Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Open Pandora's Box

Check it out. Type in who you like and "Mix it up" to get a completely personalized radio station of artists you've named and other artists you are likely to enjoy.

Pandora Radio

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Story

It's a long story, but a good one.

Wednesday (after that last post) we traveled to Santa Cruz while our kids took their afternoon nap in their car seats. It was a good trip except for some traffic and impatience from little Jack as we forded the traffic nearing Santa Cruz. We arrived at Anya and Joe's house around 5:30 and visited and waited for my mom to arrive. It was so nice to see them and their place, and they welcomed us graciously. I performed my three songs I had ready, and their response was encouraging. After my mom came in, we ate burgers at a local brewery and chatted it up. We toasted to my good luck with some "Pelican Ale". I couldn't believe this was all happening after so much thought and practice.

That night, we arranged ourselves to sleep: Mom, Jack, and I were in Anya and Joe's room (thanks, guys!), E and Harper were on the air mattress in the living room, and our hosts took the bed in their guest bedroom/office. I couldn't sleep. Part of it was nervousness, but another part of it was my mother's snoring. My mind would race for a while, projecting scenes of the audition, images of myself dressed in my planned outfit, last-minute vocal lessons to myself (remember to support the sound, put a lot of soul into it, tell the story, make eye contact...) and then when the images would deteriorate and warp as sleepy thoughts do, I'd be yanked back into the moment by a loud snore and shifting legs next to me. Jackie would exhale loudly like even he was disturbed. I tried to block it out but because my mind was resistant to sleep as it was, I couldn't get past it. After a couple hours like this, I brought Jack with me to join Ethan and Harper.

Only problem there was that the mattress was on a hardwood floor and every move, I mean every one, made creaky sounds as the plastic stuck and unstuck to the floor below. It was still an improvement however, because at least there were some minutes where none of us moved and there was silence enough to drift off. Inevitably (especially with little ones) someone would move and we'd wake out of it. Finally at 2:00, Ethan took Harper in to sleep with my mom as it was too uncomfortable to have all of us on that queen size mattress. E and I got our first and last hour of sleep then, and we woke up at 3:15 to get ready for the important day ahead of us.

We arrived at the Cow Palace at about 5:30 AM on Thursday, a much more colorful day to be in the crowd. Everyone was dressed up, made up, and bundled up in the cold, still-dark SF morning. I found myself scanning wrists to see who was performing and who was a support person (they wore lavender wristbands). People were in high spirits, the hope was palpable. There were lots of smiles and laughter, a few voices singing from time to time, mostly too far away to really listen. I was kicking myself for not buying some coffee on our way since there was so much waiting. There was some comraderie, some sense of common experience, but there was also a lot of elevator eyes and silent judgment going on. I met a girl from Danville, CA whose name was "Shermay" (not sure how to spell it). She said she does a lot of musical theater and that she'd auditioned last year in San Diego and was told to come back not so Carrie Underwood-ish-- to work on her look. She came back this year looking preppier/trendy and planning not to sing Bonnie Raitt again.

There were tons of media coming by the crowd, newspapers, radio personalities, still photographers, and TV news people with their camera men. We were in line about 10 feet behind a dude with a hideous blonde wig and bad acne who was clearly aiming for some camera time. It worked; every media person who walked past made a stop at him, and at some point I overheard him singing (speaking, really) a "Hannah Montana" song and saying he was from Fresno. Wonderful. At some point during the morning, I was on the phone checking in with my mom to see how my kids were doing when a TV news woman from channel 26 (our local FOX affiliate) came by. I shouted, "Hey, I'm from Visalia!" more from impulse and surprise to see them there than a desire to be interviewed. It was Alysia Sofios, and she interviewed me. I was a ball of nerves and unprepared for it... I ended up saying all the wrong things. When she asked me if I was scared of Simon I said, "No" (because I'm not) and when she asked me if I'd be upset if I didn't make it, I said "Not really, because I don't have all of my eggs in one basket..." something lame like that. She asked me to sing for the camera and I did, but not all that well. I basically bombed the entire thing. Finally, she asked me if I was the next American Idol, a question I find particularly lame and a statement I think is super dumb to make. I said, "Yeah" or "sure" or something unenthusiastic like that.

She moved on to interview other crowd members who were from the valley. I tried not to beat myself up about it too much, tried not to imagine people seeing any part of it at home and recognizing me. I hoped that it would be cut up and edited and to my luck, I've found the clip that aired Thursday night/Friday morning online and it has been cut. There's only a short bit of me and I am ever grateful to FOX 26 for that. Whew! I still look like a dork, but if you want to see it, here's where it is. You'll also see the dude in the wig I mentioned.

