Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Voice = The Lie

Disclaimer: There will be some bitching in this post. As a person who is consciously making the choice to subscribe to the mentality that life is what I make of it (as best I can), I do however recognize that there are injustices in the world that cannot and should not be ignored. Only when people speak out and draw attention to them can things begin to change for the better. This is going to be one such blog. 

Now that I've said all that, you're probably expecting me to get on my soapbox about marriage equality, child abuse or the separation of church and state. Not this time. This is all about my OTHER peeve...the lifelong one that never changes or goes away no matter how my opinions, politics, general outlook on life or the be-all-end-all numbers may change. 

And here it is: how our society allows the complete dismissal - and often flat out abuse - of fat people. Guess what? THAT'S ME.

Today I auditioned for NBC's new smash hit talent competition, "The Voice." For the second season in a row. I did not get a call back last season and once again, I didn't get one this season. Now, if you're new here, before you assume my nose is out of joint because I'm delusional about my talent level as so many are, a) listen to my vocal reel, b) understand that I am a professional vocalist and vocal coach for a living and c) I've been on lots of auditions with no call back and rarely let it affect me -- I realize that I don't have the big picture and don't know what they're looking for...big deal. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm untalented or not good enough. So on to the next.

However, I take exception to this particular audition for the same reason as I did last season's...because it's a complete fraud.

Before I explain why, in the interest of fairness and because there is always something to be grateful for, let me first wax poetic on the GOOD things about today's audition:

1) I had to be there so early (7am - who sings before noon???) that traffic wasn't bad getting there or back at all. Zip, zip, zip. Thumbs up there!

2). It was at the L.A. Forum, where there is a huge parking lot, and they didn't charge anyone (usually $25 - yikes!). I got a very convenient space so I didn't have to walk far, either.

3) It was nice and cool and still foggy at that hour, so even though we were corralled in the parking lot, we weren't suffering under the blazing sun. And we were only out there about an hour and half, which for a process like this is a MIRACLE.

4) The whole thing was extremely organized. Everyone on staff knew what he/she was doing and we were herded and sectioned off with purpose and efficiency.

5) Everyone on staff - and I mean everyone, including the producer I sang for - was respectful, encouraging and cheerful. And they'd all been there since 5am and L.A. is the last city on the audition tour. So they could've been uber-hateful if they chose to be.

6) I was in my car and on my way home by 11:30am. X-Factor could certainly take a lesson on how to run a cattle call audition from The Voice. Four and a half hours for something like this is UNHEARD OF. Huge kudos to whoever designed the process for having their crap together.

7) I met some really nice people, including a woman who, as it turns out, is a mutual friend of one of my good friends. I always love when that happens!

So why do I feel duped?

This is a show that -- unlike any other talent competition show on television -- claims to be about THE. VOICE. Real talent. People who can actually sing. No, no, no...rather, SAAAANG. From day one American Idol has never claimed to be about finding the best talent. It's original title was "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar." Not "The Search for an Amazing Talent." They've always said, "Vote for your favorite," not "vote for the person you think sang the best." X-Factor is looking for "that indescribable thing" that Madonna, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift have...which is to say, certainly not their voices. But The Voice is all, "We want SERIOUS artists! No chicken suits! We want the best singers ever! AND we won't base it on your looks cuz the auditions are BLIND!!!" So I auditioned last season thinking that this was the ONE show I had an actual shot at. Last season as well, a good five or six of my friends who auditioned, phenomenal vocalists all, also didn't get call backs. I was stunned at who they turned down that could sing circles around ME!

This season, I auditioned out of pressure from well-meaning friends who believe in my talent (thanks friends, I love you for that!). In the group of ten I was auditioning with, no one outsang me. Not even close. My fellow contestants even gave me "oooohs" and "aaaaaahs" while I was singing and applause when I was done. Then this girl with a model's figure and a really perilous bleach job who looks eerily like Zooey Deschanel (but prettier) gets up, sings this wussy Colbie Callait song about kings or something, does some hand claps and hip-shaking and is magically asked to sing another song. Her voice is solid, but not a stunner and not even unique. It's a dime-a-dozen voice. This is proven further when she sings Leann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" and screams out the word "dance" with absolutely no nuance whatsoever. 

