Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, the disembodied voice of Oz the Great and Powerful says. It turns out reality is a fluid concept when it comes to “reality television.” I guess that’s no surprise. A lot of work goes into making things seem natural and smooth and yet somehow spontaneous. “Remember,” a crowd-wrangler tells us. “You’re not watching a show. We’re making a show.”
We devoted hours standing in line to get into the live shows of America’s Got Talent this summer in Radio City Music Hall. Twice we waited for about two hours before we were told there were no tickets to be had even though we had a voucher to pick up tickets and arrived during the time specified by the voucher. In the end, we made it into one “Results” show, one “Performance” show and one mini-concert with Josh Groban and Gavin DeGraw that served as a pre-taped segment for the live grand finale, which made it only kinda sorta live. I’m not proud of the time we invested in waiting in lines. It seemed worth doing then. I guess the best thing I can say about it is that the shows were free, so only our time was wasted.
We witnessed a group of men drumming on a fat man’s chest and belly. We saw a family of unicyclists balancing family members. We saw singers and dancers of varying degrees of talent. But what struck me more about the proceedings were the way several audience members were given homemade looking signs to hold up and cheer with during the performances. SPOILER ALERT. Although they looked like they were created with glitter, magic marker and exuberant glee; we did NOT make those signs. We were told when to clap, encouraged to clap harder, encouraged to give standing ovations. The poor guy doing all this exuberant crowd control looked at times as if he had Tourette’s Syndrome since he was waving his hands so manically.
A team of makeup artists descended on Heidi Klum and Mel B between commercial breaks. They teased and worried over Howard Stern’s puffy hair. They spit shined Howie Mandell’s bald head until it glowed. Each had their cult following in the audience. But in the end they were entertainment products to be fussed over and pampered. Brands. (I really hate that word.) As the spritzing continued, the exuberant crowd-wrangler kept saying there was a rumor the Spice Girls were getting back together. I was underwhelmed at the prospect. Mel B was not my favorite Spice. I am a devoted Posh Spice man. Followed by Baby Spice, then Mel B. Then comes Scary Spice and finally Sporty Spice. I believe this is the natural order of things.
A few days later I was talking about the experience of waiting in line for hours and not getting in to see the show to someone as I got on the elevator in my apartment building. A very spry woman with grey hair in the back of the elevator piped up suddenly. “I never go anywhere if there’s a line,” she said. “Then you must never go anywhere very interesting,” I replied. I was really sorry I said that as soon as it came out of my mouth. This is not the way we are taught to talk to people in the South.
We’ll never know her thoughtful retort because the elevator door shut behind me at just that moment, leaving her to ponder all the interesting places she’s never been or stew in her juices or plot my downfall.