looked at her and this mysterious good-looking American behind her in the eyes and said: “Hello, my name is Alex Kazam. I’m a sort of magician. I just have a question before I begin. Everyone so far, as stood on this little x. They have faced you, and performed for you. Respectfully, due to the nature of what I do, I love performing for and interacting with as many people in the crowd as possible. Therefore, would it be alright if I stood off the x, and performed in a sort of v-style formation, from over here, so that I can interact with both you and the others?” I walked to where I intended to stand. She was definitely taken aback. But she nodded.
I walked to the far side of the room, into the corner, taking a moment to myself. Nobody had ventured into this side of the space, never mind this little corner. So I treated it like a side-stage area. I didn’t ask for permission. I just took time to myself. I faced the wall. Did some breathing, and allowed myself to tune-into what I was feeling. To mentally run-through what my most important beats were. It felt like forever, I was probably there less than 2 seconds.
I walked into the center of the room, introduced myself again, but this time with a little more energy and persona. I went right into my routine, the details of which for now I will keep to myself, as I don’t want to upset the gods that are the intellectual-property lawyers at NBCUniversal. The climax, involved me showing the inside of my jacket to one of the young female singers.
“Oh my god!” She exclaimed.
I walked over to the producer, who looked on in disbelief. I put my jacket back on and just stood there. In silence. I let the moment of wonder and mystery register. I said thank you, and bowed. Nobody clapped. There was still silence. Even the producer didn’t say anything. My dad was not in the room, Elycia was outside. I felt nervous, I felt not good enough, I felt terrible. I just went took my seat. After a couple beats, and the sound of apple computer keystrokes, the lady said: “Thanks everyone, that was great. Please leave through the same door you came in from.”
Everyone left. They did so quickly and without saying much to one another. I caught the eyes of the guy who sang the piece from Hamilton. “What do you do?” I asked. He was a musical theater student. Of course he was. He’ll be on Broadway before you can shake a stick or whatever. The little man who played the sax like a boss, was packing away his instrument with the precision of an assassin. I knelled down in front of him, as he sat on the ground, with his dad. At a crucial moment in the beginning of my routine, I asked him a question, the answer to which he gave me clearly and without trying to screw me about. I thanked him for being a good sport, and thanked his dad for being a supportive parent to an artist child. I was overjoyed that it was all over, I was relaxed and back to friendly, chit-chatty Alex.
I was the last to leave the room, Elycia was right by the door. She awaited my arrival with open arms, we embraced. Before we could share a word with one another, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It wasn’t hers. It was Michael’s. “They’d like to see you back inside Alex.” My eyebrows raised while my eyes were locked with Elycia’s. We were both just looking at one another like deer caught in headlights.
So I walked right back into the room filled with the British producer, and the mysterious American man with perfect hair. “Tell us more about yourself.”
Well, as you can imagine, talking isn’t difficult for me. Talking about myself even less so. I tried to remain succinct. I stated my name again, which, I cannot stress how important saying your name at every possible opportunity is when you meet someone new is. I said that I was on a mission to reinvent the mystery arts, and make the performance of magic mean something. I talked about how old I was when I got my first kit. I noticed I was losing them, so I ended by saying: “Forgive me, I drove through the night to be here in front of you today. If nothing I’m saying makes any sense, of if I’m saying too much, just direct me.” They remained fairly expressionless. “What else could you do on the show?”
Another prompt, where I literally had spent hundred of hours thinking about, working on, obsessing over. I needed to deliver a clear, concise, business man version of it. I did my best. Outlining 2 of my strongest effects, and ending by saying that I’m really flexible, and have an amazing team of creative people in my network who help me devise exciting possibilities. The man cut me off at one-point and started to say, “Do you think you’d be able to…” The woman looked up at him with a sharp, immediate glare. He instantly stopped talking. I quickly learned whose pants were worn in that relationship, or whatever.
