I’d be able to fund a new record if I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked this question after one of my shows “Have you thought about going on…" insert name of the most popular TV talent show at the time? American Idol, The Launch, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and the list goes on from there.
I usually just respond with something like “Awe thank you! I’m so flattered that you think I’ve got what it takes to compete on..." (again, insert the name of the show) and that’s typically where I leave the conversation. I don’t go into my long-winded explanation of why I don’t try out for those shows.
But the truth is, early on in my career I did think about trying out for one of those shows, in fact, I did and I figured I’d share that experience with you today and some of my biggest takeaways from my brush with reality TV.
You can hear the entire episode here:
It was February 20th, 2008 and my sister and I had just boarded a train bound for Portland Oregon. Just a few weeks before I was sitting in my living room in front of a camera stacked atop a chair and several books serving as a make-shift tripod recording my audition video, nervously obsessing over the long list of rules that I had been directed to follow by the Hollywood casting agency.
It had been about 3 years since I’d vocalized to the world that I wanted to make music more than just a hobby. I hadn’t started my band yet, but I had just bought my first guitar and I was learning to play it. Up to that point, I had been getting out to perform any way that I could which began with me participating in Karaoke type contests at local fairs. I cringe thinking about some of those early performances, but they actually served as a great training ground and helped me to overcome a lot of the fear I had around performing.
I mean if you’ve ever stood on stage by yourself at a state fair singing along with a backing track, while folks ate corn dogs and critiqued your performance then you know what I mean. It gets awkward up there during those 12 bar instrumental solos and you gotta learn how to hold everyone’s attention without looking like a nervous wreck. That’s a skill I was glad I developed before I hit the barroom circuit with my band (but we’ll talk more about that in a future episode)
But I was ready to up-level my efforts and when I heard about a casting call happening one state over I decided it was worth a shot. So I made my submission video, signed my life away in the form of an application as big as the Bible, bought a train ticket and I was on my way to try and be the next Nashville Star!
I was given a list of approved cover songs and tasked to choose one song for my audition. I'd have the chance to sing 30 seconds of the approved cover song in front of the judges. Yep, 30 seconds. I remember sitting on the train over analyzing my song choice. Had I made the right choice, should I change it up? The list included songs like Achy Breaky Heart, Independence Day, and Crazy. But I decided I’d stick with my original song selection. I tucked the list away in my bag and tried to take my mind off what I was about to go do.
When our Train arrived in Portland, my sister and I checked into our hotel, went to grab a bite to eat and then settled in for the night because we had to get to the Rose Quarter Coliseum early the next morning to get in line for the audition. My alarm went off at 6:00 AM the next morning, I got dressed, did some vocal warm-ups and we were out the door.
We got to the Coliseum, took our place in line and we stood outside for over 6 hours with a huge crowd of Nashville Star hopefuls waiting for a chance to shine. Thankfully my sister, always the planner had a backpack full of snacks to keep us fueled for the wait, but keep in mind that it was February in the PNW and it was cold out. So 6 hours felt like several days.
There was a palpable mix of nerves and excitement in the air, but I had this overwhelming feeling that I didn’t belong. I didn’t look like any of the other girls in line and all of the sudden I was really aware that I wasn’t wearing the uniform of daisy dukes and cowboy boots under a down jacket.
And I’m not trying to take shots at anyone here, but I just felt a bit like Olive in that scene from the movie Little Miss Sunshine when she was getting ready backstage at the beauty pageant and she looks wildly out of place. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and you’ve never seen that movie, do yourself a favor and watch it!
But I did my best to get out of my own head and to just have fun. I tried to start conversations with the folks around me but my efforts weren’t met with the warmest welcome. I recognize that it was a contest, but couldn’t we at least connect over the shared experience we were having? Apparently not. And I can only speak to my own experience here, but and I hated that cutthroat it felt.
When the Coliseum doors finally opened we were met by a blast of warm air as we shuffled inside slowly in what felt like a cattle drive. I was assigned my number, we were redirected to our next holding space, a collection of tables where contestants would congregate and anxiously wait for their group number to be called. I was contestant 0964 and I was ready for my 30 seconds.
Our audition process was different than what you’d typically see on TV. It wasn’t just you and the judges. We were brought into an audition room in groups of about 30 at a time and then Von Trapp family style a line of 5 of us would be asked to step forward. One by one, we’d go down the line stepping forward, given just enough time to say your name and the song you’d be singing. Then you’d sing your 30 second approved cover and step back into line.
So you weren’t just auditioning in front of the judges and the cameras, you were also auditioning in front of 30 other contestants. Talk about nerve-wracking. But when my number was called I stepped forward and introduced myself, and announced that I would be singing Boot Scootin’ Boogie. I chose that song because as a female artist I didn’t wanna leave any room for it to sound like I was just trying to impersonate Martina or Patsy. I wanted to sound like me, even though at that point I didn’t have the slightest clue what my sound was, but I knew in choosing that tune that there was no way I was gonna sound like Brooks and Dunn. And y’all, I sang the crap out of all 30 seconds of that song.
The next group of contestants stepped forward to claim their 30 seconds and when it was all said and done the producers called 2 numbers from the group and gave the rest of us a “thank you, please move on.” If you didn’t catch that, I wasn’t one of the two. But I was damn proud because I was the only girl in that room that chose a song by a male artist, and I felt like I had taken a chance. I had done what I came to do and I never felt the need to chase my dream down that road again.
So these were my 3 biggest takeaways from that experience:
1.) Be curious and don’t be afraid to try something that's way outside of your comfort zone - you learn a lot about yourself in the process and clarity follows the action.
2.) Never sign a massive contract without consulting an attorney - y’all I dodged a major bullet there because I literally had no Idea what rights I was signing away. Ridiculous!
3.) Reality TV is far from Reality - We’ve all heard it before, but it’s true. What makes for good TV doesn’t require an accurate depiction of reality. And I’m not knocking the folks who have done these contests or the folks who continue to do them. It takes a tremendous amount of work to go the distance on one of those shows and I respect anyone who shows up and is willing to put themselves out there. And again, I can only speak to the experience I had. If you audition for a reality TV show yourself, your experience will be completely unique to you and you may love it. It just wasn’t for me.
But I’ve never once regretted that audition. In fact, I’ve given thanks for it again and again throughout my career. I’m so glad they didn’t call my number that day because I wasn’t ready for what would have followed. I didn’t know who I was as an artist yet and I hadn’t gotten clear on what I really wanted.I think as an artist there are so many different avenues to explore to get yourself and your music out there. There’s not just one perfect path to success and even the definition of success is different for everyone.
It’s like being a chef building out a recipe. There are some basic ingredients and tools you’ll need, but you also need to be curious and willing to try some things in the kitchen to see what works. And then you just keep refining until you find the winning combination. I’m glad that I eliminated the reality TV show route as part of my recipe so early on because it freed me up to focus my energy and efforts elsewhere.
So there you have it, now you know the answer to the million dollar question I opened with. I’d be curious to hear what you think about the world of reality TV talent competitions if you want to weigh in on the subject. Or if you’ve had your own experience auditioning I’d love to hear about it!
Thanks for Reading and I'll see you at the Opry!
Want me to bring the show right to you? Sign up for the backstage pass and join the hundreds of others who hang out for the backstage party with me! It's free to join and as a backstage pass holder you'll get access to exclusive content I don't share anywhere else.