In the latest installment of Gawker's Unspiked Files, Dan Crane auditions for NBC's hit talent contest. (The article follows after the jump.) The Unspiked Files are a repository of pieces commissioned by newspapers and magazines that never made it to the page. Earlier articles on actor Alec Baldwin and a Scientology-related suicide are listed here. If you have an article that deserves to see the light of day, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few weeks ago I was contacted by the producers of America’s Got Talent and asked to audition. My talent? Air guitar. I am a professional—one who’s competed in numerous air guitar competitions throughout the world and written a book on the subject. Justifying my obsession to friends, relatives, and late-night talk show hosts is an ongoing struggle; but when they called and offered me an appointment, how could I say no?
I enter the Javitz Convention Center holding a plastic grocery bag containing my alter ego. My Superman cape.
“America’s Got Talent auditions?” I ask a security guard. Without answering, he wraps a wristband on me and points me towards a table inside a cavernous hall. There, I am given a number to stick to my chest: 0903.
“Name?” asks a girl behind a folding table.
“Björn Türoque.” I answer with brio. “Or…it could be under Dan Crane.”
“Air guitar,” I say. She squints, looking as if she’s misheard me.
“So, you have your guitar with you?” she asks, inspecting me to find I am not holding a guitar.
“I have my air guitar with me. I play along to a CD.” I hold up said CD.
“Wait over there and we’ll call you,” she says brusquely.
I tell the girl I first need to change into my outfit. She points me towards the bathrooms at the far end of the vast convention space. Nearby, a trio of frozen-smiled preteen girls belts Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy a capella in front of a guy holding a large video camera.
I enter a men’s room stall, lock the door, and begin exhuming components from the plastic bag: star-spangled wristbands and headband, guitar-shaped necklace, custom-made spandex unitard, jockstrap and cup, leather boots. I remove the backing from the numbered sticker and place it on my lower abdomen. I am now Björn Türoque, Professional Air Guitarist. Upon exiting, I do a Fonzie-style check in the mirror. I look perfectly ridiculous.
Walking out of the bathroom I make eye contact with a janitor holding a mop.
“Lookin’ good man,” he says, raising one eyebrow. “Knock ‘em dead.”
I am told to wait in a chair outside “Room B” along the perimeter of the hall. A short middle-aged balding man wearing too-short khaki pants and a tucked oxford shirt twitters nervously next to me.
“What’s your talent?” I ask.
“Cawmedy,” he replies, in a squeaky high-pitched whine. “I’m a comedian.”
“What sort of jokes?”
“Oh, political stuff,” he offers. “You know, tawpical humah.”
Unprompted, he launches into a two-minute bit about Kissinger. It’s about as funny as the My Lai Massacre.
“That’s funny,” I tell him. He tells me his name is Gawy.
“Like Gawy Coopah,” he explains.
“Björn Türoque,” I say, shaking his hand, “perennial second-place air guitarist.” Gawy looks nonplussed. They call his number. I wish him luck.
Then a short old woman with Oreo cookie-thick glasses set in front of oddly disproportionate eyes (one wide and protruding, the other barely a slit) exits the room clutching a small notebook.
“How’d it go?” I foolishly inquire.
“Oh, it was good?” she answers. Her face is covered in strange little bumps. Her voice is reedy. Her teeth are half-rotted and covered in a pasty yellow film. I won’t even mention her outfit.
“What’s your talent?” I ask hesitantly.
“I write poetry?” she says, her emphasis rising at the end of each phrase, transposing simple statements into drawn-out questions. “This one was about, you remember that time? When we had the heat wave? And it was so hot? And you couldn’t even breeeeathe?”
She begins reading me her poem. It makes me long for Gawy’s tawpical humah.
I ask her why she wants to be on America’s Got Talent.
“I want to be famous, you know? When I’m famous, I won’t have to go to counseling every week?..”
In my four years on the international air guitar circuit, it’s the finest justification I’ve ever heard for seeking fame—and I wonder: If I make it on the show, could I finally quit therapy?
Then I look down at my silver sparkly spandex unitard held together with safety pins. Underneath, I am donning a jockstrap and cup to give myself added bulge. I am about to play an invisible guitar to “Ice Cream Man” by Van Halen. I spent hours yesterday practicing. I even injured myself, twice: once hitting myself in the nose doing an air drum solo, and the second time whacking my hand hard against my ceiling lamp in the midst of a high-velocity windmill.
I’m so never quitting therapy.
The door to Room B opens and Gawy exits, smiling awkwardly. I wave.
“0903? We’re ready for you.”
There’s a tiny boom box on a table. I hand over my CD and introduce Björn to the three-member casting jury. They hit play and I can only think: Flashdance. I strum the air and writhe around. At the end of the song, I collapse on the floor and die. It’s not my best air guitar performance by any means, but considering it’s before noon on a weekday and I am excruciatingly sober, it could’ve been worse. Afterwards they ask, “How long have you been playing air guitar?” Answer: “Competitively? Four years, though I am now retired.”
“But if you’ve retired, why are you here?” they counter.
You asked me to audition?
I think about Gawy and the Disturbing Poet Lady. I knew that if any of us made it on the show we wouldn’t win. At best, we’d be served up as comic relief between the real acts. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe we’re each like Dumbo—Disney’s mythical flying elephant: that which invokes ridicule (enormous floppy ears, speech impediment, skin disease, invisible guitar) is, in the end, what makes us special, what defines our talent.
“I want people to take air guitar seriously,” I finally answer. “I want to show America that air guitar is not merely a talent, it’s an art form.” They smile politely and thank me for auditioning. I pack up my air guitar and make my exit.
I’m still waiting for word from the producers, but I suspect my chances are pretty good.