The auditions for season nine of American Idol, which will begin airing in January, were completed this summer in Denver, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Orlando and Los Angeles. That sentence, naturally, is the beginning to any good sports discussion. Unconventional and possibly alienating, sure, but it gives me a chance to relate the tale of when your humble narrator took it upon himself to visit Cleveland Browns Stadium on the occasion of the American Idol auditions in Cleveland and the quintessentially Cleveland number he belted out.
It was summer 2004 when the cavalcade of starry-eyes wannabes descended upon the shores of Lake Erie bearing varying degrees of both talent and realism. A friend of mine was going to tryout — earnestly and optimistically, mind you. I, having little better to do with my life, agreed to join her in her longshot reality endeavor as moral support. I had no intention of singing, lacking even the common ability to hum semi-in-tune. Mainly I wanted to make a nice gesture and see for myself in person just what type of person tries out for a reality show. Did they pack their own paste to eat? Or were they just going to lick the plaster on the walls?
If you didn't know before, and there's no earthly reason why you should, the process for landing a few precious seconds in front of a bored and distracted low-level producer to sing a half dozen bars of some Celine Dion song is arduous. Take a 3 a.m. wakeup call and get down there by about 5 to stand in line. Try to drink some coffee while fighting the urge to heave it at the face of a patently annoying 18 year old belting out show tunes before the sun has risen. Get a wristband and stand in line. Stand in some more lines. Think about how the world hasn't even eat breakfast yet. Chuckle at the condescending glances people going to work give the crowd until you realize that you're part of the crowd and that nice man in the suit doesn't know you're there ironically as a nonparticipant.
So, you get the point. Lines — inside the stadium, up the ramps of the stadium, through hallways, etc. Eventually they get you in some sort of order that allows you to break away from the hordes and find a nice quiet spot between the men's bathroom by section 116 and the condiment stand to sit down and relax until your moment in the spotlight arrives.
Now, you know that the contestants that make the show itself are insufferable, so I really won't waste time describing the excruciating pain involved in being surrounded by thousands of "singers" who never make the show, let alone the "amusing" audition tapes the show rolls out. They all sing horribly at the same time for hours on end, stopping their incessant screeching only to compliment someone else's incessant screeching. Curled up in a sleeping bag, having eaten nothing for twelve hours, on the verge of using the zipper of the sleeping bag to cut someone's tongue out, I was eager for any and all diversions that didn't include mindless saying, "Yeah, you totally sound like Josh Groban, go ahead and quit your job." In between rehearsing, my friend said that I should try out. We went back and forth on some suggestions until a classic Browns song came up as an option — "Bernie Bernie." Boredom begat genius.
It was about this time that the organizers announced that we could all go home for the evening and return in the morning to become STARS. It was then that the offhand joke became full-fledged performance plan. I called my buddy to acquire some materials. I listened to "Bernie Bernie" until I scribbled down the lyrics word-for-word. I sat up memorizing the lines. b
The next morning we returned to find that the auditions would be taking place on the field. Tents were set up in front of the Dawg Pound and the still-too-peppy hopefuls were seated in the west endzone. Slowly each section emptied as they took rows of people around the stadium, onto the field, and mere yards away from brief and embarrassing rejection by a stranger.
Eventually, after hours of listening to conversations like, "Do you think they've heard too many Marvin Gaye songs? Should I sing a Pink song instead?" my turn on the field finally arrived.
I strode confidently across the green turf spray painted with an orange "Cleveland" in the only appropriate outfit to wear while singing "Bernie Bernie": Kosar jersey, long sleeve orange shirt, Browns pants, Browns hard hat, orange and brown pom poms, cleats, and holding a Bernie Kosar action figure and a dog bone. This, surprisingly, turned few heads, probably because each peon in charge of dismissing the hopes and dreams of the masses was busy writing down notes while eating a sandwich, looking at their phones and barking out orders to even lower level peons.
They brought everyone up in groups of three. I was the first to go in mine.
"Go ahead," the lady murmured, head down.
And I let her have it.
"And at quarterback, number 19!"
Pom poms are in the air, voice screaming in no discernible rhythm. She looks up.
"Bernie, Bernie, oh yeah, how you can throw, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Bernie, Bernie, oh baby, Super Bowl!"
She didn't look amused. "Ok, thanks," she said.
No, I didn't memorize the lyrics to get two lines out or get to the first verse.
"He came from Miami, was oh so young, rifles to the Wizard, man what a gun."
She looks annoyed now. Fortunately, the security guards surrounding the tent are starting to take notice. They, unlike her, know the song, love the song, and this might be the only musical moment of joy they get in a day filled with shitty music.
"Ok, thanks, you're done."
"The snap, drops back, looks down the field."
"Ok," she says again, motioning towards the guy to my right that he should go next.
"Brennan breaks through, the victory sealed! Bernie, Bernie, oh yeah, how you can throw."
"Ok," she says again, and this time, I've had my fill. The security guys are smiling, one of them is clapping, and I've sung "Bernie Bernie" in the Dawg Pound endzone.
The other two guys finish and we walk by the tent to exit the field.
"I hope that was worth it," she says to me before I high five a security guard on the way out.
Considering the countless miserable days I've spent in the stadium for other reasons, you betcha it was.