*In this blog, I have chosen not to name the actual show or use any names associated with it. Legalities sometimes get strange in these days of trademarked logos and names. Let’s call it GMS ‘German Music Show’ for short.
It just seemed like an odd fit; Me on a TV show with glitzy lights and ‘judges’ and ‘phone your votes in’ and all the rest of that stuff. That’s probably why when I first got the email from GMS, I thought it was a scam.
“We are excited about your music and would love to support what you do.”
“Ya, right.” I thought. “Now I know it’s a scam. It would be a first for me if anyone in the music/entertainment industry was excited about what I do, in any country. I am the classic ‘Invisible Man’ when it comes to the music industry, and I have been for most of my career.
After asking some of my musician friends about the show, and discovering that they actually seemed to like it, I finally called back after almost a week. I even called some past candidates from previous seasons before I called GMS back. The lady on the phone seemed excited that I called. She was very polite and even patient with my surly attitude.
“Look”, I said, “I am not a pop star, I don’t have a cool haircut, I am way older than what you seem to realize, my German is not great and, by the way if I stay up too late I get cranky.”
“That should end it.” I thought.
After a good 5 seconds of silence, I heard her slowly say, “Wow. Besides your music, those are exactly the things that make you interesting to us. Can you come to Berlin for an interview?”
The date they wanted me to come just happened to be at the very end of a 10 day tour during which every night I had told the audience about my dilemma. They were all thrilled. I was cynical. Just to have fun and be slightly rebellious, I turned almost every concert into a mock ‘GMS’ night and sang a bunch of cover songs to which they had to ‘buzz’ me or not. I even had some turn their chairs the other way. I told them I had not yet decided to be on the show and had yet to meet the ‘important’ people who run those shows. ”No doubt once they meet me they will run away so I might as well have fun with it while I can.” I said
I finally made it to Berlin and in a small room in a TV studio I sang two covers for some TV producers and record executives for GMS. They videotaped it. My voice was very raw from 10 days of touring. I was then interviewed for almost a solid hour about everything from why I wanted to be on the show (uhm, you contacted me...) to discussions about marriage and how is it that I managed to stay married for 29 years. A strange interview, but the lady was polite and cheerful. She seemed to want to know everything about me. “Actually, my reason for being on the show has a lot to do with a humanitarian project that my wife and I represent.” I explained. “ I am thinking the added exposure might help spread the news about this work.” She wrote every detail down and the interview was also videotaped. I neglected to tell them that I knew I didn’t have a hope in hell of ever winning the show and that actually, I didn’t want to be the next ‘GMS Singer of Germany’. I think I might actually be quite uncomfortable in the winner's circle, thank you very much. I don't have the right wardrobe for one thing. However, I thought maybe that might put a damper on the otherwise cheerful interview. But I got the feeling they already knew all of that. They needed someone older on the show to make their roster interesting, I wanted the exposure. Win/win as far as I was concerned as long as they don’t make me sing some banal pop song. I mean...they wouldn’t do that, would they?
They didn’t say much. A lady came out with a clipboard and wrote down my waist size, eye color and then looked me up once and down and said ‘casual’ before disappearing without another word. Someone then handed me a very large contract which stated, among many other things that I was not to breathe a word about this to anyone.
Ooops. Oh well. All those audiences last week will likely forget I ever said anything, I mean there was alcohol being served most of those nights.
So this is how the story started about a middle-aged singer/songwriter who found himself suddenly surrounded by mega-talented, (and very young) singers on the set of one of Germany’s biggest music/casting shows. I felt like a university professor, having breakfast with the students every morning. “Now class, settle down.” Most of these kids are the same age as my own children.
Here are some high points, low points and some ‘ behind the scenes’ observations:
High point #1- I made a lot of new friends there. It was truly an honor to meet some of these young people. I think I have about 50 of them on my FB feed now. On the show they sort of cast me as the Father figure. I sometimes did feel like that and for the most part, I did feel both respected and at ease with these kids.
Low point#1-I stepped on her foot. My coach, I mean. You know, that famous singer? When she was kind enough to invite me on her team and came up on stage in front of a kajillion people at the B* Audition. I stepped on her foot. You don’t see it on the camera, but I was totally on her foot.
Observation #1-I thought I could sing alright. Some of these young people, many with almost no stage experience and some as young as 16 years old, can sing circles around me. I am a songwriter, guitar player, story teller, singer… in that order. The focus has never been on my voice, that has been just a tool to tell the story with. These young people are singers. Some are barely old enough to tie their shoes, but they can sure sing. Walking around the hotel listening to the sound of them practicing in their rooms.. sheesh. I felt like Niel Young at a pop star convention.
Highpoint #2-I actually learned something from the vocal coaches. Not a lot, but I did learn a few things about my voice that I never knew before. An old dog can learn new tricks if he has the right attitude.