It was 8:30 before the line started streaming into the stadium, and as we followed the stream of thousands of people, I saw someone I recognized-- Danny DeSimas from high school choir. It was so great to see a familiar face; I was hoping I would. He was always a super nice guy and I wished him the best as we left to find our seats inside. When we finally parked ourselves in our section, we began doing the crowd songs with everyone else. We had to sing "Get Ready" by the Temptations and "We Built This City" by Starship. They did lots of takes with the wide angle lens of the crowd singing and then ending with lots of "Woo"s and hand-waving. Ethan and I often didn't shout at all, only lip synching our screams and laughing at ourselves.

Then some guy from the show began explaining how it would all work, where to line up, what form to have with you, how to be processed, where "non-winners" would go, etc. They began by auditioning winners of local affiliate Idol contests first, then there were lots of people there who had apparently gotten a special Snickers bar with a wrapper that allowed them special auditions. After that was done, they took section by section down to the floor of the stadium and groups of four stood before each judging table (of which there were 12). I was in section 13 of about 36, so we were able to watch a lot of auditions from our seats (although you couldn't hear much of anything). I did get to see Danny audition and I felt disappointed as I watched him walk through the non-winner exit.

When my section was taken to the floor, my heartbeat accelerated. I took off my glasses and put on my more fun but less comfy shoes and headed down. I was assigned to table 3. The two judges there were both women who looked to be in their mid-thirties. They listened to auditioners unenthusiastically, seeming disinterested. Perhaps they wore their poker faces to keep things respectful, but I was a little disappointed because table 2 next to us had some judges who were having a good time and smiling back at auditioners, even grooving to the beat of their songs. I realized while I stood there that my pal Jen who I'd met a couple days before was about to audition for table 2. I watched her back as she sang (couldn't hear a thing) and it looked like they'd asked her to sing something else. After the judges took a moment to whisper back and forth, they excused the group and Jen left a non-winner. I was bummed for her as well.

Finally, it was my group's turn. I was third to sing in my group of four. The two girls who sang before me were clearly untalented. I approached the judges with a smile, and I performed well. I remembered everything I wanted to do-- supported sound, soul, story-telling, eye contact with judges, feeling the words. As I finished the last line of the first verse, the hand popped up, cuing me to stop. I did so, feeling disappointed that I only got a short amount of time. Judging by the video we'd previously made, that's about 20 seconds of singing. Then the last member of our group sang. He was fine but not extraordinary, and I heard a couple nervous mistakes. They asked him to sing something else. He did. Then they took a moment to whisper and called us all up. The brunette said, "Girls, we're sorry, but you're not what we're looking for." and I think they gave a pass to the dude next to me.

It was anticlimactic. I took a couple steps and my wristband was snipped off. It felt like something was missing. I was disappointed but not really upset. It was sort of like tasting something yucky. Part of it was that I didn't like being called a "girl", and I also didn't like being lumped into or associated with the other two girls I was dismissed with. They weren't taking any time to explain reasons of course and I wasn't expecting one, but it just ended in such a blah way.

As I left, I saw Tanya standing outside waiting for someone. She was a non-winner too. I asked her what she sang and she'd done "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and felt like she didn't get enough time to show them anything. She's probably right. I felt the same way about my 20 seconds.

I am very glad I had this adventure. I would've regretted not doing it for forever and always wondered what could have been. I learned a lot in this process and rediscovered the singing side of me that I'd neglected for a few years. I move on without losing anything, with only a great story and a lot of gratitude. I definitely don't feel like my rejection has anything to do with singing ability. I didn't take it personally because-- how could I? There's no way to reject someone on 20 seconds in any meaningful way, really. Their choice was made so quickly and I am sure there are other agendas at play than just a talent search,i.e. who makes good TV, gender, your "look", your age, etc. Ethan and I noticed as we watched before my audition that it was definitely a 2:1 ratio of guys getting through compared to girls. Maybe there was a focus-on-the-dudes plan for San Fran? I don't know, but I do know that the process is not as egalitarian as the show likes to bill it. And I don't think it's sour grapes to say so either. They are allowed to have agendas and shape their show how they see fit. For some lucky singers, it is a fun opportunity, but I do think luck plays a significant role.

As we drove back to Santa Cruz, I made a few phone calls to family and it was sweet to hear their disbelief. At that point, I felt relieved more than any other feeling. I felt glad it was over, glad I could remain in the moment rather than living in anticipation. I was glad I didn't have to think about how I am perceived any more, what a person might think of me. I was glad I didn't have to think about how to wean Jack before I really wanted to, glad that I didn't have to put off playing with Harper so I could practice. I don't think any children were harmed in the making of this story, but I do feel glad that this story is concluded.

