And now the beginning to any good sports discussion: While American Idol will not debut season nine until January, the auditions were wrapped up this summer in seven cities. Bear with me. It gives me a chance to relate the tale of when I stared down the Idol lords at Browns Stadium during the auditions in Cleveland in 2004 and belted out a quintessentially Cleveland number.
It was summer when the cavalcade of starry-eyed wannabes descended upon the shores of Lake Erie bearing varying degrees of both talent and realism. A friend of mine wanted to try out — earnestly and optimistically, mind you. Having little better to do with my life, I agreed to join her for moral support — and to see just what type of person tries out for a reality show. Did they pack their own paste to eat? Or were they just going to lick the plaster on the walls?
The process for landing a few precious seconds in front of a bored and distracted low-level producer to sing a half-dozen bars of some Celine Dion song is arduous. Take a 3 a.m. wakeup call and get down there by about 5 to stand in line. Try to drink some coffee while fighting the urge to heave it at the face of a hyper-annoying 18-year-old belting out show tunes before dawn. Get a wristband and stand in line. Stand in some more lines. Chuckle at the condescending glances from people on their way to work until you realize that passing suits don't know you're there ironically as a non-participant.
Lines — inside the stadium, up the ramps, through hallways, etc. Eventually you can break away from the hordes and find a nice quiet spot between the men's bathroom by section 116 and the condiment stand to sit down and relax, until your moment in the spotlight arrives.
You cannot imagine what it's like to be surrounded by thousands of "singers" who will never make the show. They all croon horribly for hours on end, stopping their incessant screeching only to compliment someone else's incessant screeching. Curled up in a sleeping bag, having eaten nothing for 12 hours, on the verge of using the zipper of the sleeping bag to cut out someone's tongue, I was eager for any and all diversions. That's how my friend convinced me that I should try out. We considered song options until settling on "Bernie Bernie." Boredom begat genius.
It was about this time that the organizers announced that we could all go home for the evening and return in the morning to become stars. This gave me time to turn the offhand joke into a full-fledged performance. I called my buddy to acquire some materials. I listened to "Bernie Bernie" over and over, scribbling down the lyrics to help me memorizing them.
The next morning we returned to find that the auditions would be taking place on the field. Tents were set up in front of the Dawg Pound, and the still-too-peppy hopefuls were seated in the west end zone. Slowly each section emptied as they took rows of people around the stadium, onto the field and mere yards away from brief and embarrassing rejection.
Eventually, after hours of listening to conversations like, "Do you think they've heard too many Marvin Gaye songs? Should I sing a Pink song instead?," my turn on the field finally arrived.
I strode confidently across the green turf spray-painted with an orange "Cleveland," wearing a Kosar jersey, long-sleeve orange shirt, Browns pants, Browns hard hat and cleats, and holding orange and brown pompoms and a Kosar action figure. They brought everyone up in groups of three. I was the first to go in mine. "Go ahead," the lady murmured, head down. And I let her have it.
"And at quarterback, number 19!"
Pompoms are in the air, voice screaming in no discernible rhythm. She looks up.
"Bernie, Bernie, oh yeah, how you can throw, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Bernie, Bernie, oh baby, Super Bowl!"
She doesn't look amused. "OK, thanks," she says.
I continue: "He came from Miami, was oh so young, rifles to the Wizard, man what a gun."
She looks annoyed now. But the security guards surrounding the tent know the song, love the song, and this might be the only fun they will get in a day filled with shitty music.
"OK, thanks, you're done."
"The snap, drops back, looks down the field."
"OK," she says again, motioning toward the guy to my right that he should go next.
"Brennan breaks through, the victory sealed! Bernie, Bernie, oh yeah, how you can throw."
"OK," she says again, and this time, I've had my fill. The security guys are smiling, one of them is clapping and I've sung "Bernie Bernie" in the Dawg Pound endzone.
The other two guys finish, and we walk by the tent to exit the field.
"I hope that was worth it," the judge says to me before I high-five a security guard on the way out.
Considering the countless miserable days I've spent in the stadium for other reasons, you betcha it was.
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