The empty pursuit of meaningless celebrity made a brief, but memorable stop in Atlanta last weekend in the form of auditions for Fox TV's "American Idol 2," the sequel of the hit show "American Idol," which is itself a spin-off of the British show "Pop Idol," which is really just a bitchy, longer, singing-only version of "Star Search."
The auditions began Sunday morning downtown at America's Mart. "Idol" wannabes and their parents began lining up in the middle of last week hoping to be one of the 1,500 people given 30 seconds to audition. The line of people and their folding chairs stretched from the audition site's Harris Street entrance all the way to Centennial Olympic Park. The auditioners had already gone inside when I arrived. Camped outside the door though were a dozen or so latecomers who seemed to think that if they stood and/or begged long enough that they'd get in the building and become stars. One particularly pained young woman who arrived late tearfully pleaded with security, asking, "How am I going to explain this to my family?" One woman expressed her frustration at not getting in by singing Aretha Franklin's "Respect" to security guards and police. She stopped after the first verse and in perfect, shmaltzy, lounge-singer-bringing-it-down-for-a-moment tone said, "That's all we want, is a little respect."
Standing at the door, I also got to enjoy watching the auditioners exit. Several even stopped to sing for us. A young woman, who credited passing the first round of auditions to the blessing of Jesus, sang a version of "Go Tell It on the Mountain." A special version called "Go Tell It to the Mountain." Short of strip mining, it was the worst thing that's ever happened to a mountain.
Inside, I was allowed to photograph people as they waited for auditions. One young male auditioner, perhaps missing the point of what he was doing, ducked when I pointed my camera at him. To me, what was most striking (and upsetting) about the whole spectacle was how seriously people were taking it. They don't seem to realize that, in a year or so, all the so-called stars from "American Idol" will vanish, only to reappear in five years on an E! or VH-1 "Where Are They Now?" special. The money spent on going to these auditions would be much better spent on piano lessons.
The Ferst Show: At the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech Friday night, former "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher performed the first date of a tour promoting his new book, When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden. The book is filled with modern propaganda posters aimed at mobilizing the American people to help our current war effort. The show focuses on Maher's favorite comedic targets -- religion, corporations, drugs and hypocrisy in government. My favorite line of the night was, "It's so September 10th," the preface he made before going off on a not very timely riff about the Clinton sex scandal.
I interviewed Maher via telephone for last week's CL. He asked me then to come backstage so that I could help find something to do for the evening. Scene & Herd recurring character Matt Gove and I fantasized aloud about how the two of us were gonna take Maher to bars and strip clubs. Like any Buddhist will tell you, expectations will lead to disappointment. I didn't even get a handshake, a wink or a high five -- just a hello before he walked away. I haven't told my mom yet. She loved "Politically Incorrect" and I'm afraid she'll be pissed at him.
One Stripe: Stung by rejection of one of my cultural heroes, I went home, ate half a pizza, and went to the Echo Lounge to see the Von Bondies. I had no idea that in attendance would be, Jack White, singer and guitarist of the White Stripes and another one of my cultural heroes. Supposedly, the red-haired woman in the Von Bondies is his girlfriend and he was there to lend moral support. After the Maher incident, I was too afraid to walk up and say hi. A friend of mine at the show, also a big fan of the White Stripes, wasn't so shy. She went up, introduced herself, and chatted about the band at length. It took her a few minutes before she realized that she in fact was talking to some guy named Doug, not Jack White.
Playing immediately before Von Bondies were The Kills, a band with two guitarist/singers and a drum machine. The machine pounds out simple rock 'n' roll beats while the guitarist-singers sludgily, smuttily and sweatily riff away. A great band, despite being worryingly strung-out looking. The Von Bondies, on the other hand, are a healthy-looking four-piece. They also played pounding garage rock of the riff-a-licious variety, dedicating their song "Real Bad" to White. Take that, Peach Buzz!
Not A Nazi: Not an organization to let its name hinder its activities, Wednesday Night Drinking Club threw a huge Halloween costume party Saturday night at The Mansion in Midtown. Attendance was huge, but fortunately so was the venue, so it never got too crowded. There were several rooms playing different types of dance music and a big patio to just sip and mingle. My date was authentically dressed as a Russian officer (authentic, except for the fishnet stockings. I think they abandoned those after Stalin). For some reason though, people seemed to think she was dressed like a Nazi. Some people gave straight-armed salutes while others said, "Heil." Her outfit kind of made me want to enlist. Since I was wearing a sheer lavender nightgown, though, I doubt the Russian army would have me.