We said goodbye to my mom when we got back to Anya's house. (Thank you soooo much, Mama!) That night we opened the champagne and celebrated the story over really good pizza. Anya kept saying it is so good for us to do things that don't make sense, that are out of our normal routine like this. She and Joe had just climbed Mt. Whitney less than a week before and she is a very adventurous, brave person. She was totally right though, that as inconvenient as it was to arrange and execute with my two little ones, the whole thing was invigorating.

The next morning we took Harper and Jack to the Monterey Aquarium to celebrate her upcoming 3rd birthday. We met Susan and MaryAnn there, along with their grandson Enzo. They gave us the tour since they are regulars at the aquarium. Harper loved it and I loved it too because my mind never wandered from the moment, my heart never raced from fear of the future. I'm probably not the best candidate for stardom anyway. When the cameras are on, I answer all the questions wrong, and I really just like my life the way it is. I want to be a singer not out of some intense drive or ambition, really... it's more about having a cup that runs over. I have so much joy and contentment in my life and I want to share it. I hope that's not too corny.

My plan now is just to sing more. Simple as that. It makes me happy, and I want to do it more. Maybe that means community choir, or maybe that means I hit a studio and record myself singing children's songs for my kids... or perhaps I can coerce my big brother to start a band together or something and "we'll take over the world" (as Danielle says). We'll see!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Got the Wristband!

Here it is, the official wristband. Ethan and I left our house yesterday at 3:30 AM, and arrived at the Cow Palace in San Fran at 7:30 AM. We stood in line for only 2 hours (surprised us, we'd planned on an 8 hour wait) to get our wristbands. While waiting, we met a couple other auditioners, Jen and Tanya. Jen was from Oregon and Tanya from Petaluma, and both described their vocal range just like I'd describe mine: 1st tenor to 2nd soprano. They were both nice people and I was comforted by the fact that Jen was the same age as me and she had a baby at home, too. Curious later, I wish I'd asked what audition songs they were singing... or even better, heard them sing! Jen is a vocal teacher and Tanya is fresh out of college, planning to begin teaching HS history after she finishes her credential. They were normal people with normal back stories. Talking to them helped the time pass more quickly and also eased my nerves. Seeing the crowd and knowing that about half of the people there were going to be doing the same thing as me: singing their hearts out for a short window of time, daring to dream out loud, gave me more courage. I guess the thinking is something like, if they can do it, so can I (and hopefully, I can do it better!).

I return Thursday morning (they say to arrive at 5 AM) and who knows how long that day will be. Jen, who had auditioned in Seattle a couple years ago, said she was there for 18 hours because she was in the unlucky last section of the stadium. She also said they'd clearly met their quota of talent (which she estimated 20 people), and were putting through all the freaks. I hope I have more luck than that! Please send me your prayers, well-wishes, and most positive thoughts on Thursday!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Audition Concert

First of all, thank you so much to all the friends and family who came over this morning to listen to me sing and give me some constructive criticism. One of the hardest parts of this process so far is choosing the right song. I had seven songs on my list of possibilities this morning and I've narrowed the list down to three as a result of your comments. The original list included: A Change is Gonna Come and I'll Take Care of You (as you saw), Dimming of the Day (Bonnie Raitt), Samson (Regina Spektor), Summertime (from Porgy and Bess), Unchained Melody (Righteous Brothers), and Crazy (Patsy Cline). I've decided to focus only on A Change is Gonna Come, Crazy, and Samson for auditions. This means I can put my efforts this week into polishing them up! That's a big help.

It was also good for me to face some of my nervousness and sing for a crowd, albeit a friendly crowd. Singing (especially a cappella) can feel very vulnerable and I definitely feel like there's no place to hide when I am being heard. A wrong note is very obvious; a weak phrase sticks out. It is a challenge for me to open myself up in such an exposed way. I am learning to trust my body and expect the notes to be there, and it gives me the confidence to push through this anxiety. When I think positively and trust myself, a calm softens my whole body and the notes are so much easier. I have to remember that on audition day.

This concert/party came at the right moment for me. Last week, Ethan and I made the important decisions for our travel plans and child care, so those concerns were laid to rest. But I was still feeling overwhelmed with song-choice. With a narrower list, I can spend the next week "working them into my voice", which is how I describe the process of singing a song so repeatedly that it becomes a part of my bones. When I have the lyrics and phrasing "worked in", I can start thinking about the emotions and meaning of the song, its message, the most important part! I am looking forward to getting these songs to that point, where the songs are a part of me. With that done, I can sing from inside each note rather than anticipate the next chorus or lyric. This is the focus of my next week, a tedious path toward the important.

I had a great time this morning sharing a few songs, some mimosas, coffee and Ethan's amazing Danish and scones. The hugs and well-wishes felt great, too. I feel very loved and supported, and I am so grateful that I have the incredibly loving family and friends that I do. I am having a blast following my dream! Thank you for encouraging me to do so!