Reality talent TV shows. They are continually rising in popularity. Everyone has an opinion on them and I'm trying not to delve too deeply into my own take on them. (I will say, however, Dave Grohl has a famous quote floating out there about reality talent shows that is rather profoud). Now 4 winters ago, when I was pursuing a solo career as a singer/songwriter, I decided to fly out to Vegas and audition for the leading singing reality show. Signed my non-disclosure agreement, bought my cheap ticket to Vegas and off I went.
Here was my thought process. I knew the odds were staggering. I knew that talent TV shows are more about entertainment than they are about actually finding talent. I knew that I was a "good" singer (not amazing, but good), but my unique look and presence gave me a small advantage over the typical dreamer that shows up to audition. I'm not exactly a kid and I'm no dummy, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect and certainly didn't get excited about it.
When I got there, the reality of the situation could be summed up in 2 words.
So there I was in a massive crowd of hopefuls, snaking around the block outside the convention center. The line didn't go to the horizon, that's just where it snaked around a building and continued. According to the documentation I was given, they held 2 "sessions" per day with 2500 applicants each. That's right, 5000 people in one day...in one city of many that season.
Once getting over the initial shock, I became a little disheartened. Is this how people believe they make it? Is this how the industry works now? Not singing for a band, no making a name for yourself in the local circuit...you just go and sing. Those in front of you either decide if you aren't good enough to succeed or if you will find success within 90 days. Apparently, that's how the industry is summed up today. The quick version, the drive-through career restaurant....the cliff note novel.
So there I was for hours standing in a large warehouse building with 2500 of my best friends. Each and every one of them convinced they had already won. And man, the profiling. I swear I have never heard the words "my album" mentioned more times in a single setting then I did that day. I just kept to myself and eventually (hours later) I was shuffled into the interior offices with my group of 10 applicants. It was at this time, lined up outside a closed door trying to contain our nerves, that I experienced the most valuable lesson of the entire trip.
For the sake of his career (not to mention my non-disclosure agreement), I won't say his name. The staffer explained how the process would go and honestly explained the odds. That day, they are to choose a mere 25 applicants to move on to 2nd auditions in Los Angeles. 25 people...that's it. However, he went on. He said he works for the show in Los Angeles and he is an aspiring director. He was working on a movie and told us he almost has the funding to finish it. He then said something that resonated inside me.
"You don't need the people behind that door"
He explained that if we work on our craft, if we are passionate about what we do, if we are resourceful, if we have work ethic, we don't need those people behind the door to be heard. He explained there are some people who need this show and the people behind that door. For others, however, this was just one of countless opportunities. In this modern era of direct distribution and endless insider education available to us literally at the palm of our hands, we don't need them.
I'll admit I didn't have that mindset.
So there I was. I sang my best. Wasn't mind blowing, but I did well. Another woman in the room, however, was mind-blowing indeed. She did a classical piece and I was amazed by her vocal control and passion. I will always remember her, standing the center of the room in a floral dress, putting everything into her audition. I was amazed. As she finished, we were all silent and admittedly feeling defeated. The young woman behind the table smiled and said "thank you" before we were all shuffled out of the room.
Since then, I've watched that show casually when it's playing at a friend's house and I think of that day. I felt I was a solid 8 that day. The young lady in the floral dress was easily a 9 or 10. But here I watched people perform on the show that were a 6 at best. How the hell did they make it to the show? Then comes the back-story. Damn! That's why I didn't make it. My mom wasn't dying of cancer and I wasn't supporting her while working 120 hours a week and going to school full-time. I have to sigh and remind myself that the ultimate goal of these shows is merely entertainment. I can count on one hand the number of artists who have come from reality TV shows and made a career from it after the show. 15 minutes of fame might be an overstatement.
However, I don't want to sound bitter. I knew the odds going in. On the contrary, I'm so glad I went. I'm so glad I got the opportunity to see how the status quo, how the masses pursue music careers. Most importantly, I remember that young man telling me I don't need any of that shit. I'm not too old to make a career in music. I don't have to be famous, I don't have to be a household name. I find a band and together we can create music. It would be even better if we sold a bit of that music to others. Most importantly, we get to perform. Whether it's in front of 5 people in an empty club on a Tuesday night or in front of an arena, we get to present OUR music to others.
I remind myself daily that maybe that's the bread and butter of a music career. At the end of the day, that's likely all that matters.
Thank you for your time, your attention and your continued support.