Jeff's online journal, ramblings, whatever.

Archive for July, 2008

Sell-out: My American Idol tryout

Well, I did it. I tried out for American Idol yesterday, just for kicks. And let me tell you, what an odd experience. On Monday I went down to the Energy Solutions Arena (formerly the Delta Center) in Salt Lake to get an official American Idol wristband and was told by the officials there (really some girl who went to Hunter High several years after I did and recognized me by my Travels picture in the drama hall) that I had to be back at the arena at 5:00 AM the next morning. Yeesh! So, eager to please, I stayed over at my sister Kjersti’s place (who now lives by around 45th South and 13th East or so) and went to bed at the earliest time I’ve ever gone to bed since I was probably in elementary school: 8:00 PM. Of course, I didn’t actually get to sleep until several hours later, and even then it was due to NyQuil, but eventually I fell into a confused slumber on the floor, since my sister’s Love Sac wasn’t quite big enough to sleep on.

The next morning we all headed over to the arena: my sister, brother Ben, and sister-in-law Luana (Kjersti just dropped us off, since she was six months too old to actually audition). I still don’t know exactly why they had us line up at 5:00 AM since they didn’t even open the doors until around 7:00 and due to the line being so long we didn’t even get inside until around 8:00. I guess they wanted some group shots of the line outside right when the sun came up or something. We ended up right next to this lady that had brought a ventriloquist dummy of an old woman, who was interviewed by a few local news stations. She called her dummy “Simon’s Grandma” and yodeled. If you watched any of these news broadcasts, you may be able to see Ben and me in the background giving looks that say, “Who is this chick?!?” Anyway, Ben had a brief reunion with Jon-Peter Lewis, who was doing some sort of interview work for the show I guess, since he had a microphone and an American Idol camera following him around. We finally went inside right as a big burly producer was on the arena floor trying to teach everyone “Get Ready” by the Temptations. The next two hours were spent filming various people saying things like “From Salt Lake City, it’s American Idol! Woo!” and “First Archie (referring to David Archuleta), now me! Woo!” and “From Happy Valley, welcome to American Idol! Woo!” even though Happy Valley is technically Utah Valley, not Salt Lake. If you see the broadcast of the show, this may be the only point where you can see me, as a redheaded pinprick with a blue shirt among the giant crowd of over 7,000 potentials (yes, that’s a spoiler, but not a surprising one). The producer ended with everyone singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye (or at least the parts of the songs where some of us knew the words), and then auditions proper started.

Contrary to what you might believe from the show, not every contestant gets paraded before Paula, Simon, and Randy. No, what they actually did was set up six tables (later expanded to ten) on the arena floor, and took each section and lined up the contestants by fours in front of each table, at each of which sat one or two producers (apparently this show’s got a lot of producers). Each person would step up to the table and sing for a bit (probably around 25 seconds or so), then step back. When all four had sung and the producers had discussed their choices for a bit, they invited the four to step forward. They then told the people who were not moving on to step behind the table and get their wristband cut off and do the walk of shame out of the arena. The people who were moving on they gave a number to and told to walk out the other door of the arena to sign a bunch of papers and stuff.

At about 10:00 they stopped the auditions because Ryan Seacrest showed up to film for another hour things like “We’ve never been to this city before, but it’s home to some of the most beautiful scenery and 7,000 of the most energetic people we’ve ever met.” Director tells us to cheer (at 50%). “From Salt Lake City, This. . .is. . .American Idol!!” Director tells us to cheer (at 100%). While the director was a no-nonsense sort, Ryan was very gracious and kind. Case in point: a kid was taking pictures of Ryan, delaying the shot and making the director mad. Ryan’s solution was to take the camera from the kid, take a picture of himself, and hand the camera back with a big grin.

Anyway, after Ryan left the auditions continued in earnest. Ben and Luana were seated in the third section to get called up, and I sat with them until they were (minus about one hour in which I stood in line for lunch. One freakin’ hour! The line was only about 20 feet long! That’s the longest I’ve ever stood in such a “short” line! Ever! Yeesh! For a frellin’ hot dog and pretzel!). Since they were taking tickets I couldn’t bluff my way down with them, so I had to return to my seat, which was on the opposite side of the arena, in the next-to-last section to be called up. This meant, of course, that I had to wait pretty much the entire day (we got in the arena at 8:00 AM, and our section was finally called up at freakin’ 5:30 PM, but that’s how it goes when the producers have to sort through 7,000 people). ‘Twas a good seat, though, for it was only 12 rows back and it was behind the tables, so we could see and hear all the contestants pretty clearly.