When we're all finished singing, Zooey is asked by the producer to keep her cell phone on all day, while the rest of us are told, "The bar has been set really high this year, I heard some strong voices today but no one else is getting a call back. Thank you for coming." (At least he didn't say what last season's producer said to me: "Thank you, you can leave by the same door you came in.")

Uh...what? If Zooey's the high bar...then what was I? Or the three other people in the room who also sang much better than her and performed just as well...? 

Oh...did I also mention Zooey's 24 and I'm...not?

I used to be a person who blamed every non-success I ever had (and there are many) on my weight and my age. I realize this blog may sound much like that, but I honestly no longer believe in in that crap. I think there is an audience for everyone with talent, all looks, shapes, sizes and ages. I refuse to subscribe any longer to the Hollywood mentality that I cannot work in this town because of these "isms". I want to make this very clear. I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE (SUB)STANDARD IN THIS TOWN. And since I changed this viewpoint in my life, things have been going pretty swimmingly, I must say.

But...what other explanation can there possibly be, when I blew the doors off that room -- for a second time -- to not have gotten even a call back? I'm not asking to win the whole dang thing, I'm simply thinking I am good enough to deserve a second shot! But I am not a stupid woman. I can see the look in a casting director or producer's eyes when I stand in front of them for the first time. That look I've been getting all my life...the disapproval, sometimes flat out disgust. I see their eyes gloss over and shut me out when they ask how old I am and I tell them (and why are they asking for a contest with supposedly no age limit anyway?). I usually try and be funny about it and say "Older than Britney but younger than Madonna!" Sometimes it gets a chuckle, sometimes it doesn't. I've also seen these looks on the faces in an audience from people who've never heard me sing before...but these looks dissipate as soon as the song begins. I always win them over once I sing.

Unless you're producing a televised singing competition show. Then apparently I couldn't get your attention if I ran around your little audition table in all my nekkid juiciferous splendor.

Yep, I probably sound conceited as hell. I don't care. I have allowed my insecurities to rule my life for a long time until the last couple years, but one thing I've never doubted is my talent. I know my worth as a vocalist and I know how good I am. And this simply makes no sense unless I was judged based on what I looked like. And I'm really, really weary of that. I'm really weary of our society continuing to allow this to happen. From the minute we come into this world we are bombarded with images of what women are supposed to look like, our magazines are full of "get thin fast" crap, our First Lady is waging a war with all the focus on childhood obesity instead of placing focus on improving school lunches (which basically sounds like this to a kid: "You're fat and are therefore so worthless that even the President's wife hates you"), the first thing out of every doctor's mouth when someone like me has so much as a sniffle is, "Well, if you'd lose some weight...", clothing options are hideous (don't get me started there), in tv and film Hollywood ridicules overweight people constantly (it's the only group of people left that is ok to bully and humiliate with no repercussions, apparently), airlines have created discriminatory policies focused specifically on humiliating fat people (and get away with it) and running the whole shebang is a diet industry raping us of billions of dollars annually with their lies, unsupported "studies", unhealthy weight loss options and general panic and fear that has seeped into the deepest fabric of our society, including our health insurance industry. Our children, particularly the females, are taught practically from birth that what they look like is all that matters and if they're not a "normal size" (what IS that, anyway?) they are unworthy of enjoying or participating in their lives, are deserving of cruelty and rejection and ought to feel ashamed of thinking they deserve to be treated otherwise. So in short, I was taught to hate myself from nearly the minute I was born by my own damned country. Long before my family ever started in!

Can you imagine what that feels like, being barraged by messages of rejection, hatred and unworthiness every day of your life from your earliest memory?

I bet some of you sure can.

"The Voice" touts itself as a true talent search, makes the average home-viewing American believe that everyone who gets up to sing has never been seen by a single pair of eyes before and this is the ultimate in vocal talent they could find in the country. Bullshizzlefrickasee! I'm perfectly aware that reality tv is the furthest thing from it, but this particular show is the biggest, fattest, fakest lie of them all (*cough* Mark Burnett *cough*). And I can't take it anymore. This rejection and hatred for fat people (particularly those of use over 30) is an injustice in our society and my industry just as much as racism, gay bashing, abuse, animal cruelty, etc. It's GOT to stop. 

I don't care if my weight makes you feel uncomfortable. This isn't about you and what you want. This is about me, my life and what I want. And I want to share my talents with people, because that is what my Maker has called me to do. You don't get to choose for me. You don't get to decide whether I'm allowed to live my dreams or not. So get over yourself, get out of His way and get out of mine. 

