AMERICA’S GOT TALENT

July 14, 2008


One of the most humbling things any artist – musician, actor, painter, comic, novelty act, dancer, etc. – goes through is a bad audition. I see it this way: my job description is one sentence: GET THE NEXT JOB. So most auditions hold out a carrot that is a feasible, if somewhat personal and risky goal. As in, “if you get this job you can pay your rent.” Usually you are aware of what to prepare, what the job entails, and who you’re auditioning for.

Not so with my latest venture into the audition phase of my career.
I tried out for “AMERICA’S GOT TALENT,” the latest reality offering from mogul SImon Cowell.

Less than 24 hours into his visit to Seattle last week, Chinese President Hu Jintao was already serving as a pitchman for the city’s most famous coffee chain, Starbucks. This came as a surprise to those of us here at Taylor Mason Headquarters (TMH). There are currently around 400 Starbucks shops in China, total. Do the math! That comes to one Starbucks for every person who makes enough to be able to afford to drink coffee there.
Did you see the picture of Vice President Dick Cheney sleeping during Hu’s press conference? Apparently Cheney misread the memo and thought it was one of President Bush’s press conferences.

Believe it or not, and this is no exaggeration, AGT called me! They are looking for novelty and variety acts, the weird stuff that you find at the bottom of the showbiz ladder: ventriloquists, jugglers, mimes, magicians, unicyclists, etc. Most people are smart enough to know that this kind of “cattle call” audition is a nightmare.
Which is why so few “professional” acts are auditioning. Which is why they called for me – hoping to get at least 1-2 “pros” to come out.
And I took the bait. In true bottom-feeding form, I agreed to audition this past Wednesday in New York City (Queens, actually), along with 5000 of the strangest, oddest, most desperate wannabees you can possibly imagine.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is giving up some of his responsibilities in policy development to focus on the fall midterm elections. President Bush says he’s excited about this. That’s a quote. He’s “excited!”
Uh, Mr. President? YOU WILL NOT BE RUNNING.

I showed up an hour early for the 9:30AM call at the Sheraton Hotel in Flushing. It’s in a Japanese neighborhood-enclave of New York, and the locals were up and on the move to work as I drove in and parked. I stood in line, which stretched down the block from the main entrance, as Japanese walked by us shaking their heads at the goofballs trying for a moment on TV.
By the way? Standing in line with bad magicians and teen rock bands and dance troops and harp players and clowns and other pretenders (just like me!) is about as comfortable as getting a back rub with a brillo pad.
It took 90 minutes to get inside the hotel, and then another 2 hours of standing there waiting to get into the “practice room.” I had been looking forward to this – getting into a space where i could be alone and get myself together before meeting the… “casting people.”
Wrong.
The room was being used by two film crews getting the “artists” on-camera in pre-audition or practice phase. Vocal groups were caught harmonizing, hip-hoppin’ teens mugged and declared themselves the “real talent here,” street performers tried to outdo one another by jumping in front of the camera while the other was performing. A belly-dancer wiggled, an Elvis impersonator struck a pose… it was a complete circus.
One act that stood out: a team of girls from Brooklyn, dressed in midriff-showing skirts and tops, did some street-dancing. They sang along as they gyrated, closing with a jump rope routine – you’ve seen it: two girls twirl a jump rope, while a third does all sorts of tricks as the jumper. The twist here? They used a little girl as the “rope.”
Yes. She was accidentally slammed into the floor about two-thirds of the way through the routine.
Me? I tried to hide from the camera.

President Bush and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who don’t always agree with each other, were scheduled for one of their infrequent meetings last Friday in San Jose. Arnold hates these meetings because he’s normally called the Governator, but when he’s with Bush we at TMH refer to them as Dumb and Dumbinator.

After 5 hours of waiting, they called my number: 5353. As in number five-thousand, three-hundred-fifty-three. I waited right outside the “audition room” with two other men,a white guy in his late-30s and a well-dressed black man in his 20s, for another 10 minutes while I watched the proceedings all around me.
Clearly, part of the “fun” of AGT will be the loony, goofy “acts” that are trying out for the show. The more pathetic, the better, it looks like.
The three of us went into a little room where there was a camera and a cameraman, plus three “casting agents”: two white women in their 30s and a white guy in his late 40s. They were congenial if not bored.
The other two guys I was with were singers. It’s billed as “AMERICA’S GOT TALENT,” but my take on the whole thing is: if you didn’t get into “AMERICAN IDOL,” you are auditioning for “AMERICA’S GOT TALENT.” Singers outnumber all the other kinds of acts by at least 3-1.
The first one was an opera singer/actor. He sang something by Bizet – I recognized it – and did a perfunctory job. He sang the whole piece – about 6 minutes. Which was interesting, because we were told to do a 3-minute audition. The casting people asked him to sing something “pop, and upbeat.” He couldn’t. They asked him for his educational background, and what he does, etc.
Then the next man, the well-dressed African-American went. He sang a decent version of “Walking In Memphis,” by the musician Marc Cohn. He got the same treatment, “Where are you from? How long have you been singing? Where did you study?”
Then the head casting person – the guy – asked them to leave.
My turn…

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the Aflac duck in television commercials for the insurer, was crowned “unsexiest man in the world” by the Boston Phoenix newspaper. New York Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson came in second and Osama bin Laden was a distant eighth. Gilbert is hoping this will improve his chances to get a date with the world’s unsexiest woman, Joan Rivers.