I still don’t know the exact criteria the producers used to judge the contestants. There were some people that were absolutely amazing singers that didn’t make it, while there were others that seemed nondescript that moved on to the next round. Some were obviously not good singers and got moved on purely for the audition show, to be the horrible singers and ridiculous personalities that make Simon cringe. For example, the following people moved on: a flaming couple, one in horrible drag; a kid whose wrong notes could be heard throughout the entire arena (a feat, considering nobody had a mic), and the ventriloquist dummy girl mentioned earlier. There were at least two people that were such good singers that the audience cheered and applauded their performance, and then booed the producers when they got inexplicably cut. Probably only around one to two percent of the contestants even made it to the next round (which is still, what, 70 people? Maybe it was even less than that.) Ben and Luana both got cut (he sang “Hooked on a Feeling” and she sang something that I now forget) as well. I also saw Katie Hewitt (or whatever her last name is now) perform something, but she got cut too. I determined that since my voice could not match some of the awesome voices on display (even the ones that were being cut) that I would just have fun with it. My goal now became to not necessarily move on, but just to make a judge smile (and possibly move on to the main judges as a goofy audition).

This goal was strengthened when I finally got on the floor, after more than thirteen hours of waiting. The producers had been sitting there just as long as we (although in shifts) and looked incredibly bored. In fact, the producer at my table (who happened to be the same guy teaching us songs at the beginning of the whole process) just had his face supported by his hands with a “I just want to find a bar” look on his face. Even when watching the audition of a guy who made it to the next round in the group in front of mine he looked very bored. Then came my turn. I ended up singing part of “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes, which I learned from watching Meet the Raisins. I even did the goofy choreography with my fingers like the raisins do:

Usually the producer would cut a contestant off at some point, but he just let me keep going. At the end of where I knew the words I just said, “And there’s a saxophone solo after that” and stepped back into the line. Nobody in my group moved on, but the producer chuckled. My goal was complete. I got my wristband cut off, and, after around thirteen hours of sitting in a hard seat (or concrete) and reading Matt Plotecher’s Rescue Ranger fanfiction on my Pocket PC, I was finally out of there and could go home! My main feeling was not of disappointment, but of relief, mostly for my backside and buttocks.

Would I do it again? No way. Too much hassle for a pipe dream, especially since the kind of music done on American Idol doesn’t really fit my style. Am I glad I did it? I think so, if for nothing else than to be able to say that I did it and know a bit more about the experience. It’s pretty obvious that finding the next American Idol isn’t American Idol‘s main task. Their main task is producing an entertainment TV show. Therefore, raw talent isn’t measured as much as “who would get us good ratings,” so if you want to really get a record deal, deal with people concerned with talent above all instead of this show.

Or, failing that, write goofy music that makes people laugh and brightens their day, no matter the voice quality of the singer.

This. . .was. . .my tryout for American Idol!!!!!


Technical difficulties. . .

The site where I have stored some files (such as MP3s) is going under, so many of the links to MP3s and other large files here on the blog may be defunct for a little while. I will try to find another place to store them, but until then there’ll be some broken links. Sorry about that, for anyone who desperately wanted to hear the goofy-end-level-Super-Cobra ditty.

Travels to find the place I’ve never been

According to WordPress, this is the 200th blog post on this blog! Neat!

So I’ve decided to post a plot summary of Travels, the musical written by Nate Winder that I orchestrated back in high school in the year 2000, mostly in case I need to reference it, and to give all my readers an idea of what an actually pretty good plot the show had, especially for being written by a high-schooler. The bold phrases in parentheses are the names of the songs that accompany that particular part of the plot.

