I believe God protects us. I believe that when we pray, we claim God's hand in our lives and help eliminate the devil's impact on our mindsets and on our journey. I also believe that sometimes God allows us to venture into a sometimes very dark and empty place to show us something through His eyes. To feel the pain or darkness – seeing how very different it is from the light - how much we really do need Him in every little piece of our journey.
I was living in Colorado in 2015 and I randomly got a call on my cell phone from one of the producers of American Idol. One of my music friends had recommended me to them for their last season. I felt like God just dropped it straight from the Heavens! I was invited to their showcase audition in Nashville (my old stomping grounds), where the 30-some people auditioning were all recommended by industry professionals. No long lines, just get in and get out. I knew God was doing something big with this. I thought He was opening doors for me to share my music – to let it be heard on a wider scale, but He had something else He wanted to show me about a live wire and about myself.
I had never auditioned for American Idol before because I didn't think my music would be the right fit for that kind of competition. It also just seemed very disingenuous to me. But hey, I was willing to embrace it if it was what God wanted me to do. In Nashville, the producers passed me straight through to the TV rounds in Denver. That meant I got to skip about eight rounds of auditions – leaving me feeling very blessed.
As expected, the TV auditions in Denver were surreal at first, then long, grueling and political. It's one thing to expect that it would be so, and another to experience it in a state of complete awareness. There were about 30 people auditioning (all were chosen to be there after multiple audition rounds in the weeks prior), but the cameras make it seem like there are thousands, as if it's the “first audition”, the way it is portrayed on TV. I had Chad and my best childhood girlfriend, Jules, with me and it was exciting- in the beginning. As the day continued, I started observing incidents and situations that slowly started making me think and feel, “No.” I was no stranger to nerves, having opened for major headliners and performed/auditioned for things all my life. This wasn't nerves. This was an sort of emptiness and a darkness like none I'd ever experienced. Then it turned to straight anger. I don't think anyone else in the room felt this way either, which was the eerie part. It was like God was allowing me to enter into a realm of awareness in order to see some things through His eyes, in a sense.
We were in a huge room with cameras and producers galore for about eight hours before the judges arrived. The producers were interviewing certain people in separate rooms, showcasing certain people and their families in the main room - basically figuring out who everyone's characters were, if they could make a story out of them and who was willing to go along with it for the show. Half the people were talented, independent artists and the other half were chosen to play “the odd ball” characters (the country bumpkin with braces, the 15 year old opera singer, the troubled teenager who just started playing guitar last year, etc.). I saw producers building that troubled beginner up, showcasing he and his family as if he was going to make it through to Hollywood, just to get a good heavy reaction out of him later in the confessionals once he was rejected. I knew this was happening and so I found a corner to play guitar and sing next to, so they wouldn't become inclined to film me after him. (Fast forward, after he didn't make it through, I witnessed him banging his head on the walls and trying to rip his hair out while the producers stood and laughed.) I was one of the people they interviewed one-on-one for over an hour and I knew they were considering me, trying to figure out if I would play a certain character. They had me pinned as the “world traveler, hippie-redneck”. They got my full story on camera and then attempted to tailor it to the mold they needed, probing me with questions and suggestions. They asked me to “say something like, 'I couldn't wait to leave my small town' and 'American Idol is the biggest and best thing I've ever done!'” Yeah, THAT wasn't going to happen. At that moment, I knew that if I played their game, there would be a good chance I would get in. But from the depths of my soul, I couldn't do it. I had never taken the wide road with my music or compromised who I was and I wasn't going to start now. That wasn't how I wanted to get there. (Granted, there are many people who do fit a story they are seeking and are genuinely portraying that. That is their journey, but mine wouldn't have felt genuine.)