Yeah NBC...I'm talkin' to you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Go On" Music Video Final Shoot

"Stand up and walk out of your history."   ~Phil McGraw

Yup. Dr. Phil. One of my other favorite pearls of his wisdom is "If insight were lard, I couldn't barely grease a skillet with you." However, that is not the sentiment we are focusing on in this blog.

After two years...yes, TWO YEARS...my very first music video is finally "in the can", as the kids say in Hollyweird. We are at long last done shooting all our scenes and now all that's left to be done is editing (I say that as if it's a simple, overnight process -- au contraire, this is where the REAL work begins for Director Chris, like he hasn't done enough already).


You've waited two years, you can wait a few weeks more! I was hoping for a 9/11 release since the song was inspired by a visit to Ground Zero in 2006, but I think we'd find Director Chris in a dark corner of his office in fetal position and drooling all over himself if we pushed that too hard, so it's unlikely. It's ultimately up to him...and this video will release exactly when the Universe thinks it's supposed to and not one minute sooner. Plus, I want to have time to do some proper promotion and press and plan a premier party. But...you can truly believe me when I say, SOON!!!

That said, this last week was SUCH an amazing learning experience for me. I (perhaps foolishly) volunteered to handle the extras casting submissions for our final scene, as Director Chris and Producer Jacole had enough on their plates. Keep in mind I've never cast a thing in my lifetime and now I'm suddenly going to find 100 extras for our final scenes. Woah, Seabiscuit! The good news was this: I was shocked -- literally shocked -- at how professional most peoples' submissions and responses were. We used L.A. Casting, Actors Access and Craigslist, putting out a call for people to drive all the way to an unfamiliar park in Pasadena by 7:30am on a Sunday morning and tramp around in the grass and hot sun till at least 1pm - UNPAID. In the end we had somewhere around 90 confirmations and I'm making a guesstimate that somewhere around 60ish actually showed up. I consider this miraculous because coming from the experience that at least 85% of people who book a first time voice lesson with me never actually show up, this ratio is STUNNING. All that said though, as stressful and time consuming as handling the extras' submissions was, I didn't hate it and I think I could probably be kind of good at it...and maybe I'll go get me an internship at a casting office or something just for fun and to learn more. It can only be helpful as a re-blossoming actor.

But I digress. Naturally, as is the nature of this particular business where there are soooooooo many details that all have to fall into place perfectly for it to work, we had an 11th hour crisis - and unfortunately it never got resolved. One of our principal actors had car trouble and couldn't make it from Venice out to Pasadena. We tried everything short of hiring her a cab (because we spent every single penny we had in the budget renting the location, covering permits, etc.) and of course, no one else in our scene lived anywhere near Venice so we couldn't arrange a pick up on the way. So sadly, she is not making an appearance in our final scene. Because I'm a little bit dark and twisty in my humor, I've re-written her storyline from "abused wife who leaves her husband and 'Goes On'" to "abused wife who TRIED to leave her husband but he caught up with her as she was leaving and gave her the Tony Soprano treatment."

What? Oh shut up, you're going to hell for something, too.

Another fun thing that happened was that a friend of mine showed up to the shoot as promised late, filmed one shot and took off because she'd been dealing with some serious transitions in her life over the last month and listening to the song over and over again caused her to meltdown. Niiiiiiiiice, huh? THAT'S how you want your music to effect people, right? LOL. She's ok and we talked about it (cuz diva was a lil miffed), but I will always be able to say that I gave someone a nervous breakdown with my music. Not everyone can say that, can they? Take THAT, Gaga!!!

But those were the worst two things that happened all day long so honestly it could NOT have gone better. Almost everyone was on time (or even early!), they brought lawn chairs and books to read, they were quiet, respectful of each other and the crew, it was a very diverse crowd of all colors, looks and ages (which was HUGELY important to me - we even had a gorgeous drag queen, a dude with a Mohawk and a St. Bernard in the mix!) and when it started getting a little bit too hot around 11:30am or so...no one, including the little children, complained. I was so impressed...I'm still blown away by how great people were! Some of them (particularly the teens and tweens) also kind of looked at me like I was this otherworldly being, the "ARTISTE" I guess, and that was both fascinating and weird, because I've never experienced that before. It probably had something to do with my friend and amazing makeup artist Martin Christopher rushing up between every shot to blot, powder, pin and fluff...I'm sure it looked ludicrously "important." LOL. But I can only say THANK GOD for him, as I'd have wilted in an hour if he hadn't been there! Best money I ever spent. Trust (as he'd say).

