Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 272: Oprah! Pick Me! I'm a Party!

Day 272's thing I've never done before was to audition for my own show on the Oprah network.

I put myself to bed early on Day 271 so that I could wake up early on Day 272 and drive north of Atlanta to Roswell, Georgia where the auditions were taking place in the parking lot of Kohl's discount store.

According to Oprah's website, which I had consulted many times in the days leading up to Day 272, her staff would begin handing out wristbands at 7am and would stop handing them out at 12pm. The application needed to be filled out completely before auditioning. Any hopes of speaking to the media giant herself were quashed, as the site made it abundantly clear that OPRAH WILL NOT BE IN ATTENDANCE AT THE ATLANTA AUDITIONS. If there was specific detail about exactly what the audition would entail, I forgot to read it; I simply showed up with my application and hoped for the best.

I was not surprised to show up to find hundreds of people in the parking lot, all hoping to become the star of their own show. Some were dressed to the nines, others were more casual like me. The whole scene was circus-like: there were members of the local media on hand, folks hugging and greeting each other, and people selling bottled waters out of coolers helping contestants to beat the heat. It was 7:30am. It was weird.

Once out of my car and in the mix, though, that despite drawing was surprised to find that despite the mass quantities of people, the entire operation was extremely organized. The amount of people who had come out to audition was intimidating and gave the impression of complete chaos and disorganization.

Leave it to Oprah, the most successful woman in television to bring a sense of calm, and class to the audition process. None of this American-Idol-sleep-out-on-the-sidewalk-for-days-in-advance bullshit. Nope, Oprah's approach was far more civilized. Come, in an orderly fashion to retrieve a wrist band, and then come back at the your scheduled time. Don't waste your whole day out here.

While waiting in line, I met a middle-aged attractive woman and her husband who had driven up from Destin, Florida. She was clutching her audition material in one hand, and a microphone in the other; her husband was holding amateur video equipment. She told me that she has a blog, inspiring women to embrace getting older and live life to the fullest. She excused herself for a minute, turning briefly into a television reporter while her husband filmed her showing her blog audience the parking lot full of Oprah show hopefuls.

When she was done taping her little bit, we continued our conversation. I told her that I also had a blog and explained its premise. My show idea was an extension of my blog, encouraging regular people, just like me, to step outside their comfort zone and try new things.

Side note: if you told me a year ago that I'd be discussing blogs with complete strangers in the parking lot of Kohl's in Roswell, Georgia, I would've said you were crazy, but alas, there I was.

Complete stranger blogger friend said she loved the idea of Project 29 to 30 and asked if she could interview me for her blog. Duh, I told her, of course you can. So she asked me questions about my show idea while her husband taped it.

When I made it to the head of the line, I received a wrist band for and was told to come back at 5pm. That time would've been perfect, if I had nothing to do for the rest of the day. But my friend Melissa's wedding was scheduled to start at 6:30pm in the city, so even if this audition took just an hour, and I suspected it would last longer, there was no way I would be able to make it back in time. I considered asking if I could change my time with someone else, but when I looked at the wrist band, I noticed there wasn't a specific time listed on it.

So I went home and slept for several hours, woke up and got a pedicure, watched a little bit of the World Cup game. Then I packed all of my things for the wedding, and headed back to Roswell.

I parked my car and walked towards a large tent where lanes were roped off. Like a bouncer, a staff member checked my wrist band and checked to see that I had my application in hand before instructing me to stand in one of the lanes. As I walked forward in the lane, I could see ahead of me eight or ten tents with other contestants sitting in a semi-circle around a table. Behind the table was an Oprah staffer. Everyone seemed very laid back and relaxed; there was even laughter coming from the tents. I breathed a sigh of relief.

While in line, I met a woman named Carrie who had driven from from Chicago. She is a social worker who works with at-risk youth helping to prevent teenage pregnancy. She told me her show would draw from the real-life cases she deals with to focus on teen issues, and helping young people reach their full potential.

She was spunky, and had a great smile, and we chatted until the Oprah staff said it was now our turn to go. In each lane, they counted 20-25 people off and sent them to take a seat under one of the tents. The seats were in a semi-circle around a desk with a chair behind it. On the desk were stacks of applications. Judging by the stacks, these casting agents had already had quite a busy day.
After we were seated, a young, skinny guy sauntered over to the tent; he loudly and gruffly introduced himself to everyone.

"I'm Billy. I'm 26. I live in Los Angeles and I work in casting. We're going to go around in a circle. Tell us your name. Your age. Your show idea. We don't have a lot of time, so keep it brief. If you're taking too long, I'll tell you to wrap it up so we can move on."

