Tuesday, May 16, 2006


You know, there occasionally comes a time when you question some of the life decisions you've made which have contributed to you being in the exact position you find yourself. You know the kind of moments I'm talking about: when you're bartering special favours for a piece of mouldy bread in a turkish prison; when you're getting beat senseless by a musclebound manbeast at the top of some jungle waterfall; when you're forced to take a dive for the no good multinational that put bread on your table for ten years then finally went under; or when you find yourself huddled awkwardly in a miserable heap as the dawn light breaks across the bleak carpark you've spent the last ten hours shivering in, loose gravel still stuck to your face and eyes bleary and bloodshot as you're pulled up from your concrete pillow by a voice barking "cameras coming by in ten seconds, move your sleeping bags outta the way!" And then pull yourself up into a squint-eyed and bewildered crouching position, a Channel 10 lens sweeps by scanning the legs of the hundreds of others standing around, legs about the same height as your own face right now. And yeah, you sort of question what you're doing with your life.

This wasn't the only time I pondered the meaning of my existence during the Idol auditions on Saturday. After all, there was plenty of time for reflection: about 10-12 hours, in fact. I arrived at 2am, hoping to bunker down for some nice al fresco napping, or perhaps reading at worst. I didn't bank on the fact that another hundred or so people would already be there, and when their number had doubled the noise meant that sleep wouldn't be forthcoming. Moreover, the combination of extreme cold, giddy anticipation/trepidation, physical discomfort and, most of all, boredom meant that going solo wasn't an option. You had to get along with your neighbour, if only to survive the night.

Now, the 2am-midday stretch is clearly the best thing about the Australian Idol Experience (tm). While the low turnout this year meant that anyone turning up by midday or so would get an audition (and apparently Sunday's auditions ended early due to lack of numbers), the elite Idol contestants are those I shall dub The Allnighters, and I am proud to count myself among their numbers. You meet all sorts, and for a distinctly antisocial person like myself it's pretty impressive that I spent ten hours with talking to strangers, many of whom were unafraid to bust some songs on me, and had a good time in the process.

That said (and I've said it elsewhere), there is an issue in trying to go from ten hours of this:

To one minute of this:

Icy concrete snap-freezing your arse while some glorious tennis centre architecture finds new and ingenious ways of realigning your spine: well, it's no warm bath and a cup of Horlicks. When the makeshift shanty town which was the Idol queue was finally roused at about 8am, we were manhandled into a rough and unruly line of standing bodies which snaked around the carpark, where we would stand, moving slowly forward, for about another two hours. Early in this set piece, the show's two hosts turned up.

I'm not as freaky in real life.


Andrew G made a beeline for me so he could spring the probing journalistic question on my sorry behind: "So, do you have a lot of luck with the ladies?" In my addled and sleep-deprived state I somehow twisted this conversation around to, firstly, commenting on the similarities in our hairstyle (though his was screaming 'practised disarray' while mine murmured something like 'just bin lyin' in a cement ditch all night'...) and ending a minute later after a discussion on his large fanbase of male devotees had him quickly becoming uncomfortable with this new investigative direction our interview was taking.

As our appointed hour approached, we were all subjected to increasingly bizarre organisational routines of crowd management - kind of like fancy card shuffling, but with no sense of logic or coordination: Everyone in this row take 10 halfsteps towards the back, then allow the Garnier Segway team to ride past, then people at the north end of the group face north, then everyone jump, then you, yes you, do the caterpillar, and I'm just going to crouch down for a bit...

Did I mention the Garnier Team? Oh yes. They turned up at about 6am (I think), a group of attractive young models struggling to master the controls of some tricked-up segways.

Plastered all over the machines were sandwich-board type things advertising Garnier, and the teams themselves were there to offer free hair and/or make-up sessions to anyone up for it. I...well, I wasn't, not even for the sake of research.

But really, the Garnier folks were just padding when it came to the product placement side of the day, since the real breakout star of the queue was Ronald McDonald himself! Now, I've never seen him in the flesh (did you know there is only one appointed Ronald in each state at any one time? I guess it's to stop them accidentally coming face to face with one another and thereby causing the universe to collapse or something) but I was impressed that he was much older than I'd expected. And I wasn't alone in remarking upon his very funky red sideburns which could have just been loose clumps of red dread (yep, up close he's a natty mon) which had slipped down cheekside, but either way he gave the impression of a Ronald who was hoping to take a sideways step into the lucrative world of Elvis impersonation. Thankyouverrmuch.