The story opens in the year 1298. A 40-ish Marco Polo is seen in a Genoese prison along with an old scribe named Rustichello. Marco begins dictating the fantastic tales of his youth to Rustichello, warning him to tell the tales from a non-biased viewpoint. Rustichello ask why, pointing out that it would make a good story if told with Marco’s feelings included. Marco says that there are certain details that he’d rather not share with the world, as we shall soon see(1.Prologue/Overture). As he begins his tale we flashback to the city of Venice in the year 1271. Young 17-year-old Marco(played by a different actor), sitting on a rooftop, expresses his desires to see the world(2.Day After Day). During and after his song the townspeople of Venice start milling about below, starting the work and/or theft and/or clerical duties of the day(3. Venice to Stay). Marco gets off his rooftop and begins his merchant work as his Aunt Flora observes. Flora and Marco have a conversation, revealing that Flora had raised Marco ever since his father Niccolo Polo and uncle Maffeo Polo had gone east in search of riches. Flora tries to cheer Marco up by telling him that “he will go far.” Coincidentally, as she finishes, Niccolo and Maffeo enter the city, after an absence of sixteen years(4. You Will Go Far). The entire Polo family cheers and celebrates their homecoming, and Niccolo begins to weave the tale of their adventures. They had planned to come home from Constantinople after two or three years, but wars had driven them further and further east until they reached the mythical land of China. They met the emperor, one Kublai Khan, and had gotten him interested in Christianity. The pair was sent home with orders to bring back 100 monks to preach to the Chinese. As Niccolo finishes his story, he requests that Marco travels with them on their return journey(5.Celebration/Our Journey Goes On). Marco marvels at his good fortune and determines to pursue his dream and leave with his father and uncle. Soon he is packed and the trio says their good-byes to the Polo family once again(6. Travels).

The first stop on the journey is Palestine, where the new Pope has been installed. Maffeo relates their plight to the Pope and requests 100 monks. The Pope, being newly installed and therefore without much power, decides to deny their request on the basis that the Easterners are “barbarians.” He finally does grant them two missionaries, who profess their bravery and unwavering loyalty(7.As You Can See). The steadfastness of these two monks quickly evaporates as the group travels farther east, and soon they abandon the Polos in fear of being killed by bandits. The Polos are left with no choice but to return to China empty-handed(8. Don’t Turn Your Back On Us Now).

Now begins a montage of traveling songs. Niccolo wonders why Marco spends all his time writing instead of helping him and Maffeo, and Marco replies by stating how beautiful the land is that they’re traveling through, and how he wants to capture it in his journal(9. Pages of White). In various towns along the way, Niccolo and Maffeo are revealed to be very cunning merchants as they con and cheat the townspeople out of their possessions, money, and jewels. This disappoints Marco and gets them thrown out of a few towns as well(10. Town to Town). As their journeys continue, Marco grows from a boy into a man(shown on stage by the young actor being replaced by the old actor who played Marco in the prologue) and he sings about how, out in the wilderness, he has been able to “find himself” at last(11. Walk Upon the Sky). The cheating and swindling of Marco’s father and uncle displease him more as time goes on, and he laments on how he has nobody to talk to about the wonders he is seeing, since all Niccolo and Maffeo talk about is money(12. In These Mountain Tops). The lamenting turns in a different direction as the Polos come to the end of their supplies in the Gobi Desert. Hunger-stricken and thirsty, the Polos are almost done for, when Maffeo spots a group in the distance. Arming themselves to fight off marauders, they find instead an escort from the great Kublai Khan himself. The Polos are greatly relieved and, after four long years since they left Venice, the trio enters China(13. Lonely, Lost, and Losing).

Marco, Maffeo, and Niccolo pass through the streets of Xanadu, where the summer palace of the Khan sits. The townspeople marvel at these strange visitors with their white skin and travel-worn clothes(14. Who Is This Stranger?). They enter the presence of the Khan, and Maffeo relates the tale of how the monks ran away. Although the Khan is dismayed by this bit of news, he is nevertheless quite pleased to see him and Niccolo once again. He then inquires as to the identity of the third traveler, and Niccolo introduces Marco. Marco tells the Khan about how he’s kept record of the lands that they journeyed through and the Khan is impressed(15. Stately Pleasure). As Marco and the Khan continue talking, the Khan’s jealous court astrologers enter and tell the audience about their “discoveries” in the sky that spell doom for the empire if the Polos are allowed to stay and live(16. A Dangerous Sign). Meanwhile, Marco has been regaling Kublai Khan with anecdotes from his four-year journey. The Khan is very impressed and appoints Marco to be an exclusive field reporter and go throughout the Empire, writing down all that he sees so the Khan will know the state of the land. As Marco muses on this new calling, the astrologers advise the Khan of their findings. However, he dismisses their findings, saying that three Europeans will never cause the fall of the Mongol Empire(17. Hunting).

A few days later, Marco is packed and ready to go. Kublai Khan’s majordomo introduces Marco to his traveling entourage of servants, and the Khan, Niccolo, and Maffeo bid Marco farewell as the townspeople look on. Soon after leaving Xanadu, the party forms camp. One of the servants, a young girl named Mei Hwa, develops a crush on Marco(18. Go Where You Go). As they travel through the countryside, Marco admits that he is having the time of his life. To his surprise, Mei Hwa is as interested in the wonderful sights as he is, which is a welcome change from the greediness of his father and uncle(19. Journey of a Lifetime). One night on the trip, while doing laundry, Mei Hwa expresses her feelings about Marco and how she is not sure what to do, since she is just a servant girl and inexperienced(20. When It All Comes Down to Love). Later, after Mei Hwa brings Marco some tea, Marco is hit in the face by the realization that not only is Mei Hwa a beautiful girl, she is as interested in the experience of traveling as he is, and he falls in love with her. She returns with more tea and the two suddenly fall into a passionate embrace(21. In This Mystic Land).