The best part though, was when someone would come up to me and thank me for the song, tell me how much it meant to them and tell me their story of triumphing over hardships (and later, other crew members shared what some said to them). A couple actually teared up talking about how the song moved them. It just rocked my world. I think any songwriter can attest that when you live with a song for so long you can start to take for granted how it made you feel to write it and what it meant to you at the time...it becomes just another piece in your catalog. So when a significant number of people ages later express what it means to them, it's really very humbling to think that something you did or created can effect someone else's heart so significantly. Of course, that's why we do what we do (if we're not the fame whore type, anyway -- not judging necessarily, just saying) but I can't imagine that I'm the only songwriter that's a little taken aback when the effort succeeds as planned. People standing up and walking out of their histories, encouraged to do so perhaps in part because of a little song I wrote. Praisaluiah!

[I would be remiss if I didn't stop a second to note my thanks to my co-writer on this song, Levi Kreis, without whom I'd not have made the trip to New York and visited Ground Zero in August of 2006 in the first place and without whom the song would not have been finished later.] 

We actually wrapped on time (15 minutes early, I do believe -- in your face, Spielberg!), loaded up the cars, I went home for a few to change, then went to meet up with Director Chris, Producer Jacole, Assistant to the Producer Jamie (Jacole's sis), Assistant to the Director Marie (Chris' lady), awesome crew members Kelli (aka "iPod"), KarenCandy, principle actors Kelly and the Colbert Twins (and their daddy) and some friends of ours down from the Berkeley area visiting for the weekend, RobertLisa and their gorgeous little baby Raina, to chill and toast our long-awaited wrap. We were loopy as hell (as call time for some was as early as 6am and DC, PJ, A2DM and I were up late and early all week prior) and the champagne probably didn't help matters, but we were giddy with ourselves for being a totally indie production and taking on a real, full-blown music video and actually succeeding! Dream big, get bigness in return!

It was a beautiful, amazing, joyful, SUNNY (!!!), healing, fun, fulfilling day. And I have the farmer burn and scratched up feet (from going barefoot) to prove it! And I'd do it all again! Well...in awhile. A long while. And I'm pretty sure we'll story board the next one to include a nice, air-conditioned studio. Juuuuuust sayin!

Love to every last one of you who backed our fundraising campaign on Kickstarter...without you this weekend would never have happened. We cannot ever express our thanks enough without sounding like complete, gushing teenagers. We love you.

Thank you to Tacey (sp?) at the City of Pasadena Parks and Recreation, Lance at FilmIns.com, our park monitor guy whose name I forgot and the residents who live on Orange Grove and Sunnyslope in Pasadena (except the one that reported us to Parks and Rec the next day for being too loud, even though you had written notification from P&R that we'd be there -- you're a big poopypants poopyhead and I'm totally gonna sic Amy Poehler on you - loveyoumeanitnamaste!). 

More love to my personal friends who showed up to be in or work on this scene as crew at the butt crack of dawn on a sacred Sunday morning simply because I asked you to. I'm so blessed to have you all in my life:

Kelly Goodman (principal)
Greg Weaver (principal)
Candice & Seamus Colbert
Kelli Bowlden
Karen Brundage
Dawn Merkel
Chris Trott
Andy Allen
Rodney Petreikis
Paul Marich 
Romulo Mota
Marena Atallah
Marla Douglas
Richard Gadas
Robert Long
Scott Patrick
Susan Thatcher
Miss Poppy Fields
Dr. Mike Wooten
(I hope I didn't forget any of you!)

And of course, everyone who showed up at Gwinn Park in Pasadena by 7:30am (a final list of names I do not yet have) to hang around with a grassroots production team and indie artist in the hot sun for almost six hours in exchange for egg salad sandwiches, donuts, Starbucks and sunburns. You were stone cold pros and we thank you from the bottoms of our hearts!

Most importantly -- Chris, Jacole, Marie and iPod...in it knee deep from day one, I'd give you my fallopian tubes and my last egg if they weren't all shriveled and useless. The most love, evereverever.

Stay tuned, Darciples! Big things a-happenin'!!!