Six hours in and many more incidents later, my stomach started to shrink to the size of a golf ball. It felt like my insides were dying and I was in terrible pain. This was around the time that Ryan Seacrest came into the room and we were told to act very excited and hold up signs (that the show made) while he went around and talked to everyone. They requested that every single person circle up, but I was bent over my stomach and I couldn't leave my chair. Around two hours later, it was time for me to audition. They had a TV monitor right outside the audition room and it was showing the filming of each audition, where Ryan would have some of the families come and watch, also being filmed. When their person came out of the room (they called it, "the chamber") and either made it or didn't, the crew filmed Ryan “console” or congratulate the contestant. We noticed that they didn't have the TV monitors on for some and weren't even concerned with the details of certain auditions, making it seem very clear that those singers were already chosen not to go on or be highlighted. (I didn't know it until Chad and Jules told me after, but my audition was one of those.) Before I went in, I just felt sad. It's NOT normal for me to feel that way when I'm under pressure and nervous. I am usually filled with adrenaline and excited at the same time. Not this time. My early excitement turned to emptiness, then withdrawal, then anger, then a deep sadness. This was the farthest from right I had ever felt in my life. I still prayed that if God wanted me to go through to Hollywood, that the judges would SEE me, and that if it wasn't my road, that they wouldn't.
I walked inside the chamber and stayed there until the light turned green and then I went into a black room with no one in it. Strangely, no one was there to show me where to go. I picked the door on the left, which led me to the audition room where the judges were- where the only lights were on the three judges. Everyone was talking and chatting, not even noticing that I walked in. I introduced myself and still it took about a minute for anyone to even notice I was there. Finally, Jennifer Lopez noticed me and scolded the producers so I could begin. Prior, I was coached to tell the judges about my travels and adventures, which felt very disingenuous to just blurt out, so I didn't. They asked about my experience in Alaska, so I spouted out a line about living with the bears and that was the only part they put on TV, of course. :) I played an original song first and then a cover by Patty Griffin. They liked my sound and song, but they didn't think my style was a fit for the competition. I thanked them and left knowing that it wasn't the road for me. The producers pushed me into the confessional- where they get all the “good juice” out of many sad or excited contestants who put most or all of their stock into this opportunity. Chad reassured me that I didn't have to go in if I didn't want to, but I knew I had to finish this with grace. I wasn't going to give them what they wanted. I wasn't going to give them a reaction of total disappointment or sadness and I also wasn't going to act aloof, like I didn't care. I went in there and acted grateful for the experience (which I was), but not torn down. They probed me with questions like, “So, are you done with music now?” REALLY?! I chuckled and explained that as a musician (and a HUMAN) some doors open and some doors close. I told them that I have and will have other projects and opportunities to be excited about and work towards. Give me a break American Idol. (Disclosure: I believe that this type of competition and show can be a vehicle for some amazing talent to really make a difference in the world with their music. That's a beautiful thing. However, my experience had some very negative elements that hit me hard. In many ways, the full, harsh reality of a live wire.)
He placed me like a canary in a coal mine into a tunnel of emptiness that felt like poison to my soul. It took me about three days to feel right inside my stomach and soul; a feeling I have never experienced in my life. He showed me so much that day. He needed me to know, see and feel it. I am not meant to be locked in a cage. I was born to sing while I'm flying. Whatever that looks like, I'm okay with, as long as I'm flying. Now I will know the difference. See, God allows us pain sometimes, but He always sets us free in the end and there is no other possible outcome than that with a God that good.
PS- When you watch the video, please make sure to change your settings (the wheel symbol right underneath the video on youtube) to HD. Looks much better. Getting a new camera soon!
CANARY IN A COAL MINE - lyrics
I saw a hand come down and rip out the trees, I was sittin’ on the edge of land and sea, when I saw the wrath of Jesus flood the water, just so it could run through me, yeah
I saw the storm in the sky travelin’ at full speed, and the thorn in my side brought me to my knees and it cut
Me like a knife, you won’t look me in the eye, you made me walk through waves of wires.
If you want me to sing, I will sing- If you want me to leave, I will leave –
Before you see me, before you see me.
I stayed inside the chamber ‘tilt he light turned green, and I walked into a black room that didn’t want me,
Then I picked the door on the left to open up to find, three blind mice under three cold lights.
If you want me to sing, I will sing- If you want me to leave, I will leave –
Before you see me, before you see me –
It was emptiness to feel a flesh so numb to a heart, oh, woah
I saw a hand come down and rip out the trees, I was sittin’ on the edge of land and sea,
When I saw the wrath of Jesus flood the water, just so it could run through me.