Did I botch the casting call? Is my 16-page application lining Mark Burnett’s bird cage? Is my piddling number of video votes causing late night laughter among production staffers? These twenty-somethings, incidentally, are way too young and thin to be making weighty decisions, such as who gets to be on TV.
I submitted my three-minute video online—as did thousands of others around the country–with hopes of winning a spot on Oprah Winfrey’s new reality program, Your Own Show. Ten contestants will compete to host their own television show on Oprah’s new network, OWN.
To increase my chances, I also auditioned in person in Laguna Niguel , California. By 6 am, the line topped 1000;. It looked like a string of hungry ants marching toward a single breadcrumb.
A bouncy female applicant with a two foot billboard of Oprah on her head told me she was channeling the star. She said that she stalked Perez Hilton for two years before landing a job with him. “Hire me. I’m broke,” was the line that finally dazzled him into submission.
I had no signage, no aptitude for channeling, and no patience for stalking. I would have to work “in a suit” as they say; in other words, “without props.” I stood with 11 other hopefuls in front of casting director Scott Salyers and pitched my ideas in my usual Italian way, hands flying around like a traffic cop on speed. I am only one quarter Italian. If I were 100%, I probably would have propelled my competitors all the way to San Diego.
My proposed show was centered on news and current events, but my real strength was my interesting life, from my traumatic childhood and fight against racism to my long line of intriguing occupations. I have been a private detective, cab driver, aerobics instructor, Los Angeles Commissioner, FBI lecturer, backup singer for an Elvis imitator, and author of a popular book on how to crash the Academy Awards or interview the President. I also have extensive experience as a television commentator. Coincidentally, my first TV appearance was on Oprah’s show in the late 1980’s.
Casting director Scott was as hard to read as a calculus textbook. I left unsure whether my pitch had hit the right note with him.
But later that day I received word that I been chosen for a callback. An email followed, instructing me to come to a certain address, to enter the back door only, and to speak to no one. The cryptic message could have doubled as a ransom note or CIA communiqué.
I tiptoed into the audition warehouse where I encountered a college-age kid who asked my name. I ignored him. This must be a test, I thought, and I will not succumb.
“Excuse me. What’s your name?’ he asked a second time, and then a third.
Finally, I whispered, “I’m not supposed to talk to anyone.”
He whispered back, “It’s ok. You can talk to me. I work here. I have to check you in.”
Other applicants, seated nearby, chuckled at my blunder. I had already gotten off on the wrong foot. Speaking of feet, I had mistakenly worn my cheap shoes, and a nail from the sole was beginning to pierce my right heel. They may say Payless now, but it’s pay later when you’re at a make-it-or-break-it audition and your foot gets skewered.
I gave my name to the college boy and hobbled to my seat. There were two interviewers: a female and a male, both in their 20’s. The female spent lots of time with applicants, but the male–a no-nonsense dude named Dave–whisked people in and out as if he were a contestant on Minute to Win It. I was matched with Dave, which meant I needed to be in turbo mode.
Dave led me to a chairless room with a camera and announced. “I love to stand, even when I don’t have to. Donald Rumsfeld is the same way. I’m just like him.”
Rumsfeld’s name has been connected with torture. Guantanamo Bay interrogators often induced stress on prisoners by forcing them to remain standing in the same position for hours. Rumsfeld would shrug it off with an attitude of “Heck, no big deal. I stand 8 to 10 hours a day.”
Dave was my Rummy, and the room was my very own Guantanamo Bay. The good news was that I would be out of the joint before my foot could turn blue and fall off. The bad news was I had a minute to win it.
The on-camera interview got off to a rocky start when I was asked to state my age two times. Trust me, it’s an age I wouldn’t want to reveal once, let alone twice. All in all, it was a typical Hollywood audition. I assume I said all the wrong things and forgot to say all the right things. I was told I would hear in two weeks.
If a skinny college kid doesn’t call with good news, then I am a reality show reject. And frankly, I’ll blame the whole thing on the shoes.
Update: I was rejected.
Published in The Simon magazine on June 29, 2010 and in Westside Today on June 26, 2010.