“No go ahead, what were you going to say?” She expressed. The subtext to that thought was: “If you utter another syllable on that I will eat your unborn children.” The gentleman didn’t say anything else, he just sipped from the Starbucks cup he held, shaking his head. I was confused. For the first time, in a long time, I felt genuinely uncomfortable. I looked to the woman, for some sort of approval. She was expressionless. “Okay, well thank you.” I felt defeated. I smiled, said thanks, and started to leave the room. I thought: “I need to keep this conversation going a little longer”, and I also realized I forgot my water bottle by the leg of the table.
I turned around, and started to walk towards them. They were at full attention. What’s this crazy canuck going to do now? I picked up my bottle. Took a sip, and started walking away. At the door, I looked at her and said: “Look, regardless of what comes after this single, present moment. I would like to say thank you. Sincerely. This entire experience was incredible. I don’t just mean in this room. I know I don’t need to make you feel any more important and I don’t want you to think I’m just blowing smoke up your ass.” She interrupted me, and said: “Oh no love, please, blow all the smoke up our asses you want!” She laughed. Did you read that? She laughed. She sat back in her chair, and relaxed. The mystery man smiled, and started laughing too. The tension left the room.
I carried on, with one final trick up my sleeve. It is my partner’s first time in this amazing city. I dragged her out here. Not knowing what the hell to expect. I honestly need to say, I will go back to Canada, and share this amazing story with everyone I know. I will tell them about how professionally, how kindly we were treated. How much fun we had. Regardless of whether or not I hear from you, or make it to the taping stage. That kind of word spreading, in this digital age, is always a good thing, and every single staff member we have interacted with to this point has made it so. Without them, there is no show. So please, from the bottom of my heart, thank everyone you can. For being all that they are. Brian kept Elycia and I on point, he was so grateful and warm. Mandy was direct but friendly. Lauren, at registration was able to make us smile, laugh and relax. Peppy Alex, and Cameron whose pen I still have. There was a George, who mic’d my girlfriend without being creepy or weird. And Michael outside this door too. It’s been incredible.
I just name dropped every name, of almost every person we came into direct contact with. Not because it was some elaborate plan, or ruse. No. Because I was genuinely impressed by every single person we’d interacted with. They had the same look they had on their face at the end of my 90 second performance. I smiled, and left the room. BOOM! That was the sound of the metaphorical microphone dropping.
I rejoined my lovely, being so overwhelmed by the hunger that was now gripping my body. The exhaustion. The emotions. The indescribable energy. The excitement. I said to her: “I just need to sit for a sec.” It was all done. I had done well. Being called back into a room with two producers is always a good sign. Elycia knew this. I don’t know how she knew this, because she isn’t from the same planet. She knew. I knew that she knew because of the cheesy, giant grin spread across her face like peanut butter on a sandwich. Did I mention we were both starving? We sat, I breathed. We didn’t say anything to one another. We just enjoyed the silence. Smiling in turn. Everything in me wanted to cry. I think it was just the lack of coffee and food. But I didn’t. Luckily so, because now a new voice said: “Alex?”
11:30 AM. A young woman, maybe 21, brown, straight hair, with a beautiful smile stood before us. “Yes, hello” I replied. “Come with me please” she said, before starting to walk away. That same deer in the headlights expression came between Elycia and I. We quickly gathered my belongings, backpack, water bottle, etc. We followed.
She brought us to a new room, this time, it was a new waiting room. A fairly large one, with about 15 rows of chairs to each side, and a large rectangular table at its head. Two women sat at that table, with their Apple computers and binders, containing, you guessed it, color-coded papers. I honestly had no idea what was happening. I remember being called to the table, handed a clipboard, with a stack of forms and legal documents. I’d spend about 15 minutes perusing and signing this stuff. I don’t think any of it is legally binding, just due to the mental state I was in when signing it. Which is why I’m allowing myself to write you way more than I probably ought to.
