I love talent shows like America’s Got Talent so when I heard that Canada was starting their own show, I was excited. I knew better than to try to compete with adorable kid singers so I decided to enter as a comic. Comics never get far in the competition but that’s okay with me. Getting a little face time on national TV was my goal and if it meant being sandwiched between an eight year old warbling “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a guy who stuck nails in his nose, then so be it.
After registering on a website, I was instructed to go to Montreal the following week. (There were no auditions in Ottawa ‘cause you know, it’s only the nation’s capital.)
As someone who’s toured for over 20 years, I’ve negotiated many a big city street. New York City? No problem. Los Angeles at rush hour? Easy. Montreal with lots of construction signs … in French? Dial 911. I didn’t know if those blinking signs were telling me to merge left, stop, yield … or pick my nose. I elected to follow the traffic and to listen to the soothing voice of Marcia, my GPS.
The problem? Marcia didn’t understand French. When I entered the address of the downtown convention center where auditions were held, she kept telling me, “Address not found.” I yelled, “Of course the address exists! It’s the freaking convention center!” If Marcia could help me navigate the mean streets of Rockford, Illinois and Cincinnati, Ohio, why not Montreal? (I’m kidding about Rockford but Cincinnati? Who designed that town? I didn’t know they had crack back in the 1800’s.)
I thought maybe Marcia didn’t like “rue” so I entered “street.” Another error message mocked me. I entered the address of the parking garage instead of the convention center. Still, “address not found.” I tried the postal code. That was a language she could speak and immediately her soothing voice instructed me to “follow the highlighted route.”
Good thing. I don’t know if I could’ve negotiated the dizzying array of highways without her. Left exits, one way streets, drivers yelling at their kids while periodically stomping on their brakes for no reason, signs only in French … Marcia saved my English speaking ass.
When she intoned “destination on left” I shouted a little hallelujah and parked. Fortunately, the convention center is large and hard to miss. As I entered the enormous structure I noticed the small TVs hanging from the ceiling with the bold red Canada’s Got Talent logo instructing me to turn this way, then that way, then up to the second level, then turn again … it was like being spun around just before you whack a piñata. After a while I had no idea where I was or where to go next. There was no bat, no candy and no cheering group of friends. However, I spotted a group of little girls in pink spandex accompanied by a couple of women fussing with their hair and pulling up costume straps.
I asked one of the adults about the audition. I didn’t just get directions to the main room; I got a rundown of how the auditions work. “You go up that escalator, then in line, then to another room and another line, then you register …” She was still talking when I thanked her and headed off toward the escalator.
I stepped off the escalator and as I rounded the corner, I saw a huge room with long queue snaking back and forth and a sea of young hopefuls with their parents. I took my place in line and decided to get to know my fellow auditioners. With the exception of a dance troupe, they were all singers. The pre-teen girl dressed in jeans, frilly blouse and heels who stood behind me was going to sing her favorite Alicia Keyes song. The young blond headed gentleman in a blue suit beside me was singing, you guessed it, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” His parents confided that they hadn’t wanted him to audition ‘cause, you know, they weren’t those kind of parents. “He bugged us and we kept saying no,” the mother confided, “But then when he told us what he wanted to do with the money, we said yes.” And what was that? I inquired. She named a non-profit that feeds poor African children.
Yeah … after mom and dad pay off the house and buy a Ferrari.
A lot of those waiting knew each other, mostly from other talent shows. They talked about how long those lines were and who advanced in each show. I listened in silence, wondering if I should get my middle aged ass out of there but no, I hadn’t muscled my way through busy Montreal streets just to give up.
“You’re a singer?” they’d ask while eyeing my guitar. “No, a comic,” I’d respond. “Oh,” they’d nod, “You sing funny songs?”
No … the guitar’s actually a weapon.
