There are only a few times in your life when, if someone asks you "what are you doing this weekend?" you get to respond truthfully with
"I'm singing in the final of Australian Idol".
Granted, there is usually only one weekend a year when that could possibly be true anyway, but I said it last weekend which by a happy coincidence turned out to be the weekend that I could say it on.
No, I wasn't one of the top two. Nor did I make the top twelve, having not actually entered the competition. And I am not secretly an alter ego of Kasey Chambers or Jessica Mauboy (although it's on my to-do list).
For reasons I haven't yet fully figured out, Australian Idol found themselves short of people to sing in the backing choir, so they got people who were signed up to do a ring around their friends and family to see if anyone wanted to help out. Basically anyone with links to the school choirs they had brought in was a potential target. And I'm in a bible study group with someone who works with someone who runs a choir, so naturally I was pretty high up there on the list. That they even bothered to hire choirs in the first place is hilarious in itself – but I'll get to that later. For now, here's my insider's guide to the greatest spectacle in Australian pop culture this week.
Everyone appearing in the show had to sign a release form. Some of the terms and conditions are fascinating.
“I hereby assign irrevocably to the Producer the entire copyright and all other rights of whatsoever nature in and to my contribution to the Programme including but not limited to any literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work incorporated therein in which I own copyright such that the Producer shall be entitled to use and exploit and license to others to use and exploit such Contributions by all means and in all media forms whether now known or hereafter invented throughout the Universe.”
“I… hereby irrevocably consent to the Producer editing, producing amending and adapting the results and proceeds of the Contributions or any other act or omission in relation to the Works as the Producer deems fit in its absolute discretion and whether or not such acts or omissions constitute an infringements of my moral rights as that term is understood pursuant to any provision of law prevailing now or in the future in any part of the world.”
“I agree not to disclose to any third party any information relating to the Programme or the affairs of the Producer which may come to my knowledge during or in connection with my participation in the Programme.”
Clearly I’m in breach of that last one by even posting this blog, but if Fremantle Media can trace this blog back to the name I put on the contract, then good luck to them.
Meanwhile, I’m taking my recording of the one and a half seconds I was on camera for, and I’m going to a parallel world, where they’ll have no hold over me whatsoever, having foolishly left parallel universes out of the terms and conditions. Unlucky!
A couple of weeks before the big event, we were all sent our three-part harmony score, and set about learning our bits for Viva la Vida. It was nice and simple, and I was pleasantly surprised that we would get to sing a half-way decent song instead of some gammon disco track about how excited we all were to be there.
On Saturday afternoon they herded us into a large theatrette type room in the Sydney Opera House to be given the low-down on what would happen the following night. I was expecting a couple of runs through the score with everyone together, but actually the first thing we were told was that the vocal tracks had all been pre-recorded. We would effectively be lip synching, but it was important that we were all there because there were actions to learn. There were no actions for the Cold Play song, but we had some very exciting hand movements to learn for the big opening song "Can You Feel It?" (a gammon disco track about how excited we all were to be there). We even got to do the 'raise-the-roof' actions, which I hadn't done since high school (and with good reason…).
The really important part came when they spent a good twenty minutes sorting us in carefully arranged lines so we would all fit on the stage. They had us all tell them what row number we were in so we would all remember. Then they marched us out onto the steps of the Opera House and discovered that actually we wouldn't all fit on the stage, so we just crammed ourselves on in whatever fashion we could manage, line numbers be damned. They weren't impressed at all.
When I say 'they,' I'm referring to the people wandering around wearing jeans, black shirts and headsets. Normally all black or jeans and black is the logical uniform for the back-stage crew at any sort of production. However, this one was being put on outside in an open air stage, which couldn't really be said to have a back stage area. And these guys weren't exactly dressing to camouflage with the back stage sets; they were in a completely different room inside the Opera House itself, looking after our jumpers for us while we were on stage. Furthermore, it was Saturday, and the show wasn't until Sunday evening. But there was no doubting that they all looked really cool. I know I remarked on more than one occasion how badly I wanted to get myself one of those headsets.
It might have just been that they were all professional production type people, and black and denim were the only things they had in their wardrobe. But no, it turned out they were all data analysts and shop workers doing some weekend work for Fremantle Media for some extra cash.
So for that reason, I'm prepared to forgive them for the monumental schmozzle that characterised the entire operation, and transfer the blame back onto Fremantle Media themselves, where it obviously squarely belongs. They clearly hadn't given much thought to the necessary training required to get 120 people to go where they wanted them to at the right time. I had thought that a production the size of Idol would have a pretty strict regime of professional conduct, but honestly I think I've been in high school plays with a greater level of professionalism. Here's a shout out for anyone who ever did year 12 drama with Mr Mac.
Of course, it wasn't just the back-stage baby-sitters that had to be dressed the same; every member of the choir was going to get their very own Australian Idol t-shirt. Well… we were all given identical blue shirts. They didn't have anything on them, they were just blue shirts. And we were all warned very sternly that if we forgot to wear them on Sunday, we would not be allowed to perform. And possibly we would be arrested for indecent exposure.
Can you feel it?
The big moment finally came around Sunday night. We all lined up in yet another formation inside the Opera House and waited for our signal to take the stage. Outside, we could hear the sounds of the most optimistic choreographer in theatrical history attempting to teach the crowd of 6000 teenage girls the actions to 'Can You Feel it?' The idea was to get a great aerial shot of the whole Opera House forecourt packed people all raising the roof (there was no roof). Anyone who has spent more than two months in this country would know that the only movement it is possible to get Australians to produce en masse is the Mexican wave, but she was adamant that this was going to be the best thing ever. In the end, I think they got a great shot of 120 people in blue shirts raising the roof, and 6000 teenage girls screaming incessantly and taking photographs. We sang our song, did our dance and got the hell off stage again until the other choir song. I feel confident that whether or not the crowd could feel it, they had certainly been asked whether or not they could.
Viva la Vida!
This was by far my favourite part of the weekend for a number of reasons:
First was the song itself. Although Cold Play usually make me want to claw my eyes out, I actually like this song, although I prefer it being sung by Cold Play than by the Idol top twelve. Nonetheless, at least it was fun to sing.
Secondly, despite all the preparations done over two days of rehearsals, the back stage crew managed to send us on late. The introduction was halfway through and the choir was still running out over the cables and steps we'd all been warned not to run on. We formed up in lines once again not resembling any formation we'd ever stood in before, but fortunately it didn't matter, because there were no movements for this song, just singing.
Thirdly, we were accompanied (sort of) by a cello ensemble.
Finally, right at the big climax of the song with the Idols singing the chorus, and the choir singing the oh-oh-oooooooooooh bit, there were fireworks going off overhead and the sound was huge and for about fifteen seconds I thought "actually, this is pretty cool".
Viewers watching at home would almost certainly have been impressed, if not by hugeness of the sound, then by the fact that it was being produced without any of the choir or strings having any microphones whatsoever.
I left well before the event finished. Apparently Wes won. I'm told I was on TV for about a second and a half at one stage. When everyone else put their fist in the air, I did a llama. And I came away from the event with a cool 'Australian Idol 2008 Grand Final Performer' tag, which should provide hours of fun if I take it overseas with me.
Questions for Discussion
If everything (and I mean everything, including strings, drums and choir) except the Idols' voices was pre-recorded, why did they feel they needed a 120 voice choir on hand?
Having decided they wanted a 120 voice choir to do the actions but not to sing, why did they need to hire actual choirs?
Having resolved to bring in actual choirs, why did they go to the trouble of sending said choirs a three part score for a song that was pre-recorded?
Far from home
Garry with 2 Rs