I handed it back when complete, and the waiting began. Somewhere in the midst of all this, a well-dressed Italian looking guy came out of the single large door that was next to the large table with the PA’s. He sat down in the seat directly in front of mine. I notice two symmetrical bulges coming from his back pockets. They were a dimension familiar to me, 2.5″ x 3.5″. These were standard poker sized decks of playing cards. If I had to guess the brand, judging by where we were, I’d say specifically Bicycle brand and judging by his overly-cocky demeanor, I’d say they were probably blue. He was chatting with some dancers that were sat in front of him, they asked him who he was, what he did, and the most important question of all: “Who was in the room?”
He talked about himself, for too long, as we all do. Then said: “Oh, and it’s the executive producers for the show, and one of the execs for x-factor in there.”
Everything just got real. Again. If we trust Mr. Butt-Buldge, (who Elycia said had a nice haircut but with a face that should have been better looking based on how the rest of him looked) then in that room are the people who are the Batman of everything you watch in terms of AGT and X-Factor. Everyone up to this point has been like a sort of Batline.
“So did you perform in front of the celebrities?” That’s what everyone wants to know. That’s all anyone seems to care about.
The truth is, I was sitting in a room, waiting to perform LIVE for the people who sign those celebrities’ checks. The people who actually decide who will be on television. For how long, and with what act. The people who decide who the judges will allow to move to the next stage of the show. The real puppet-masters if you will. The head honchos. The bosses. These people have lawyers good enough that if you get killed by something caused by their negligent behavior (either directly or indirectly) they don’t go to jail, and will likely not even get fined. I’m only exaggerating slightly. The executive producers to a television network can call the Oval Office, and speak to the President. Not that at this point they’d want to, but my point is they could. I digress.
12:30 PM. We were both starving. I think Elycia napped on my shoulder at one point. Suddenly, a voice called my name: “Alex, please head inside.” I was ready. I made sure I had everything I wanted to on my person. I was equipped with a pack of Bicycle brand playing cards. They were red for your information, what kind of animal do you think I am? I had two coins. And a roll of duct tape.
I opened the rather heavy, large door. It was like stepping into Narnia. There were two very large rectangular tables, say the size of buffet tables. There was a small gap in between them, where a camera operator woman, (wo)manned a very large, very impressive looking video beast, stood atop a tripod that had wheels. Sat at the tables were a man, a woman, and another man. With a rather uncanny amount of distance between them all. I learned later, that these people were Jason Raff, Ken Warwick, and possibly Emma Taylor (I can’t be 100% sure on the woman, as I failed to remember her name upon stepping out of the room. Pathetic, I know.)
The space was large, their noses were deep in their notes when I walked in, and I wanted them to remember me. So I walked in triumphantly almost shouting: “WOW, this is your office everyday?” They all looked up at me, and the lady smiled. She, in an all but too familiar British dialect said: “Oh no love, only when we’re in New York. They do everything bigger here.” I liked that. I walked to the middle of the room, in front of me the table. Under me, a little pink x. I didn’t bother asking if I had to stand on it, as this time it made sense, because directly in front of it was the camera. Behind me where various back drops, lights, reflectors, and pieces of equipment I won’t bore you with.
The process began with the same way the most recent one finished. They ask me to tell me about myself, and trying to stay brief, funny and energetic then, they say:
“What would you do on the show? With our celebrity judges in front of you?”
“Let me show you” I replied.
I used the duct tape and coins to blindfold myself, similar to the one I explain here. I proceeded to do a card routine, that I can comfortably say nobody else in the world performs, because I made it up on the spot. What can I say, I was overtired. I had a surge of confidence rushing through me, I let go of any anticipated moments, and just let myself flow. The whole thing took probably about 2 minutes.
“That was brilliant.”
Remarked the woman, the gentleman were both looking fairly expressionless. “What else have you got?” asked Ken. I proceeded to do the routine that I did for the first producers in the group audition. After it, they said thank you, and I left. I turned before I left the door again, it worked for me so well last time, this time the people were a little more powerful, and thus a little more nerve-wracking, so I just said that it had been a great experience, and that I really appreciated their time.