And then he collapsed into a chair behind the table, leaned back and pointed at the woman directly to his left.
"You're up," he said to her. The woman

"Wait, wait," he stopped himself. "One more thing. Keep in mind that I'm the one making the decisions here, so while it's nice to engage the others, you should be directing your pitches to me."

Little 26-year old Billy was humorous, but he was also an ass.

The first woman stood up and said her name was Annie. She lives in Nashville where she is an advocate for victims of physical and sexual abuse. She wanted her show to offer a lending ear for victims and serve as a platform for those issues.

Another woman that looked like soap opera star Susan Lucci stood up wearing a form-fitting red dress. She said she wanted to host a show about woman over their fifties, and call it "50 and Fabulous." I thought about my reluctance to turn 30 and smiled. This woman is definitely aging gracefully and though I've got a long way to go until 50, I think I could learn a lot from her.

One woman stood up and smiled at the group before dropping an enormous bomb on all of us: my husband is Georgia's version of Bernard Madoff. In 2006 he scammed all of his employees for millions of their retirement money. And then he left me for this secretary. I'm raising our 12-year old daughter on my own. I confess I have no idea what her show idea was because I was too shocked and too sad that chose to share this very private, very devastating information with all of us.

One by one, each member of our tent circle rose to pitch their story idea. The environment was friendly and even though we were all "competing," against each other for our own show, there was a sense of camaraderie among our group. Maybe because we all knew how nerve-racking an experience like this is or maybe it was because we were all nearly melting under the hot Roswell sun. Regardless, I found myself smiling at each one of them, proud that we'd all been so courageous.

One man wanted to host a show about money matters after having worked at a bank for years. Another extremely worked up man paced back and forth shouting like an evangelical preacher about kids refusing to wear their pants on their waists and ending up in prison. Apparently after a child "low rides" their trousers, prison is the next step. I tried not to laugh as I pictured Chris Farley's motivational speaker character from Saturday Night Live. One woman who called herself a "performance artist" got up and read a poem that she had written.

I meant it when I said everyone was putting out good vibes for each other, but I admit, as each participant stood up to pitch their show idea, I couldn't help but think, "My idea is so much better than that."

Despite my confidence though, when it was finally my turn to pitch, I was nervous. Really nervous.

"Hello, my name is Stephanie and I'm on a year-long quest to do 365 things I've never done before. Today, Day 272's thing I've never done before is to audition for my very own show on the Oprah Network!"

I tried to sound as upbeat as I possibly could, but I think my nerves got the better of me. My voice was shaking and my knees were too. But when I went on to explain that for every one of the last 272 days I'd done something that I'd never done before, Annie looked me right in the eye and smiled, nodding her head at me. I could tell she was interested in the project and her reaction gave me energy to get through the rest of my pitch.

"I have had such an amazing year, thanks to the people who have offered to help me try new things. I want my show to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone to try the things they've never done before. I can take someone sky-diving for the first time, or take them to the spa to get their hair dyed a different color."

I think Billy had fallen asleep at this point, and I noticed he never wrote anything down while any of us were talking. He barely even glanced at the 16-page application that everyone had filled out. Either he was not interested in any of our ideas, or, I considered when I left, maybe the decision for this contest had already been made.

As I was walking away from the tent to my car, a woman and her daughter, who had both auditioned under my tent, came up to me.
"Did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Uma Thurman?," one of them asked me.

"What?," I said, smiling coyly. I heard what she said, I just wanted to hear it again.

"You," she repeated, "You look exactly like Uma Thurman."
She leaned back and looked me over again.

"Yep, you sure do. Just like her."

"That's so nice," I said, "Thank you!"

I think I grew several inches taller on my way to my car. I drove to Kyle's house knowing, for certain, that I wasn't getting my own show on he Oprah network. In fact, I found out later that before the audition in Atlanta ever happened, a hilarious man with cerebral palsy had won the web submission contest and would likely be Oprah's choice.

When Kyle and some of our other friends asked me how it went, I told them I had fun, but they shouldn't hold their breath on my becoming a star. The casting agent was less than impressed with me, but what an experience.

"But," I went on to tell them, "Someone told me that I look like Uma Thurman, so I'm going to call the day a success anyway."

I think perhaps I might've been a little too excited, because while getting ready for the wedding at Kyle's house, I fell down an entire flight of stairs, bruising the entire backside of my body. I hit every single step individually, injuring both my back and my ego enough that warranted everyone at the house to the stairs to make sure I was okay.

First the audition, then the stairs? I was striking out.

I should've been exhausted, but I wasn't. Neither incident could keep me down, and neither kept me, or my friend Trish, who was 8-months pregnant, from hitting the dance floor, taking the dance party of two to an all-out throw down.

Oprah show or not, I remain a one-woman party.

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