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Your head spins, there’s darkness everywhere. You can feel the heat of ten thousand eyes just behind the curtain, and your heart pounds to the beat of the song in your head. Kneading your anxious hands together, you stare sharply into the void of backstage, waiting to illuminate some hidden courage. 

Suddenly, a producer calls you out of your self-imposed black hole. 

“Good! Now, pace back and forth, take a few deep breaths.” You do as he says. “Turn toward the camera, good. All right, let’s go again.” 

When I auditioned for The Singer, I had to enact the role of ‘nervous performer’ for approximately nine hours before even setting foot backstage. While I waited my turn, the sweat mixed like watercolors into my 720-Beige skin and studio lights took the place of the sun. I had no idea what time of day it was, so I systematically did lunges to stay energized, and because it was freezing in there. Rumor was they do it to keep you awake; others say it’s to preserve the dry shampoo in your hair. Both seem fair. 

“Can we get #84 in touch-ups please? Thank you.” Glam was my favorite part. I never had the same artist twice, and they were never as nervous as I was. It was if they symbolized my faraway excitement, some creative version of myself that was composed and ready for anything; not the plastic, anxiety-ridden woman in the wings. 

I woke up the morning of my audition feeling relaxed and positive. My suitcase stood packed at the foot of my bed and my six lucky rings waited for me on the desk. Production took my lucky boots, but I was so ready I could walk out onto that stage barefoot. 

In the shuttle over, I hardly said a word to anyone. While the other contestants poked and prodded at one another to relieve their own buzz, I sat quietly eating my apple, careful not to expend my energy. I was convinced that if I spoke, every ounce of magic and talent would fly off my tongue with whatever frivolous sentence I had chosen. I instead pretended like they didn’t exist, but that took more energy than I thought. 

Arriving on set was like hitting the bottom of a long, slow fall on a rollercoaster. You’re filled with relief, served by the very thing that gave you such a thrill. I hurriedly stepped out and up the ramp into Bungalow 3 where my persona - I mean my outfit - awaited me. 

Within moments I was halted by the hand of a woman who then shouted both at and above me, “Nice to see you, welcome, welcome. Place your bags to the left of the hallway, please, and have a seat. Your name will be called.” 

Every name that started with the letter “A” had me on edge. I wasn’t called for about an hour, so I managed one conversation with a fellow singer. His chances were good, he assumed, because he had a large, exuberant family from a small town. He smiled big. He didn’t conserve his energy. 

Once I was dressed, I felt as if I now had a very expensive, suede bodyguard shielding me from others coming within damage range. 

“Let me see your profile.” The seamstress held up a camera inches away from my cheek. “Good, switch. Good, rings. Nope, wrong finger. This one goes on...let me see...left index. Mmm. Good.” Snap. Snap. Snap. 

We were cattled to another bungalow where an artist painted my eyelids and powdered my chest. I munched on an energy bar as she told me about her daughter and how she, too, dreamt of becoming a singer. 

 Cautiously walking back to my holding cell, I thought of little me holding a flashlight, performing to the thousands of screaming fans in my living room. You don’t consider the backstage when you’re that young. You just sort of appear up there without any thought of the preamble. 

There was this melodic boom echoing out of the audition arena. After several hours of watching friends get plucked for their turn, I was finally called by a PA. He escorted me to the back of the studio while gossiping into his walkie-talkie. We arrived at a small, black box where a man sat behind a curtain and two men veiled their faces with enormous cameras. 

“Here’s #84.” The PA nodded me in and gently grinned. 

“Ari Tibi,” A voice said. “How are you feeling?” 

“Hi! Really exc-” 

“Go ahead and step up to the tape, just there. Good.” It said. “So how are you?” 

“I’m good! Very excited to be here, feeling ready.” I crossed my hands behind my back and clicked my boots together. All that preparation began to take place in my body like muscle memory. 

“Wonderful. We just want to ask you a few questions. Answer them straight into the camera, and repeat the question back in your answer. Can you do that for me?”

“I sure can.”

“Good.” After stating my artist byline, they asked me if I felt jealous of my father, who grew up overseas while I had been raised in a city. I was so taken aback by the question, I answered almost defensively. 

“So, tell us how folk music became a part of your life.” This time my shoulders relaxed. Intellectual assuredness flooded my mind as I soaked up the darkness in the room. I felt like myself again. My passion was my only reality. 

“Thank you so much Ari, they’ll take you back now.” The voice sounded pleased. “Good luck out there.” 

It felt like weeks before I was shuttled to the real backstage. My throat grew dry from four more lengthy interviews and my hair felt flat. Already teased into a beehive, I convinced the beauty team to give it another toss and spray. That should bring my stature back. 

They asked me to pace again when I landed inside the booming arena. Each camera man played me like I was a chess pawn, twirling between lenses before pitching me to another crew. When they finally let go of me, I was spun into a tiny telephone booth to do my warm ups. I was next. 

My vocal coach entered the booth and her bright eyes held mine, sending a (non-fluorescent) light back inside. She taught me her pre-performance prayers and reminded me what I came there to get. As I walked toward those giant doors I felt like a lioness. They handed me my microphone. I looked down at it. It was heavy, real. Nothing like the one I had seen in my mind. 

A producer approached me and I almost flinched as if she was going to take me away again. She didn’t. This time she said, “Don’t forget to mention your father’s journey to America. Now three, two, one…” 

I took a deep breath as she whispered, “Go.”

July 18, 2020 01:32

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2 comments

John Rutherford
16:02 Feb 05, 2024

Interesting. You seem to know the business. Your writing has a unique style and colour.

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Saul Peeters
04:21 Jul 31, 2020

It's nice how you used yourself as the character, made me feel closer to the story. I've never been backstage at one of these things, so for me a little more explanation what you were doing in the bungalow would've helped. Great job!

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