We stood in line an hour or so before a guy with a megaphone strode into the room and blathered on about how much talent was sure to be there. Then he gave us directions. The doors would open soon. Those auditioning would go to the right, their guests to the left. There’d be another wait. After that you’ll be directed to a table where you’ll register and then you’ll take a seat until they call the range of numbers that includes yours. From your group of 30 you’ll be divided according to your type of talent.
The doors opened and the line moved swiftly. After we separated, I ended up in front of Nicolette, a young woman dressed all in black. She had dark eyeliner surrounding her eyes with extra “eyelashes” drawn in at the edges. Glitter twinkled from her eyelids and under her eyes. Thick black dreads cascaded down her back. At first glance I thought “hard ass” but with her brilliant smile, it was clear she was anything but that. She was young but clearly a few years out of high school and after she showed me photos of her three adorable sons and told me she was a Kindermusik teacher, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. Sure, she was born after I graduated from high school but at least I wouldn’t have to explain a rotary phone to her.
We had an easy conversation about our families, our hometowns and what we were doing for our auditions. She was singing a Boys to Men song. Bold for a woman singer but then, she was wearing glitter and as she informed me, her grandfather was a stripper. I asked if she thought that would help her win and she giggled and said no, it was just fun to tell people.
I told Nicolette that she should win because she looked like a rock star. Chuckling, she ducked her head modestly and said, “You haven’t even heard me sing yet.”
After an hour or so, it was my turn to check in. I walked up to the long table where several clerks were seated in front of laptops. After answering a few questions I asked if I was the oldest contestant that day. The 20-something woman thought for a minute and replied, “We had someone who was 54.” I was 53. Just put “grandma” on my audition form.
I was issued what looked like a bumper sticker with a huge number on it and instructed to put it on my front. I looked down at my breasts and thought, no, not there, then decided to put it just below, across my belly. I took my seat in the enormous room along with a hundred or so other hopefuls.
I sat next to the kid in the suit and his folks. Again, his mom told me that he was donating his money. Got it, thanks.
Behind us a camera crew was interviewing people. The parent next to me leaned over and said in low tones, “The kids shouldn’t know this but one of the camera crew told me that they’re interviewing the people who are going through to the next level. You’re an adult so I thought you could handle the information.” You learned that without a secret decoder ring?
We slumped in the hard plastic chairs, sipping water and mentally going through our auditions. A dance troupe ran through their moves. A girl sang into her pen, like a mike. Parents hovered and slicked back errant cowlicks. I tuned up my guitar and plowed through a few chords, just to warm up.
Another hour went by before they called my group of numbers. I gathered up my purse and guitar, and then scurried to the front of the room. A young woman with a headset and clipboard instructed anyone who wasn’t a singer to step up closer to her. Three acts moved forward. She looked at my guitar, tilted her head and scrunched her eyebrows together. “I’m a comic,” I explained. “Oh,” she replied with the weariness of someone who’s already seen a couple hundred people with guitars that day. After some dialogue with a colleague about where to send me I was told, along with a dance troupe and a skateboard artist, to follow her. The rest of our group, twenty seven singers, all kids, were told to go in another direction.
I was never so grateful to be a gray haired comic. I can’t imagine sitting in a room for eight hours and listening to nothing Alicia Keyes hopefuls.
After waiting a few more minutes, our little group was ushered into a small conference room. Half of the room was covered with a portable wood dance floor, like the kind you’d rent for a wedding reception. In an opposite corner was a long table where a pleasant faced middle aged woman in glasses sat before a laptop. Next to her was a crew member behind a huge camera. I knew the film wouldn’t be shown on TV because there were no additional lights. I had assumed that earlier and was glad it was confirmed because I hadn’t worn anything special, just the patterned jeans, white t-shirt and purple chucks I’d put on that morning. I looked down at the chucks, wishing the left one didn’t have such a huge stain.The judge looked at me and started to open her mouth. “I’m a comic,” I said. She mouthed “Oh.”
