Being part of the Legends in Concert show is not really a route to superstardom but it would definitely pay the bills while perfecting my craft. Legends is the longest running impersonators show. They are all over the country and they’ve recently started one here, in Waikiki. At the Waikiki Rock-a-Hula, as it’s called, they have Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Elton John and Lady Gaga impersonators with back-up dancers and a backing band.
I auditioned as the drummer for the show. I’ll admit that when I first contacted them, I didn’t know it was the Legends show. I responded to a Craigslist ad that said something like “Vegas-style production show seeks drummer. This is a full-time, salaried position.”
I didn’t think much of it, but I figured it would pay at least as much as I make now and I’d get to play the drums every night. I mean, my ultimate goal is to be a superstar of some type, but the truth is, I just don’t want a real job, so I’d be willing to settle for some silly Vegas wannabe Hawaiian show.
But alas, it was Legends. Kind of like, “The Big Show” for session musicians. When I realized that little fact, my confidence went way down as I am definitely NOT a session musician, but I thought it would be a good opportunity. A gig like this is out of my league but maybe the casting director would make some type of judgment error and allow me to be paid to play drums for a little bit and by the time they’re going to fire me, I’ve improved so much that they couldn’t possibly let me go. You just never know, casting directors can get drunk and make bad decisions and I am always prepared to capitalize on it.
About a week before the audition, I received an email with audition songs and call times on it, but it had everyone else’s names on it, too. If you think you can’t judge people’s drumming talents by their name alone, well, you might be right, but boy did I try. There was a guy auditioning whose first name was Jazzton. Jazzton! He’s definitely better at playing the drums than I am.
My call time was 3:30 on a Friday. The theater is about a 3-minute walk from my current job, so I went to work all morning. About 3pm, I started walking over, looking for any excuse to turn around and forget about the whole thing. I didn’t find a good excuse and ended up at the ticket counter where I asked the ladies where to go. They directed me to the rear entrance of the theater.
I walked down a long corridor with cool flight cases with “LEGENDS” stamped on them. I walked into a small room with some guy tuning a beautiful acoustic guitar and another guy winding up a mic cable. I told them I was there for the audition and one of them said “right on!” introduced himself and led me to the stage.
Along the walk to the stage, I was introduced to tons of people, all of whom were super friendly and kind. I got to the stage and met the guy in charge, the stage director, Josh. He said that we were still waiting for some people and to make myself comfortable.
I did a little exploring. There was a Sonor drum kit, a Fender Hotrod Deville guitar amp and a bunch of other dream equipment. In short, I fell in love with everything. It was amazing and the people were great.
I met the guitarist who was some hipster-looking guy with a Blink 182-y kind of name, like Mark, Tom, Travis or maybe Scott, I don’t remember. He introduced me to the keyboard player and the bass player, Alfonso.
Another audition-er walked in and Josh followed him saying that none of the other people for our call time bothered to show up, so it was just the two of us auditioning. I felt oddly at home and by this time I was really hoping I didn’t mess up too badly. I would love to come here every day for work.
The other guy auditioned first. The first song started and he was super choppy right off the bat. I was really confused. Eventually he settled into the groove, but I wasn’t watching him anymore. The band. So good. I was in a trance watching them. They were insane.
After his audition was over, Josh walked him out and I walked up on stage. I had an “I’m not worthy” moment with the band. I hope I didn’t clue them in on my man-crushes too much. What can you do?
Alfonso, the bass player, was set up right next to the drum kit, so he was my reference guy. Lucky for me, he was really friendly. I had to use in-ear monitors, which I’ve never used before and he had to teach me how to put them in. It was at this moment when it really sank in that I was in over my head. I asked Alfonso to please make sure I didn’t do anything too stupid. He laughed and agreed.
After I was all set up with the nifty in-ear monitors, Josh said, “Let’s run the Elvis tune, ready James?”
I said I was ready and suddenly in my ear I heard, “ONETWOTHREEFOUR doopDAPdoopDAPdoopDAPdoopDAP.” I realized why the other drummer faltered so badly at first. The doopDAP was a metronome clicking away in my head. All of my drumming experience was either in a studio with a metronome or live without a metronome. Does this mean that I can’t connect the two and play live with a metronome? Well, yes, it means I can’t play live with a metronome. Didn’t see that coming.
My live technique involves a balance of staying in a relative time while staying with the other musicians. Essentially, I follow the band and keep it kind of steady. This time, however, I was the total leader. I was to follow the metronome and play and everyone else was to follow me.
The first song was terrible. I was never more than a half-beat off, but unfortunately, that is way more significant that it sounds. When the first song ended, it was clear that they weren’t going to hire me; they’d be idiots. I was a little devastated but instead of thanking me for my time and asking me to leave, they gave me a bunch of pointers and we ran the next song.
The next song was immensely better, but I was still pretty tense and it still wasn’t good. Again, the song ended, they gave me more pointers, told me I was improving and we moved to the next song.
I played with them for about 20-30 minutes and by the end, it was decent. Even by the last song, I wasn’t at their level, but I made a significant improvement. Josh immediately came over after I was done and threw out some incredible insights about my playing. He gave me very specific technique issues I was having and ways to correct them. After our little conversation, I walked over to the rest of the band and shook their hands. They gave me encouraging words and thanked me for playing with them. I thanked them all and walked out.
Once again, that feeling of utter failure surrounded me as I left. It’s a bad feeling. I knew going in that I didn’t have much of a chance at this one but it’s really hard to know that there’s so much more in me that I can’t seem to get out. It was a good 45 minutes of me being selfish and upset. And then, the revelation: It was clear in the first couple bars that I wasn’t their guy but they let me continue anyway. I actually started to cry. They turned my failure into a really productive music lesson. Why? They had nothing to benefit from it. They should’ve asked me to leave but they didn’t. After that first song, I was super vulnerable and defeated. I’m not sure if they saw that or not, but their kindness was touching and it transformed that whole experience for me.
I know my limits. I do. And I shoot for goals that are well beyond my reach anyway. And it sucks when I realize that it really is beyond my grasp, but it is in those attempts that I learn what it’s like to be on the other side of my own limits. I will keep defining my limits and I will keep attempting to move beyond them. And if I keep getting lucky enough to have these amazing opportunities with such kind people, it should be easy to move forward.