Next, I approached the desk in the holding room, where my new PA friends (Emma and Candice) were still sat typing diligently into their computers. Emma looked at me and said: “Don’t go far, I’ll know how well you did in a second or two.” The uttering of this single sentence created a feeling of fear, excitement and hope unlike any other I’d ever felt, I rejoined Elycia who was sitting in the same spot. She was chatting with a young magician named Anthony, his assistant Michael, and John (the father to one of the boys, who accompanied the lot.)
They were extremely nice. Though I did not see them perform anything, these young guys had also made it this far, which meant they were good. They asked me questions, they were respectful and wanted to know if they knew as much as I knew. A natural curiosity in such a high-pressure situation. I was excited by their energy and their excitement. I shared my experience from being in the big room they were waiting to head into. I tried not to make anyone more nervous, yet also tried not to trivialize the upcoming encounter.
Anthony briefly explained the nature of his act, I smiled, and said it sounded great. He was young, but he was mature, and humble. He represented everything about the magic community that I love. Earlier I was a little harsh on Mr. Butt-buldge, who represents everything I dislike about it. But I failed to mention that I tried to open a line of communication with him by saying: “It sucks sitting on those bikes all day. My legs start to go numb after a while…” (Bikes, referring to Bicycle cards, a little industry joke). He didn’t even turn around or acknowledge me. He just let out a single breath, with the “heh” sound attached to it. So I have no reservations here.
I remember saying to Anthony:
“Just remember, the fact that you’re here is already a win. Remember, the magic is you, not the magic you do, and above all have fun today.”
As the final words of my little pep-talk left my mouth, Candice called me back to the desk and asked: “What’s your schedule like today?” I smiled, in slight disbelief, and said: “I drove here from Canada, for you folks. I’m all yours.” I may or may not have also asked for a sandwich. She laughed, told me to just wait, that it would be only an hour or so longer. Emma, tore a single piece, of thin yellow paper from her notepad, she scribbled down an email address and said: “Can you send me 10 to 15 videos of your best work. Just to give us an idea of things that you could do on the show?”
I asked a couple of follow-up questions, and sat back down with Elycia, who somehow, in all this, stayed loyally by my side. There were a couple good looking dancers, who had me a bit worried, but nope, she was sitting with the nerdy, over-tired, bearded & faux-hawked mystery performer. An hour went by, I tried closing my eyes to get some sleep. Too much excitement to sleep. So I stared blankly into the ether.
1:30 PM. I started to doze-off, the sheer exhaustion started to catch-up, and I was drifting. My eyes may have been open for business, my mind was not.
As my friend Amazing Jonathan says, the wheel spun, but the hamster was dead. Suddenly, a voice urged: “You’re going to come with me Alex.”
It was Candice. Onto the next adventure it seemed. I love that these folks don’t ask you to join them, or to walk with them, they just say: “You’re going to do this now.” Mentally, your reply can only be: “Why yes, yes I am. Elycia looked up at me, her eyes like a puppy’s. I felt so awful, and yet I was so proud of us both for having made it through this whole ordeal. No bickering, or arguing, or impatience. Just sheer love, and support. I looked to Candice, with the same puppy eyes, and asked, can if we could bring Elycia? “Yea, I think so.”
Perfect, someone else who seemed not to really have a clue about what was going on, and was just going through the motions to get through the day. I wasn’t alone. We followed, and were granted access to a final room. This one was about the same size as the first audition room I was in. I peeked inside and noticed a tall woman, probably in her late 20’s, who looked very coordinated, and pretty. I asked if Elycia could join us, she was warm, and smiled: “Of course!”
She introduced herself as Chelsea. I cannot give you any details of the conversation that ensued between the three of us. It was an hour long. It was way too much about me, but that was kind of the point I suppose. Finally, she thanked us for our time, and we left. Sitting outside of that room, was another group of 10-15 people waiting to audition. Once again, a group held up waiting for my over-tired, rambling ass. I felt awful.
