By Kimberlye Gold
Greeting Heraldonians (or rather, Cal-Listers) from my new home, Nashville, TN! Actually, my return – I lived here from 1995 to 2000 until family duties led me back to my hometown of San Francisco for seven years (see my first Almost Famous column or my tribute to my late father “Art For Art’s Sake” at www.sfherald.com). I didn’t plan to stay so long but time flies, doesn’t it? I miss the beach and all you SF-ers terribly but I had to follow my muse once again to Music City to pursue my songwriting career. I’m baaaaaaack, y’all!
So I’m reading my e-mail and on my NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association, Inc.) newsletter was an announcement for an open audition for the reality show talent competition Nashville Star, country music’s American Idol. Formerly shown on the USA network, this season its’ moving to NBC, prime time big league, y’all! Of course, I had to throw my cowgirl hat into the ring and give it a go – what had I got to lose? Again.
Seven hours of my life – not including drive time, baby! But I digress…
After quickly perusing the Nashville Star website, I decided to bring my guitar and play one of my own songs, a funny ditty called “I Ain’t Tammy”. I watched the news that morning while getting ready for work and some of those crazy kids had been waiting since 4am to get in – just like on American Idol. Not to be deterred, when my shift ended at Hotel Indigo, where I now work as a waitress (never say never, people!), I changed into my best country music star duds and drove down to Opryland, a gigantic hotel and entertainment center where the auditions were being held from 10am to 6pm – that’s what the announcement said. I figured I’d show up late and get in on the tail end of the auditions.
As I drove up to the parking area of the big-as-a-city conglomerate area, I couldn’t believe what I saw: thousands and thousands of people lined up on the several flights of stairs and winding for miles around the block waiting for their turn at country super-stardom. “Oh my God”, I thought, was I up for this? Not what I signed up for and where did you sign up anyway?? After parking a million miles away near the giant movie complex, I lugged my guitar up to the insanity to find out. No sign ups, I soon found out – just find your way to the miles long end of the line and wait your turn. As I walked and walked and walked up and down the stairs through the hordes of pickers and grinners of all ages and sizes, I weaved my way to the end of the line. The sun was out, thank God – can you imagine if it was raining or worse yet, snowing (yes, it snows in Tennessee)? People must have had the same idea about coming late as the line grew behind me, weaving around the block. I made friends with some of the people around me, particularly an attractive girl named Donna, who seemed to be around my age and her very nice boyfriend who carried my guitar throughout the whole ordeal. Donna knew some of the same people I did so we became instant comrades. Turns out several of the girls around me, including Donna, had auditioned before and said they had gotten right in and had never seen anything like this! After a couple hours I was starving and luckily some money-hungry folks set up a table to sell sandwiches for five bucks a pop and I bit and bought a tuna sandwich. (Thank God for that ‘cause I wouldn’t have lasted the seven hours on an empty stomach.)
In front of me was a little dark-haired girl who couldn’t have been more than 17 or 16 hugging on a nice guy who apparently was her older brother and their mom. There were a lot of mom types around as well as the masses of young kids. The guy said he had submitted a video and was just there for moral support for his little sister. Another nice girl with long blond hair told me I needed to have downloaded a fifteen page contract off the website or I wouldn’t be seen and a copy of my driver’s license (so much for lying about my age!). So we maneuvered our way though the horde of bodies to the enormous Opryland Hotel and miraculously found a copy machine and computer so I could fill out the damn contract which asked ridiculous questions like “What artist would you want to sing a duet with” and “Who do you sound like?” I filled the thing out as quickly as I could and practically gave myself another carpal tunnel attack! I found a couch and passed out for a few moments after that, while folks from another convention milled about.
All around us people were playing guitars and doing sing-alongs to pass the time. Some of us had guitars and some did not, preparing to sing acapella like on American Idol. In one corner, one guy led an Eagles medley, while across the way another group was singing “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. I joined in on Bad Company’s “I’m Ready for Love” in honor of my interview with lead singer Paul Rodgers. It was like listening to live performances on different radio stations in stereo on each set of stairs. As it began to get dark, we all realized the auditions were no way going to end at 6pm as stated on the site and we could only speculate how long they would keep us out there like cattle in the cold. The line had moved enough for us to see they were now taking in groups of twenty or so in 15 minute intervals so we comforted ourselves that it couldn’t be much longer. It was now almost 9:30 pm (!) and we were still waiting to get in. I got out my guitar and tuned up, so I was ready. I was going to nail this, I was sure of it – well, as sure as anybody waiting for 7 hours in the cold could be. People were taking pictures in front of the giant Nashville Star sign like tourists on vacation. Some weird, older guy in a cowboy hat and a number on his chest came out and explained that we first would be screened by some initial judges and if we passed that, we would get a ticket and be escorted upstairs to the “real judges” to see who would get called back the next day.
