Friday, September 29, 2006

Idol Pursuits, Part 3: Finale

Catching up now? Check out Part 1 here.

All things Idol took a turn for the stressy over the remainder of the summer. I won’t go into details, but K's job got a lot harder. I’m guessing that’s all a part of showbiz.

In the meantime, things between K and I continued to grow stronger. We spent weekends together whenever we could and I was always there for her when she needed some backup, whenever the work-side of her life went bananas. Although it didn’t happen in the most romantic way or with the best timing (for some reason, I’m bloody lousy at that), we exchanged the “L” word and haven’t looked back since.

I still had one more chance to see K in action, working for the show. Somehow, K managed to sweet-talk someone in the production office into getting me a ticket for the season finale. And it was quite the spectacle.

As I sat, waiting for the show to begin, tucked away in the back corner of the theatre, I suddenly felt very privileged and almost smug about it. As I looked around at the minor celebrities, friends and family of CTV execs, and the odd teenaged girl (formerly a staple of the live audience) who managed to snap up one of the few remaining tickets for the show, I felt like I had a secret.

What they didn’t know is that I probably knew more than they did. I’d heard anecdotes about the people involved with the show all summer long. I’d been backstage, hanging out with K and helping her to prepare for the show. I knew that the stage was built mostly from plywood and the same kinds materials you might find at your local craft store. I was on the inside track and I’d seen behind The Great and Powerful Oz’s curtain. And in a weird way, that made me feel kind of powerful. Or privileged; we can stick with privileged.

As I was waiting for K to finish her work so we could head to the wrap party, I kept seeing the competitors from the show, the Idols, walking around backstage. And as I was looking at them and made eye contact, I found myself raising my eyebrows and smiling. You know – that look of happy surprise and recognition, as if to say hello to an old friend you haven’t seen in a while when you bump into them on the street. And yet, I absolutely didn’t know these people.

To them, I was a complete and utter blank, random stranger #349 out of the hundreds that they had encountered that night. And yet to me, they were familiar. I knew all kinds of things about them through the miracle of TV. I wasn’t star-struck, I was comfortable, like I’d known them for years. It was kind of eerie, actually. And when I didn’t get that look of recognition returned back to me, I got that momentary jab of rebuke before I reminded myself that I was being completely irrational. But that was my reflex, nonetheless.

The wrap party, for me, was the big payoff, the soft gooey centre, the victory lap at the end of the marathon. K and I had a fantastic time. We schmoozed and made small talk with current and former Idols. I got to meet all of the people who were in all of K’s work stories over the summer. I saw one of the judges, Zack Warner, jamming with one of the former Idols (Aaron) and a few other guys pulled out of the crowd. I caught an impromptu concert featuring Ashley Coulter and her band from back home, the guys she was jamming with before anyone knew her name. And above all else, I got to spend an unforgettable evening with K on a rooftop patio.

In TV, where shows go through several months of solid production followed by long breaks, most people are hired on contract. Canadian Idol is no different. As it worked out, K found out shortly before the finale that the production couldn’t hire any new permanent employees and that she would be leaving Idol at the end of the season. It was a disappointing day, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Although it was hard for her to see at the time, K felt that it was both a good thing and a bad thing. Months earlier, she realized that she’d learned all she could from her job at Idol and was ready for a new challenge. One, perhaps, that was better suited to her strengths and interests.

More than anything else, I think K missed that part of her job that had her on the front lines during the audition process in the spring. She hasn’t done anything comparable to that since then. That was the part of her job that I saw firsthand, where she was happy and in her element, all those months before. And if she could get a job with Idol in the first place, I know she can also find something even better, if she puts her mind to it.

And I’m incredibly proud of her. I love her now more than ever: for who she was, for who she is today, and for the potential I see in her for tomorrow.

It’s hard to say if we’d have ever gotten together in the first place if it wasn’t for Canadian Idol. The world works in funny ways sometimes – maybe we were meant to be together eventually, and it was fate? I prefer to think of it that way. But either way, I still owe an awful lot to the show. And for that, I will always be grateful.


Epilogue: Just in case you’re interested in my views on how the show itself all turned out, I think the right person won in the end. Early on, I had predicted an Eva/Craig final two, although it looked like it wasn’t going that way at several points over the season. But hey, if you ask me, the best two singers were eliminated before they even made it to the Top-10. Hopefully, they’ll be back again next season….

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Idol Pursuits, Part 2: Opportunities

Catching up now? Check out Part 1 here.

Somehow, I’d neglected to ask K what she did for a living. I knew that she used to dream about a career in the media or the arts. I had naively guessed that she had taken a desk job at some faceless company or government department, high-tailing it down the freeway to mediocrity like so many of our peers. I shouldn’t have.

And here she was with a Canadian Idol business card. She’d made it.

The revelation was followed by question after question about the show and the judges and Ben Mulroney and whether or not he was really as orange and leathery from over-tanning as he looked on TV. On most things, she couldn’t comment, but she assured me that if I was good, I might be able to find out for myself, in person.

We parted ways with my exceptionally-understanding friends and the rest of the evening passed in a blur. A trip to Zaphod’s and several Pangalactic Gargleblasters later, we shared our first kiss. And after I had walked her back to her hotel later that evening and started my own walk home, my head was working overtime. She lived in a completely different city. How would I be able to keep our newfound romance alive?