Life is good for Marco. He’s living out his desires with the girl of his dreams. However, the party has now traveled far away from the Chinese capital, and entering newly conquered territory. The governors are cruel to the citizens and human rights have all but disappeared. Marco sees these horrible acts but does not write any of it, for he does not wish to anger the Khan, since he is an outsider(22. What’s Going On?). As he wrestles with this moral dilemma, he grows distant from Mei Hwa, and she, being still very inexperienced in the ways of love, takes this as a sign that he is lo longer interested in her(23. When It All Comes Down to Love (reprise)). By this time the group has reached the very outskirts of the Empire and witness the Mongol horde conquering a village. Marco observes the battle from a distance, but in the melee one of the villagers mistakes Marco for a member of the horde and attacks him. Marco, in self-defense, kills the man(24. The Battle). Realizing the terrible thing he’s just done, killing on behalf of the Mongol horde, he vows to convince the Khan to change what’s happening. As he sings in determination, the townspeople rise and plead to be remembered, so that their deaths will not have been in vain(25. To Come Forth).



It is the Chinese New Year back at the capital of the Empire. Marco’s travel party has arrived from their trip, and Mei Hwa vows to break off the relationship. The only problem is that she is still her servant. Her monologue is cut short as the New Year Parade begins. In the middle of the festivities, however, a member of the parade sneaks to Marco’s box and stabs him. Although the wound is not mortal, the culprit runs away and is not caught(26. The Parade). Back in Marco’s room, Mei Hwa tends to his wounds. Marco realizes that he’s been neglecting Mei Hwa and vows to make it up to her. She, however, will have none of it. She says he’s been too caught up in changing a world he does not understand, and that it will never work. Marco, offended, kicks Mei Hwa out of his service, and she joins the household of the governor of a local town(27. Time For Me to Go). Marco vows to finally inform Kublai Khan of his real findings and requests an audience with him. Before he can speak, however, the Khan praises him for his reports and gives him a post as the governor of one of the most prosperous cities in China, the city of Kinsay. Marco, flattered and humbled, can only thank the Khan for his generosity. Meanwhile, the astrologers berate the assassin responsible for stabbing Marco instead of killing him. They warn the assassin that next time there had better be no mistake, and Marco must die(28. You Are the One).

Marco journeys to Kinsay with a heavy heart, having lost both Mei Hwa and the guts to tell the Khan what was on his mind. He is determined, however, to rule by example and be the best governor he can be. The townsfolk of Kinsay are first a bit wary of his motives, but soon Marco puts their fears to rest as he rules quite peacefully and give the people a large amount of freedom while still keeping order. After three years, the townspeople admit that they’ve never had a better governor than Marco, and the city is booming(29. No Better Timing). The nearby governors, however, are less impressed by the prosperity of Kinsay under Marco’s government. Most of them wanted the city of Kinsay for themselves, and the jealous rulers accuse Marco of obtaining the position because he is the Khan’s pet(30. Who Do You Think You Are?). Marco once again laments his position as the brunt of so much jealousy. He misses his love, and he still hasn’t talked to the Khan about the sad state of the fringes of the Empire. The governors and the townspeople have a figurative verbal spar. The townspeople want Marco to stay, while the governors want him to go away. Marco admits that all he really wants to do is go back home to Venice(31. Still On My Own).

Suddenly, unexpected visitors arrive at Marco’s door. They are Niccolo and Maffeo, Marco’s father and uncle. They explain that they also desire to return home. The Khan is getting old, they say, and his power over the Empire is diminishing. They want to get out before the Empire collapses into anarchy, with governors vying for power in the vacuum left by the Khan’s death. So the trio requests an audience with the Khan and Niccolo explains that they want to get home, in order to see their families that they had left behind so many years ago. Kublai Khan, however, denies their request. These three are his favorite advisors, and he is not letting them go just out of the blue. Marco finally snaps and tells the Khan off. He outlines how the governors mistreat the citizens and the army murders innocent townsfolk, all so the Khan can enrich himself for “the good of the Empire”(32. Got to Go). The Khan listens, then silences Marco. He begins to tell the tale of the Mongolian Empire, founded by his grandfather, Genghis Khan. Genghis had built up a grand empire through conquest, but then had died. Kublai realized that the only way to preserve what had already been built up was to assume the throne as its rightful heir and continue in the ways of his grandfather. If this did not happen, more killings and chaos would ensue as a result of the collapsing Empire. Was what he was doing wrong or right? Neither, but it had to happen. The Khan drives this point home to Marco with the line, “You can make a wrong, you can make a right, it’s not always black and white.” Then he orders Marco to go back to his duties(33. The Ballad of Kublai Khan).