Finally, our group was called and we were led into a gigantic gymnasium type of room where booths were set up for the pre-judges to listen to 30 seconds worth of the best we had. 30 seconds! Three of us went up at a time. I had my guitar strapped on and was rarin’ to go, baby. The little dark-haired girl went first and sang Sara Evan’s “Suds in a Bucket” and did very well. Blondie sang Alison Kraus’ “When You Say Nothing at All” while my buddy Donna sang Patsy Kline’s “Crazy” at another booth. Finally it was my turn up at bat. After asking my name, one of the judges asked, “So what are you going to sing for us, tonight, Kimberlye?” “One of my own songs,” I stated proudly, figuring I’d wow them with something other than the same songs they’d heard a million times that day. “I’m sorry, the other judge said, “You can’t do that today, that’s only approved for call backs tomorrow. Tonight you have to sing one of the songs off the list.” The list?? What list??? What were they talking about and why didn’t someone tell me for seven hours?? “
Apparently, there was a list on the website that had a couple dozen songs to choose from that I obviously missed – again! “Kimberlye, why don’t you step back and look at the list and when you’re ready, come back up and sing for us,” one of the judges said. So much for being prepared! I handed my guitar to the nice boyfriend guy of Donna and quickly perused the list, my heart pounding and my stomach in knots. Why hadn’t I read the website more carefully and how could this be happening?? When I saw Linda Rondstad’s “When Will I Be Loved” I figured I’d give that a go, since even though I hadn’t sung it in years, I used to sing it and I’d pull it off just fine. So I stepped back up and said, “I’m ready now,” and they smiled and waited for me to wow them with my 30 unprepared seconds. “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved,” I crooned and seemed to be doing just fine. One of the judges motioned me to continue and mouthed the first couple of words, “When I find a new man,” and I jumped in to finish – in another key. I had never changed keys unintentionally in my entire life but here I was, singing my heart out an entire step up from where I started. I knew I had blown it and my heart sank. The judges called three of us up and said, “I’m sorry, you were all very good but the bar has been raised very high this year and we thank you for coming. One judge said, “I’m sorry you couldn’t play your song, Kimberlye, I know you weren’t ready but this is the end of the line for you all now. Come back next year and try again.” Next year?? Were they on crack??
Meanwhile, the little dark-haired girl and Donna had received their raffle tickets – they had made it through to the next round and boyfriend dude hurriedly handed me back my guitar and excitedly off they went. I was crushed and stunned – how in the world would I find my car, which was parked literally miles away??!! I was so sure I was going to get through, I had figured one of my new “friends” would help me find it after, which they had promised to do. I was doomed. Suddenly, I saw weird cowboy hat man with his number still taped on his chest and ran up to him. “Excuse me, but could you please help me find my car, I didn’t get through and I am totally lost!” I pleaded. Weird cowboy hat man suddenly became my guardian angel and together we went off in search of my car somewhere in 5D, wherever the hell that was. He was so nice and sympathetic to my story and my plight. He gave me a ride and we drove around and around until we actually found the damn thing. Now how was I going to figure out how to get home – my mapquest directions were too complicated and it was dark as hell!? Luckily, Blondie appeared out of nowhere, she hadn’t gotten through either. “I was too quiet,” she said sadly. “But I’m going your way and you can follow me after I get some gas”.
So I thanked Cowboy Hat man, got in my car and followed Blondie (I never did get her name) and headed the long way home. Oh well, at least I went for it.
I tried calling Donna twice to see how she fared but at press time have not received a call back – literally. Oh, Donna…(isn’t that a song from the ‘50s?). And there’s always next year…NOT!
And there you have it, my little pretties. Another “Almost Famous” story under my cowgirl hat. One of these days…
Say hello to the Golden Gate and the ocean for me!###