In the end, it may have been K’s boss that opened the door a little wider for us. Canadian Idol, of course, was in town for their cross-Canada auditions. As luck would have it, they were a little understaffed and K’s boss asked her if she knew anyone who might be able to help out for the day as a production assistant.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I was sitting in a car when she called me, I probably would have leapt three feet in the air in excitement. It was a priceless opportunity. I not only got to spend a day working on one of the most high-profile shows in Canada, my own little taste of the TV industry, but I also got to spend a whole day with K. And, I was promised, I would get a free T-shirt. Score.

We had dinner and drinks with some of my friends that evening. Even though this group of friends tried their hardest to scare her off, K still wanted me to help with the show the next day. And she only protested a little bit about what she called my “nefarious plan” to get her drunk and “lay the smackdown” on her the night before. And I protested back, denying any nefariousness, although I did know the bartender and he may have helped me out a little bit.

And as I sat there, manning a table with K and covering for her while she was away over the course of a long – but fun – day, my admiration for her continued to grow. She just seemed so in control and confident and happy to be doing what she was doing and getting paid for it. And I got paid for hanging out with her. I would have done it for free.

Also, in case you’re interested: Ben Mulroney is about as orange as Ernie from Sesame Street in person. Bert was nowhere to be seen. And his jacket looked like someone had attacked him with a rhinestone-gun.

I’m going to fast forward through some of the next details for a bit. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t give her up. Long-distance is hard, but she was worth the effort. And even though K still suspected nefariousness, she agreed that I was worth the effort, too.

Fortunately, I’d taken a week off as a break between jobs and I spent as much time with her as I could, despite her long working day. That’s right folks, that’s lucky-break #2, if you’re keeping score at home. We had reconnected at the very moment when I actually had the free time to spend with her.

And then when the production left town and headed back to Toronto, I went to visit K for a few days on her own turf. But it wasn’t all rosy. The following month, Idol continued on its tour across Canada and I didn’t see K at all. We did our best to make up for the lost time as things ticked along through May and June, but the Idol threat (ha! another pun) always loomed in the background. K was often asked to work weekends, causing us some scheduling challenges. And yet, through it all, we grew closer and closer to one another as the pressure on K increased and the first set of shows were aired on TV.

I was directly involved with Idol once more when the graphics department couldn’t put some photo work together at the last minute. Fortunately for me, they decided to freelance the work out and K was the one who had to find a designer on short notice. And once again, I was happy to help out. That’s right. Lucky break #3.

The Top-22 episode of Idol (featuring the finalists from the auditions) aired in late June and I already felt like I was a part of the production team, in my own small way. And I was watching. As predictable as the show (almost always) is, I had to find out where it was all leading. But it still didn’t prepare me for what lay ahead.

Check back here soon for the final instalment….

Monday, September 25, 2006

Idol Pursuits, Part 1

Another Canadian Idol season has come and gone. The votes have been cast and Eva Avila has been crowned. Like the Idols before her, she’ll go on to be the poster child for luke-warm Canadian star-hood. And with the show’s finale, the deeply-scarred bedpost of reality television receives yet another notch.

But for me, this season will always have special meaning. And it all started months before the first show aired.

But first, you’ll have to bear with me for a bit of back-story. Back in March, I wasn’t doing great. As you might know, my career had derailed a little bit and I was looking for a new direction. After a few months of networking and following up with friends and former co-workers, I landed a job (that I now love) with a great company. I gave notice at my government job and got ready for my next challenge.

My last day with the government was a chilly, overcast spring day. We had a lunch to say goodbye and the usual suspects at work followed that up by planning a few rounds of beers at a (now-closed!) pub called the Gap of Dunloe.

I was equally excited because I knew that I was also meeting up with a friend who I had lost touch with over the years, who we’ll call K. It wasn’t that I had purposely stopped being friends with K or that there was a fight or anything else like that….its was just that same old story of two old friends moving to different cities. We tried, but the emails between us got more and more infrequent as time went by until they dried up almost completely. I’m sure it was more my fault than hers, I’ve never been as good as I could be at that sort of thing. Over the first year, she even sent Christmas cards, and I may have sent one or two back. But the distance took its toll.

I’m not someone who gives up on friends easily. Some people move on, make new friends, and only have a passing interest in the people who used to be a part of their life. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Perfectly understandable; but that’s not me. And something told me that I had to try harder with K. Something told me that I couldn’t give up.

So I called her out of the blue the fall before….and we talked like almost no time had passed. We started emailing again. And in March, she told me she was going to be in town on business and I jumped at the chance to see her again. I didn’t think much of it past that. It was a chance to see a friend and have a few beers, just like old times, and maybe show her around my city a little bit.

When she walked in, everything changed. I can’t explain it, it’s never happened to me before. Even though we’d known each other for years, when she walked in -- it felt like I’d been hit by lightning. It was like the sun had dawned at that very moment and she was ringed in a golden-orange light. I was struck by a need to make cheesy metaphors to describe that sudden feeling. She had changed her hair colour, but otherwise, it was the same K that I remembered from before. But as soon as she smiled and her eyes lit up when she saw me, I was transfixed.

I jabbered on for a while, telling her about my last day at work and introducing her to my friends around the table. They all shot each other knowing looks and diverted their conversation away from us, giving us some space to catch up.

“You never asked me why I was in town for business, did you?” she asked me with a mischievous grin. My mind reeled a little bit as I realized that I hadn’t (and how could I have been so damn shallow?!). My mind reeled even further when she laid her business card on the table in front of me.

It was a Canadian Idol business card.

More in the next instalment….