Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Real Deal of Reality

Remember my post about the chocolate banana cupcakes and the LA County Fair? Well, what I didn't tell you is that after the contest I was approached by someone involved with casting a new reality cooking show on Lifetime and invited to audition in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 20.

I excitedly filled out the questionairre that was emailed to me later the same day, and then excitedly spoke with one of the producers on the phone later that week. I was nervous, but also looking forward to seeing how I stacked up against other home (non-professional) cooks in the search for the "Greatest American Recipe". The producers said story was key; they were not only looking for the greatest recipe, but a great story behind it. Knowing that, I went with Sumi Salad, a recipe passed down from my mom. Also knowing that the target audience was "middle America" and the celebrity judge/host was to be Tyler Florence, who has a penchant for simple, yet flavorful food, I figured I had a pretty decent chance with this recipe.

My goal was really just to make it past the interviews with the judges in round one, so I could actually cook in round 2. I wasn't looking at winning the whole shebang or fantasizing about having my own TV show. As I explained to my principal when I told her about this opportunity, I don't want to leave my teaching career, but I do want to see how well I can do against other cooks. I was also looking forward to the adventure of auditioning for a cooking show!

Well, let me tell you, this was no adventure. Disaster is a much better way to describe my day.

My friend Jenn and I showed up in LA early Sunday morning, laden down with a cooler filled with my raw ingredients and 20 pounds of ice, as well as a huge plastic bag with pots, knives, a cutting board, bowls, etc. We lugged all my items to the end of a very long line of excited hopefuls, and slowly inched our way forward over the next 2 hours. PA's ran up and down the length of the line, firing everyone up for the big event. Roars of cheering filled the air as camera crews walked the line, filming the excitment, people showing their homemade posters and shouting that they had the best American recipe.

Once we finally reached the head of the line, I checked in and was assigned a (pre-determined) group number and was then promptly sent.....back to the end of the line. By this point, the line was now stretched down the block and around the building. We heaved all of my cooking supplies down the street, and joined in the clump of people who had already checked in. We were told to wait around for them to call our group numbers, at which point we would be lined up to go inside the hotel and present to the judges.

While we sat around in the shade of LA's tall downtown buildings, munching on bagels and Laughing Cow cheese that I'd brought with us, Tyler Florence himself made an appearance. He filmed the intro to the show not once, not twice, not three time, but four times. Apparently it is really difficult to talk and walk?? We took a few pics of him, but weren't close enough to hear what he was saying.

An hour or so later, my group (7) was called to line up together, and an overly-caffeniated PA walked us back to the side of the building where the original line was and told us to stand there and wait. And wait we did. Hours passed. I gave Jenn my ATM card and sent her across the street to buy some sodas so I wouldn't fall asleep right there on the sidewalk. The PAs were no where to be found, no longer walking the line and pumping everyone up. Occasionaly a security guard would walk by and make sure we didn't take up the entire sidewalk, as we were right by a bus stop and a mall, so people did need walking room. But eventually even the security gaurds disappeared.

After several hours sitting on the sidewalk without moving forward, I ran into the mall to go to the bathroom and was surprised when I returned and my group was nearly at the front of the line! "Almost there!" I thought. Yeah, almost inside the hotel, but not almost to the judges.

A few minutes later, we checked in for the second time, turned in all our legal paperwork and a copy of my recipe, and then were directed into the hotel, down 3 sets of escalators, past others in line for the judges, and into a dreary holding room. We sat, excited to finally be inside and thinking that it would only be a few minutes until we were face to face with the judges.

Yeah right. We sat for another couple of hours, rumors flying about them not even accepting anymore recipes for round 2 (we were still waiting for Round ONE!), a murmur of excitement everytime a PA walked into the room. At 3:30pm, an hour after round 1 was scheduled to be over, I sent my friend Jen back upstairs with my ATM card and told her to buy us some food. The bagels were long gone; the cheese soggy from sitting in the cooler all day. She triumphantly returned with a bag of Carls Jr burgers and fries! We ate like it was manna from heaven.

And then waited. And waited. And waited. We started photographing our feet, our Carls Jr. trash, close ups of our eyes, random people around the room. One guy asked if anyone would drive his daughter home, so he could leave. (He was joking, calm down).

Finally a PA arrived and whisked group 6 up to the judges. "It's almost our turn!" we squealed excitedly.

Yeah right.

We continued to wait. An angry looking PA came and passed out our paperwork, then returned a little while later (still looking beyond pissed off) and recollected it. I was afraid she would hurt me if I asked any questions.

5pm: A PA calls for group 7. Group 7? That's me! Come on, its finally our turn! I grabbed the cooler, running after the PA. Jenn grabbed the bag of cooking utensils, running after me, both us leaving our soda cups on the floor (suck it Lifetime!).

"Family and friends on the left. Contestants on the right." We're lined up, ready to present, waiting for our (30 second) moment in front of the judges. Nerves set in, drying my mouth as I wait my turn. Wait, where are you taking the cameras? And the props? And Tyler Florence who is supposed to be judging this thing??

Before it was even my turn, I knew I had no chance. They'd upped the time limit for our pitches to two minutes, but it didn't matter. The rumors were true. They weren't even really judging us anymore; it was all a farce to keep everyone happy. But they were turning every single person down. Several people argued with the judges, trying to earn a spot, but even if they truly had America's Greatest Recipe, it wouldn't have mattered. The decision was made and the contestants who'd been lucky enough to score a spot in one of the first groups, were already in the kitchen, cooking their dishes. The rest of us just got to pretend like we were getting a shot.