“Sweetheart, come, let’s get a picture with the winners” a mother expressed to her daughter as we exited. It made no sense. Why would she say that? In hindsight, that was nonsense. We took the picture anyway. Every single performer there stared at us. A nice flute-beatboxer named Jack Landstreet, and an uber-talented variety performer named Bob Lloyd approached us, and asked us what the hell we were doing in there for so long. We became friends over the next 25 minutes, took a picture together and then said our goodbyes. It was awesome.
Elycia and I were hungry, way too tired, and revisited the first large holding room we were in. It’s here we took the picture in front of the America’s Got Talent sign. We headed back out to the bathrooms, to get changed into more comfortable and urban style clothes. We made a friend on the way there, too. Omari, a singer, who later texted me inviting us to a loft party in Brooklyn.
As I changed back into my jeans, and a black v-neck, I remember how proud of myself I felt. How overjoyed I was at the entire experience. I also remembered not to forget my suit which was hanging, this time from a hook on the back of a stall door. I gathered my stuff, and as I was about to leave the stall, a voice within the bathroom, filled the entire space. A loud, powerful, incredible voice. Singing a capella, was this young black man with a killer afro, and an amazing outfit. He held his comb like a micophone, and looked at himself in the mirror. He performed an amazing rendition of some song I didn’t recognize.
I stood still for a moment, blown away. This guy finished, and I swear to you, the entire bathroom was clapping. There were probably 8 of us in there, people not only clapped, but also cheered for this guy. I made a promise to myself in that moment.
That was the world I wanted to live in. The energy in that building, is what kept me going the whole day. It was at least 2:30 PM. By this point, I’d been awake for nearly 30 hours straight. A young black man, sang boldly in a public restroom, and nobody laughed, or called him names. They cheered, clapped, and supported him.
Let’s do our best to leave the world better before we go. I want younger generations to be able to express themselves as freely and fully as possible, without needing to fear being gunned down, or chastised or penalized. I’m telling you right now, regardless of how talented you might think you are, or are not. If you ever get the chance to step into a convention center sized building, where a bunch hopeful, artistic, creative, entrepreneurial, or in the very least, goal-oriented people will be present. Go! If we could recreate the feel of that space, in the outside world, on a daily basis, I think suicide (and all the ailments leading up to it) would be obsolete.
So what’s next? Well I will be on television. Yes. Will I be on America’s Got Talent?
I can’t say. I have been submitting various forms, legal documents, most recently I submitted paperwork that will enable one of the production companies affiliated with the show to work on getting me a VISA. Just this morning, my friend Eric Leclerc, a very talented magician from Ottawa, checked-in with me to see what the scoop was on my end. It seems we are exactly in the same boat. Loads of emails, and phone calls going back and forth, but no specific taping date. So for now, we wait my friends.
It is my intention to always share my process with you, not just my product. I think, especially in a world shrouded in mystery, secrets and deceit, it is fare more interesting to tell you what is happening, and how it is happening (the work, the effort, the struggles coming together piece-by-piece) rather than just pointing from somewhere high-up and unreachable saying: “Look what happened. Look what I did!”
If you have stayed through the length of this blog, I’d like to ask you for your email address, as I’m working on creating a weekly newsletter. It will be brief, outlining thoughts, tips, as well as new products and public events. I promise not to spam you, or pass your information on to anyone else. I’d also love for you to let me know what your thoughts were on this blog. Was there anything I left out that you’d like to know? Any recommendations or feedback? Would you share this with your friends?
For those of you that email me, I am happy to offer you a 50% discount code for tickets to my upcoming weekly magic and mind-reading show. The show will be hosted at the newly opened Yuk-Yuk’s in Niagara Falls. It opens in May 2018. Just put “BLOG50” in the subject of your email.
P.S. If you’re the person who said, but what about Fred? You are exactly the person I would like to email me. Upon leaving, Fred said goodbye. He told us about a pizza-spot in Brooklyn that Elycia and I had to try. He was the final cherry, on an incredible day. Thanks Fred, the ‘za was delicious.