Bright lights, glamourous makeup, melodramatic tears, and diva personalities all caught on camera as contestants vie for … a literary agent?
*cue record screech*
OK, so that reality show only exists in my imagination, but can you fathom what it would be like if publishing a novel were like trying to break out as a singer in a talent search show? Join me for musings and a fun little vignette of a story.
I found myself musing about this last week, as my free and brief Hulu subscription has allowed me access to television I otherwise wouldn’t even know was on. I must admit, I’ve become rather enamored with what is apparently the farewell season of American Idol.
It’s a kind of enamored that’s mixed with awe at their process, along with some jealousy and a bit of disdain. There are certainly a few contestants who seem genuine to me. Not only like they’re people I’d want to chat with over coffee in real life, but I can tell they’d even be singing in an empty room. They sing because they love to sing, not because their main goal is stardom.
Then there are those contestants who can hit the notes but just come across as fame hungry. I can’t help but dislike their apparent priorities. It reminds me of bloggers whose main focus is building followers, rather than letting that happen as a well deserved consequence of building a canon of meaningful blog content and blog relationships.
Last night a I hit play on this past week’s episodes in the background while I ate dinner and finished up this week’s installment of “Code Red.” Up until this point in the competition, the judges’ feedback has been instantaneous after each performance. But, this week, as the pool of talented young singers dwindled from 75 to 51, then down to 24, they had to wait overnight for their results. Some contestants bemoaned having to wait all.that.time.
Having to wait a whole day, can you believe that?! It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone who only has to wait a day to learn the outcome of an interview, or audition, or submission of any kind. Many job interviews stretch over a period of weeks. Applying to university generally takes ages to hear back. Submit a manuscript query to an agent and you’re lucky to hear back within a few months. (I’ve submitted MS’s where I never heard back… either that, or they’re taking nearly two years to tell me no.) And I would hazard a guess that aspiring singer-songwriters who send out demo tapes wait ages to hear back from record labels, if they even hear back at all.
The instantaneous feedback these young hopefuls get on American Idol isn’t the only thing that got me musing about what it would be like if there were an equivalent for writing. There’s also the (understandable) emphasis on physical appearance and personality.
So, join me, if you will, in an imaginary episode of Literary Idol!
Dramatic spotlights sweep across the ceiling of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, swinging around and converging on stage to a handsome host. The man is sporting a slim fitting grey suit with a crisp button down shirt, but no tie. His brown eyes twinkle in the spotlight. He stares directly at the camera.
“Good evening, America,” he says silkily. “I’m Aiden Lightfoot, your host here on the debut season of … LITERARY IDOL!“
The last two words are spoken with a dramatic flair, as a pulsing theme song begins to blast. The words literary and idol flash across the screen in sparkling scrolls, while black and white head shots of the competing authors fade in and out in the background.
The opening sequence concludes. Aiden fixes his smile once again at the camera. “Now, let’s meet our judges.”
His gaze turns to a panel of three, two men and one woman. One of the men sports tattoos up and down his arms, exposed with his red flannel sleeves rolled up. He wears tattered jeans yet bears the look of someone who spent a good hour in the hair and makeup artist’s chair. The woman shows off a tanned, curvy body in a skintight white strapless dress with exposed sides, her balayaged curls cascading down her shoulders. The other man dons a smart navy sport coat with brass buttons over a thin white t-shirt. His hair is gelled up in an arc that points skyward.
“First, we have Bloomsbury publishing executive Richard Richardson.” Aiden points to the tattooed man in flannel.
“Hello,” the Brit says, nodding.
“Next, we have independent agent Ainsley Lonsdale,” says Aiden, motioning towards the beautiful woman. She waves a beauty pageant wave at the camera.
“Finally, we have best selling author Martin Blum.” The suited man nods.
The camera turns back to Aiden Lightfoot. “Now, let’s meet our first contestant!”
The live shot fades to black, and a deep whoosh of notes alert the audience that they are about to get a glimpse into the competing author’s life.
“My name is Jordan Reeves, I’m 23 years old, and I’m a barista at a coffee shop in Brooklyn.” The man’s voice overlays slow motion videos of him pouring lattes that fade into footage of him tapping away at a Macbook, steaming coffee close at hand. “I know I’m young, but this has actually been a long journey for me. I started writing my book, The Winds of Anguish, when I was 14. I’ve been editing it over the past year, as it keeps being rejected by agents. But, and I don’t mean this to sound arrogant, but I really feel like I have what it takes to write the great American novel.”
The prerecorded footage ends, and the audience claps politely. Jordan takes the stage. He is tall and thin, with thick Buddy Holly glasses and a black mustache waxed upward.
“Good evening,” he says nervously, hands clasped in front of him. The judges nod curtly.
“What do you have for us today, Jordan?” Richard Richardson asks.
“Today I’ll be reading an excerpt from my novel, The Winds of Anguish.”
“Very well. Let’s see what you’ve got” the British judge says, clicking his pen on the desk.
The theatre falls silent as the spotlights once again converge to a single point on the stage. A stagehand clad in all black hands Jordan an iPad and quickly disappears.
“Whistling wind swept through the Oklahoma plain with the lure of a siren’s song. Annabelle Lefevre pulled back the worn flowery curtains from the living room window in her grandfather’s farmhouse. Orphaned by a fatal tornado that had swept the American heartland 14 years ago, the 16 year old didn’t even remember her parents. Her grandfather told her being a storm chaser was a fool’s job, that she belonged on the farm and would one day be sent off to wed a boy from church. But Annabelle felt the stormy winds calling her out like –“
“That’s enough!” remarks Martin Blum, waving a hand at the stage. “I’ve heard enough, haven’t you?”
He turns to face the other two judges. Ainsley Lonsdale scrunches up her face, as if she had wanted more of the excerpt to make her decision. But she puckers her ruby lips and says, “Alright, let’s discuss.”
Richard Richardson goes first. “Good God, if I have to entertain a manuscript with another bloody orphan, I’m going to go mad!”
“I agree, I agree,” Martin chimes in. “It’s trite. Overdone. We need something fresh.”
Ainsley twirls her pen in a well manicured hand and leans back in her seat. “I actually don’t mind that the protagonist is an orphan. What bothered me is why in the hell someone whose parents were killed by a tornado would want to be a storm chaser. A tornado isn’t an antagonist you can exact revenge on.”
The other two judges nod.
“Shall we vote?” Richard asks. He goes first. “It’s going to be a no for me today, Jordan. Your excerpt was just too trite, too melodramatic. We need drama, but we need it to be fresh and vibrant.”
“It’s gonna be a no for me too, sweetie,” Ainsley says. “I’m sorry, baby. But you’re so young. You have so much time to keep working and try out again next season.”
Martin shakes his head at the stage. “With two no’s, my vote doesn’t even matter at this point. But it would have been a no anyway. Sorry Jordan, best of luck.”
The crestfallen hipster on the stage stares down at his black Converse. A stagehand grabs the iPad as Jordan walks off the stage. Aiden Lightfoot takes his spot on stage again and clasps his hands at his chest, giving a dramatic sigh as he stares wistfully at the camera.
“So sorry, Jordan. It just wasn’t meant to be this time. Keep writing, buddy.” Aiden waits a measured beat, then turns to face a different camera, his dazzling smile appearing once more.
“Time now for a word from our sponsors. After the break, we’ll hear from science fiction hopeful Mallory Maelstrom, who is hoping to be the first contestant to go through to the next round on … LITERARY IDOL.”
Hope you all enjoyed my little imagined vignette!