Then came the filming: with such a large gathering, the show's producers couldn't help but take the opportunity for some promo/ad/filler bits to be shot. We were bunched up next to the gates which blocked the entrance to our final destination (the conference centre) and waiting to get into the warmth, but we had about half an hour in which we were instructed to scream "Melbourne! Yay!" (sic) again and again, while Andy G and James M ran through some bored sounding dialogue ('one thing is certain: you're about to experience the unforgettable singing of Melbourne" or some rubbish - Andy and Jim couldn't even pretend to be interested in what they were saying. I thought "Melbourne!" was the wrong choice, since the couple of hundred tired and shambling bodies pressing up against the gates would seem to be a more obvious phrase like "BRAAAAINS...BRAAAAAAAAINS" but some producers lack that creative spark. We went through the routine and made it through the gates, where another few hours of waiting were laid on us.

This was a nice time; a time to sit down, grab a coffee, warm up inside the cavernous conference centre and chat with your newfound friends. This was really helpful, as inside everyone was curling up like a millipede and crying "NOOOOOO! I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS!". Maybe it was just me. But the little door at the end of the room, through which contestants were being sent ten at a time, well it kind of felt like the doors to Hell.

It took a long time for me to make it through. At one point I received a call from a photographer, who'd been organised to cover the event, and wanted my shot. Now, up to this point I'd been incognito. But when the photographer for a major daily pulls you up to sit in the front row of around 2000 people just so he can snap your mug, you kind of wonder if the cover's been blown. I did get a few odd looks from producers, and Andrew G reassessed his earlier appraisal of me, but nothing immediately untoward happened.

And then my name was called along with those of my erstwhile companions and we all filed into a little waiting room where nobody even dared to breath. We sat, avoiding eye contact, waiting for our chance to step through a pair of doors into the audition room. One by one the others were called, disappeared for a few minutes, then came out rejected. They didn't seem too disappointed; after all, of the couple of hundred who'd gone before us today, only a handful had emerged clutching the coveted pink form (like a Wonka Golden Ticket but a bit more camp). And then it was my turn in the hot seat.

The hot seat turned out to be a big yellow gaffer X on the floor of a large grey room - grey walls, floor, ceiling, and grey expressions on the two judges who sat behind a featureless desk waiting for me to sing. Didn't want to know anything about me, just what I sounded like.

And thanks to the many who offered suggestions as to my song choice. Some faves which weren't included in the last post's comments include Milkshake by Kelis or anything by Kraftwerk, but I decided to go with the one song I knew the lyrics for...George Michael's Faith. The only reason I know this song is because of a great episode of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends I saw years back, in which Louis visits the home of a family of fundamentalist Christians. While he's sitting round the living room table with them (think wood panelling, cream throw rugs, cableknit sweaters), they pull out the guitar for an old fashioned God-fearin' singalong, and ask if he knows anything he could play. He says that he only knows one song, called Faith, which obviously gets their vigorous approval. But when he begins (well I guess it would be nice, if I could touch your body, I know not everybody has got a body like you...)...well, it always gets me laughing. And so I thought I'd lay the same lyrics on the judges.

They seemed to approve, if only in a slightly shocked and bewildered way. If I remember correctly, there was a little eyebrows-raised moment, and some exchanging of glances, but they asked me for another song as well. I hadn't really banked on that, so I went for a track by Icelandic folky songstress Emiliana Torrini. They hadn't heard of her.


Should have guessed that.

And they weren't that impressed. "Very interesting interpretations, but not what we're looking for this year."

And thus ends my story. Needless to say, I will not be the next Australian Idol.


Anonymous said...

If it's any consolation, the personal humiliation and hours of torture you underwent resulted in a very entertaining few minutes of reading... isn't that what it's all about?

asher said...

oh the GLAMOUR....

dell said...


i'd like it if you were though. you mightn't, but just IMAGINE...

richardwatts said...

and ending a minute later after a discussion on his large fanbase of male devotees had him quickly becoming uncomfortable with this new investigative direction our interview was taking.

Love it!