“So, you’re a ventriloquist?” The question came from the man – and I sensed the playfulness in his voice. Or was some disparagement there?
I slated for the camera: “Hi. My name is Taylor Mason. I am a ventriloquist.”
And I started my act.
Here’s the deal. There are two kinds of ventriloquists in the world: good ones, and really, really bad ones.
There are 5 good ones, and none of them auditioned for AGT.
These guys had seen the others: the older men with cheeky little-boy puppets; the girls with girl puppets; the talking animals (a mask on an animals face, and the ventriloquist makes the animal “talk”); the hopeless people who think that a puppet and some puns constitute “an act.”
They let me do some of my act for 2 minutes. I timed it… I’ve been doing this for many years, and I know what I am doing. I went on at 1:57PM.
At 1:59PM the three of them were talking. Talking louder than I was.
Uh-oh.

Vice President Dick Cheney announced plans to travel to Lithuania, Kazakhstan and Croatia next month, on a good will tour. Mr. Cheney’s trips are planned by the same travel agent O.J. Simpson uses when he goes hunting for his wife’s real killer.

“Is there a problem?” I asked.
The man looked at me.
“No. Thank you. That’s it.”
I was a little put off.
“I can do more…”
“NO!” the guy was definite. “No, no… I think we got the flavor.”
I tried to make eye contact – nothing doing.
“I have more stuff I can do…” I offered, meekly.
“That’s okay… look, you’re the best ventriloquist we’ve seen,” he said.
“Everyone else MOVES THEIR LIPS,” says one of the women.
“Oh… so I guess that’s it, then?” I asked.
“Yes. Go now. Thank you so much.”
I waited around for close to 6 hours and my “audition” lasted less than three minutes.

The head athletic trainer for the San Francisco Giants was told to appear before a federal grand jury investigating whether Barry Bonds lied about his connection to a steroids scandal.
We do not want to jump to conclusions, but we’re taking it for granted it may have something to do with Barry. Or maybe it’s legit… like an Associate Justice pulling a hammy.
And wait a minute? Have you seen the size of Barry Bonds’ noggin? His cranium is HUMONGOUS! Who needs a “head trainer” more than him?

I had 3 hours to think about the waste of the day, because there was a major accident on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike (a car blew up… same ol’, same ol’).
My take on AGT: they are going to be brutally honest and show all us lower-tier “acts” what we really look like. On national TV. Much of it is a train wreck, and who can resist watching that kind of stuff?
It’s probably gonna be good television: a reality show with a cast of real people making fools of ourselves, for a couple of minutes of airtime, and a credit on our resume.

Senator Edward Kennedy made an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central last Thursday. Some people have described this as a “new frontier” for the Senator. Yes. Prior to this, people had only laughed at him in the daytime, on C-Span. Jon Stewart refused to ride in the same limo to the show, as they had to cross the George Washington Bridge, and Mr. Kennedy has a history with bridges…

I can’t escape these nagging thoughts to the AMERICA’S GOT TALENT audition, that have not left my brain since I walked out of the room:
The acts I saw were pretty bad… if I don’t get cast on the show, what does that say about me?
and:
The acts I saw were pretty bad… if I get cast on the show, what does that say about ME!?

thank you for reading. Thank you Marsia! Thank you Sheri! Thank you Paul, Jerry and Bill.

taylor

Dear Taylor:
Did you see? Over the weekend i belted a high fastball into the seats out in Denver’s Coors Field and Home Run Emporium, for my first homer this year! I used pine tar to get a better grip.
No, not on the bat, silly! On the syringe!
Tuning into my show, “BARRY ON BARRY”,
your pal,
Barry Bonds

Dear Taylor;
We hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao here in Washington, DC, over the weekend. We had a blast! We played Chinese Checkers, I showed him my Doobie Brothers collection and taught him the words to “China Grove” and I made him do “Who’s On First” – the old Abbot and Costello routine – with me!
I’m doing international relations!
Gettin’ It Done!
GW

Dear Taylor -
I became the oldest player ever to hit a home run a couple of days ago, when I hit one in San Diego! I am FORTY-SEVEN YEARS OLD! I hope to still be hitting them when I turn 50! Barry Bonds called me and said he wants to do the same thing, but he was referring to “50″ as in his HAT size.
50 is the new 40!
Julio Franco