Back in Kinsay, Marco reflects on his situation. He realizes that he cannot change anything. The only true happiness he had was when he was traveling with Mei Hwa. He sends a servant to find her. In another governor’s palace, Mei Hwa ponders the mistakes that she’s made and realizes that she truly does love him and she “would go with him anywhere.” The servant arrives at the palace, and brings Mei Hwa back to Kinsay, where she and Marco reaffirm how they truly feel about each other, ending in another passionate embrace(34. Anywhere). Marco suggests to Mei Hwa that she run away to Venice with him. She agrees, but first they must ask leave of her current master. Unfortunately, the governor in charge of her is also the head of the jealous governors that want to see Marco miserable, and he refuses Marco’s request(35. Venice Someday).

The elder two Polos arrive at Marco’s palace with a plan to get home. They have with them some Persians who have a request from the Persian king for a gift of goodwill. The Khan is planning to give one of his daughters to him, but she and the Persian envoys need an escort to take them back to Persia, and the Polos are the only ones who know the route well. The three Polos approach Kublai Khan with this plan, and the Khan, facing no alternative, reluctantly agrees to let them go. After Niccolo and Maffeo leave the palace, Marco asks the Khan to let Mei Hwa go. He refuses, stating that he needs to keep the governors in his good graces, lest they rise up and overthrow the Empire. Marco then accuses the Khan of going back on his own philosophy, and the Khan chastises Marco for his presumptuousness on telling the Khan how to run the Empire. He then orders Marco to leave or go to jail. Marco leaves(36. Got to Go (reprise)). Meanwhile, the astrologers and the jealous governors have formed an alliance to murder Marco once and for all. Mei Hwa’s employer knows that Marco will not leave without her, so they plan to ambush him when he tries to steal her away(37. The Time Is Right).

Nighttime. Niccolo tries to convince Marco to leave Mei Hwa behind, but he is determined. Marco sneaks into the governor’s palace, incapacitates a guard, and sneaks out again with Mei Hwa. Before they can get very far, the assassin that stabbed Marco earlier emerges from the shadows. He and Marco have a brief fight, which Marco loses. Just before the assassin can run him through, however, Mei Hwa jumps him from behind, ineffectively. The assassin quickly stabs her through the chest and turns his attention back to Marco. Suddenly, a mysterious cloaked figure appears and slits the throat of the assassin before he has time to react. Marco rushes to the side of Mei Hwa and urges her to get up and come with him. She, however, simply whispers, “I will go with you anywh–…” and dies. Grief-stricken, Marco becomes aware of the hooded figure still standing near. Through tears, he demands to know who this figure is. The figure removes his hood and reveals himself to be none other than the Khan. He explains that he knew Marco would not leave Mei Hwa, despite being forbidden to do so. The Khan then advises Marco to let go of the past and go back home. After a long glance back, Marco dashes away. The entire scene has been watched by the head astrologer and the governor in charge of Mei Hwa, and after Marco runs away he swears silently and stalks off(38. The Escape).

The scene now returns to 1298, in the Genoese prison. Marco finishes his tale, explaining that, after they dropped the princess off in Persia, they headed home. Nobody recognized them for they had thought to have been long dead. Having not much to live for, Marco signed up to join the Venetian Army and was captured by the Genoans, who threw them into prison. (39. Epilogue) As Rustichello completes writing, Marco begins to ponder his youth. On stage, the Young Marco appears upstage and sings of his life’s dreams and ambitions while the Old Marco downstage sings about how each of those were dashed hopelessly. However, as the young one tells of the people he saw, the old one realizes that it’s not about him, it’s about the experience. He then vows to live life to the fullest, no matter what happens. Marco reaffirms this as the entire cast joins with him to live and love live, wondrously(40. Walk Upon the Sky/Travels).



If you’d like my thoughts about the show, music, and the whole experience, read my Travels memoirs (skip ahead to the overview if reading about each song is too tedious).