Lowpoint #2- The blasted interviews. All were in German and my German sucks. The singing in front of millions of people was the easy part. Try being articulate and honest in a foreign language in front of those same millions of people. I lost sleep over it. I must have done at least 7 interviews just for the B* Auditions alone. What you see on the actual final edit is the only 4 sentences they could use that actually made any sense. I will say though, that except for one very bad interview during the ‘Fight Rounds’ (I mean bad. By the end, the interviewer and I were glaring at each other and as I walked off.)nearly all of the interviewers were patient with me as I tripped over my own tongue committing one faux paux after another.
High point #3-Meeting, befriending, and ultimately sharing a very special moment on-stage with a wonderful singer/songwriter ________. What a pleasure getting to know this very special young lady who reminded Loralee and I of our own daughter who is almost the same age, height and hair color. We become fast friends almost in an instant and singing together was as easy and natural as it looked on the show. A truly delightful experience. We plan to do more performing together as soon as possible.
Low point #3-“Norm Strauss to make-up please!” I learned to despise this sentence. In June, during the production of the B* Auditions, it was sometimes 40 degrees Celsius in Berlin. Make-up people followed me around everywhere with buckets of face powder. I guess at my age, you need to keep the layers on thick in order to not scare the natives. I sometimes tried to hide from them but they always tracked me down. They had wireless headsets and stuff.. they were like the FBI or something. I couldn’t get away.
Observation #3-The general atmosphere on the backstage set of GMS, at least what I saw, is quite positive. The employees, (someone told me 300 people or more work at GMS during production?) are cheerful and seem to take a genuine interest in each of the ‘talents’. Also, those of us on ‘Team _____’ had the pleasure of getting to know _______, ___ (her producer) and ____ (vocal coach). The whole team was both professional and extremely personable. This is the kind of thing that impresses me most when I meet someone famous. I have little time for the big egos that too often plague the music world. However, the open hearted, genuine and highly artistic Frau ______ that you see on the show, seems to be very closely related to the same Frau ______ backstage I am happy to say. I enjoyed working with them all very much and was also delighted in the song they choose for ‘fight partner’ and I to sing.
Well, that is a very long story edited to probably just a bit too long for a blog. At any rate, just so you know, that last moment for me on the show; that moment when ‘fight partner’ l and I are standing there with the moderator like two prize fighters awaiting the decision; was both gratifying and terrifying. It was a great musical moment, and the judges heaped a lot of praise on me for which I am both humbled and excited about, (what great promo material!). But actually what was going through my mind that moment was the fear that ______ would choose me over ‘fight partner’. I was not emotionally prepared for that, had not rehearsed any German phrases for it. I was just thinking, “I had a great time, but this moment is too perfect. Let it end now. ‘Fight partner’ should go further on this show, not me.
Ha! What a moment. What a relief. I almost ran off the stage. Maybe shows like this belong to those still a little more ‘wet behind the ears’ and perhaps those also more philosophically suited for a show that pushes music as ‘competition’ rather than for what it naturally is; harmony and community. However, that’s show business and you can say what you want about the what happens in front of the camera, behind the camera the true nature of music was still being felt in backstage jams, spontaneous collaboration and friendship.
They thrust me into a bigger spotlight for a moment. I have never been good at self-promotion, so this is helpful and might even help me find more people willing to listen to me.. more of what some people call ‘fans’, but I am happy to be out of that same spotlight and back into where I can actually see my audiences face to face and where wild-eyed makeup artists are not following me around. Performing for me has never, ever been about the "Voice', it's always been about the story. To suddenly be put in a situation where my songwriting was absent, the story was not told, and my guitar playing hidden behind the sound of a (great) band, was a slightly weird experience. My voice, the thing that I always thought the least important, suddenly made to be everything. Well, it took some adjustment, and as I said I felt out of my league with some of these young mega-singers and to be honest, the producers of the show did do a pretty good job of telling a bit of my 'story' before the 'fight episode', I was happy with how they edited all of that. Professional, interesting and respectful to the artist.
Thanks GMS and thanks to all those who watched and were rooting for me. Special thanks also to Sigrun Czech, Job Toet, Arno Jordan, Adriane Thome, Carinha Bleckart, Mark and Coreen Biech and of course, my wife Loralee. These people made up my ‘cheerleading section’ that you see backstage on the show. They were all real troopers and had to stay at the studio for long hours waiting for my segment to be taped.
I have done more interviews in the past three weeks than my entire lifetime of being a music artist. Most of them, surprisingly enough, have been in Canada.. Where they speak English in most places. Ha! It all ended even better than I had hoped. It even could be that I am not as much the ‘Invisible Man’ that I once was. At least for a moment. Anyways, maybe I will see you on the road in 2016 somewhere between Vancouver and Berlin.
Our project in Romania http://www.newhorizonromania.com/