We huddled in the corner as the friendly judge explained that she’d call each act for their audition. First up was the dance troupe. Dressed all in black and with silver make-up covering the top half of their faces, they made a striking picture. The judge started in French and laughed, probably making a joke about her language skills, then changed to English. The group looked confused but with some pointing and giggling, the judge and their spokesperson came to an understanding. Their leader held up their number and in a heavily accented voice said the name of their troupe and that they were from a small town outside of Quebec City.
The judge hit “play” on their MP3 player and they sprung into action. The twelve of them stomped and back flipped through their hip hop routine. I stood as far away as I could, clutching my precious guitar. Fortunately, none of them ended in my lap. They finished with a flourish as we applauded. They joined the rest of us in the back of the room.
My name was called next. Immediately, I had tumbleweeds blowing across the desert of my mouth. I gripped my guitar with white knuckles and took my place on the “T” taped to the floor in front of the camera. I apologized about the guitar hiding my number. The judge smiled and asked me to take it off my shirt and hold it up in front of me. “Don’t put it on your guitar” she quickly added, “Because you won’t be able to get it off.” I laughed and said, “It’s a two thousand dollar guitar. I know better than that.”
Looking straight into the camera, I spoke with authority. “Jamie Anderson, Ottawa.” I hoped the smear of liner around my left eye wasn’t too prominent. (I’m legally blind in that eye so I apply makeup by feel. I’ve stabbed myself many times. Wonder if there’s a special ER code for that?)
“You can stand on the dance floor if you want,” the judge informed me. I looked behind me and replied, “I haven’t figured out the dance portion of my act yet.” She chuckled. Yay! I’m already making her laugh.
She asked me a few questions about where I was from and when I told her I’d recently emigrated from the states, she wanted to know what brought me here. I answered “I married a Canadian. Can I help it if you’re all attractive and intelligent?” Again, the judge laughed. The skateboard girl giggled but the dance troupe sat in stony silence.
The perfect comedy crowd.
I introduced my song by saying that it would explain a few things about moving here and then sang:
Thirty below, snow and ice, people look at me and they try to be nice / Then comes the question I dread, they look at me like I’m not right in the head / Yes, I could be in the U S of A, eating cheese in a can every day /Doing without that stuff isn’t hard, I moved to Canada for love … and a health card* (©2011 Jamie Anderson)
I ended with a flourish, holding the last note out and raising my right hand in the air like a victory salute. The judge let out a loud guffaw, the skateboard kid giggled and the troupe just looked at me, a blank look on their faces. I added “Merci y’all!”
I smiled and strutted off the stage.
Glad that my audition was over, I relaxed into a sitting position on the floor near the dance floor. I couldn’t get to my guitar case because the troupe was standing in front of it. I gently laid the guitar on the floor in front of me.
The skateboard kid took her place in front of the camera. The music started and she jumped on the skateboard, scooted a couple of feet, jumped and missed the board, sending it skittering off into the side wall. I felt sorry for her as she missed trick after trick. For her grand finale she attempted a flip and caught only the tip of the board, sending it zooming off the stage and like an arrow to a target, directly toward my guitar.
I lunged forward, ready to throw my body over the precious instrument. Before I could there was a loud clunk. The judge immediately asked, “Is it all right?” Like a paramedic checking a car accident victim, I quickly looked it over and with a huge sigh of relief, answered, “Yes.” The skateboard kid was mortified, apologizing several times. Out loud, I assured her that it wasn’t her fault. In my head I was screaming a different response. It’s good no one in that room was auditioning as a psychic.
Just before filing out of the room we were given a sheet of paper telling us that we’d hear from them by December 15 if we were selected for the next level . Don’t call us, we’ll call you. And if you are chosen, wear the same clothing and the same make-up.
I think I’ll wash the chucks.
In spite of my stellar audition, I wasn’t chosen. The chucks are still dirty.
I saw Nicolette on the way out of her audition. She said she stumbled and had to start her song twice. I’m still crossing my fingers for her.
*Apologies to my American friends. It’s hard not to brag about free health care.