I stepped up to an exhausted judge who looked like he just wanted to leave. I earnestly pitched myself and my recipe, highlighting the speed, ease and healthy-ness of the recipe. He looked at me, before I'd even talked for a minute, and said, "Sorry, but this is just too simple. I appreciate you coming out, but your recipe is too simple."

I graciously thanked him, grabbed my recipe, and rolled my cooler out of the room. Jenn and I stuck around a bit and talked to other contestants to hear their stories. They were all the same. One guy even told us that his judge was heaping tons of praise on his recipe, mentioning how great it sounded, but after a quick look at the producers, quickly changed her tune. "But, it's not the GREATEST American Recipe," he recounted her saying.

We left, annoyed at how the whole event was run, and a bit wiser as to the casting process of reality TV. The producers emailed everyone, apologizing for the poor handling of the event, but forgot to blind CC everyone on the list. This has resulted in my inbox being flooded by people hitting "Reply All" and angrily recounted their version of that day. They all sound like mine, only much much angrier.

I emailed one of the producers on Tuesday, and actually received an email back within 30 minutes. She kindly answered all of my questions and comments, erasing at least a little bit of the sour taste left in my mouth. I've been offered a front of the line spot for the next casting call, but I don't know if I will take them up on that offer. The memory of that endless (and pointless) Sunday is still too clear in my mind.

Here is the email I sent, with the producer's responses in bold:

I know you are getting tons of angry emails as a result of the poor handling of Sunday's "audition" for this new show; I am getting tons of them too, as people apparently don't know how to hit just "Reply".

I would, however, appreciate a response to this email.

Here is my concern: Once the crew knew they would no longer be accepting contestants and their recipes at the audition, why didn't anyone inform the rest of us standing in line? I would have been upset that you guys did not give us a fair chance, but at least I would not have wasted me ENTIRE Sunday standing around. To continue with fake interviews, while moving out the cameras and props, was just disrespectful to those of us who did not get to present to the judges until after 5pm.

The producer went outside as soon as he knew. He decided to let the rest of the contestants be seen by the judges, so we could keep the good recipes and invite them to our next filming.

It was obvious once I stepped into the judging room that no matter what recipe I presented, and no matter how great my story was, the answer would be no. It was written all over the judges' faces. In fact, my judge barely glanced at my recipe before telling me no.

I was handed a list of people who had potential recipes to call back for our next filming. I'm so sorry you got that impression.

I can accept being told no for a fair reason, such as my recipe not being up to par, but being denied simply because the event was overbooked, and the producers decided to stop casting people after group 3, is simply a raw deal.

We intended on seeing everyone, but unfortunately, it did not pan out that way.

I, also, take issue with the premise of a show looking for America's best recipe and home cook, sending out casting notices to local talent agencies. Maybe this is how all "reality" shows are really cast, but is disheartening to discover that not only was I not given a fair shot at judging, but you were really just looking for actors and actresses.

Yes I used casting and talent sites as a means to publicize the casting... . This is LA and many people are actors/other things... Everyone who came submitted a recipe and a story including the people from the agency's...they were not there as actors.

Lastly, the entire event was just run incredibly poorly. If grouping was done in advance, why didn't you guys include our group numbers in the confirmation emails? Then once everyone arrived on Sunday, there would be no need to stand in line for over 2 hours just to get a group number and return to standing in line. Confirm with group number prior to the event, then have signs directing each group to their staging area as soon as the arrive. Seems pretty obvious in my opinion.

We did the groupings the night before after we heard back on cooking times from people. I'm sure yo can understand that some people didn't get back to us until late the night before. EVERYONE was put into a google spread sheet and we sorted them based on time. Again, this was the pilot episode and a huge learning experience. We were also very restricted with space and personnel. We needed to separate people based on cooking time. Moving forward, we are hoping this becomes a 2 day event. I would love for you to come back and have front of the line privileges at our next LA casting if you still want to participate.

Thanks Janet!

Thank you,


Chris said...

Yikes! I'm so sorry this was such a bad experience for you. I guess at least you did it? A lot of people wouldn't have the nerve to do that. :)

Ann In Fallbrook, CA said...

Wow. what a yucky experience. Now I am glad I didn't go!

ErinsFoodFiles said...

Sorry it was such a bad experience. What a bummer. I've known people who've tried out for American Idol, and it's NOTHING what it looks like on television from what I've heard.

Also, just a FYI, as a television editor. There are many reasons for the host to tape more than 1 take of the open. Sometimes, yes they do flub the line or misstep. But also, there could have been something wrong on the crew's end of it. Perhaps the camera person was doing a snap zoom, and didn't get it quite to the director's liking the first time. Or perhaps there was an audio issue the first time, or even something going on in the background they didn't like. In television most often they tape AT MINIMUM two takes. Even if everything is right on the first take, they still take a second one for safety (that's what it's literally called, the "safety"). Also, it may be the style they are going for in edit. Some shows have a style of obvious edits, where they shoot multiple takes, often from slightly different angles and cut it together to spice things up.

Sorry to go on & on about that... TV is my business, and I'm a big dork about it.

Janet said...

Erin, thanks for the info about TV taping. I figured as much, especially with a cheering crowd on a public sidewalk. I just wanted to add more snarkiness to my story. ;) hahha


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