Somewhere after midnight
Britain’s got… Midnight Expresso?
On October 31st 2010, I submitted an application to audition for one of the UK’s biggest shows, Britain’s Got Talent. Three months on and a lot has happened in between, but first, I should give you some background.
In 2004 at the Live Lounge (then named The Q Bar) in St Helier, I made my debut performance as cabaret croooner-rapper The Midnight Expresso. The idea of the act was to perform comedy ballads in the style of an overly dramatic lounge singer with delusions of grandeur whilst clearly been completely rubbish – but hopefully so rubbish that it was good. Armed with a cheap Yamaha keyboard with an array of cheesy pre-programmed demo tracks, my early performances were completely improvised, and if a little (i.e. very) ramshackle, were a huge amount of fun., and what was supposed to be a one-off gig got a little out of hand and here I am in 2011, still performing the act on a regular basis here in London.
Three years ago I was introduced to a documentary filmmaker at the inaugural Branchage Film Festival who, after seeing me perform at the festival, approached me about making a film with him; he had been commissioned by satellite channel Current TV (whose CEO is none other than former US Presidential candidate Al Gore) to produce a documentary about the nature of fame and thought I would be an interesting act to base the film around. The aim of the project was to see how famous I could get in the space of three months, by flagrantly abusing a well-populated music industry contact book, built up throughout my time as publisher of indie music magazine Beat Happening. The results were mixed, but I scored some notable successes, achieving Radio One airplay by one of my favourite DJs, the influential Rob Da Bank and gaining support slots with bands such as Pete & the Pirates and Mr Hudson. The documentary was eventually screened in the US and UK, and off the back of the exposure this gained me, I was subsequently booked to perform at major UK festivals Latitude and Bestival, on lineups that included such luminaries as The Flaming Lips, Thom Yorke and Grace Jones.
I recently returned to London after having lived in Jersey for a brief period, and began to toy with the idea of making a sequel to the film, but this time, going down the route of many hapless and hopeless variety acts. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I opted to apply to appear on Britain’s Got Talent.
Not expecting to hear back from them, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email in mid-November, inviting me to a non-televised audition in front of the shows producers at London Docklands’ Excel Centre. Realising that my best route to following in the footsteps of the likes of Susan Boyle, Paul Potts and co was to play the novelty card (in other words, be one of those acts that gets three buzzes from the judges in under a minute, but be entertaining at the same time), I formulated a cunning plan to convince the producers that my act was entirely ad-libbed. I wrote a song especially for the audition, and worked mistakes in, so as to create the impression that I was making it all up on the spot, right there and then.
December 6th, 2010, and it’s audition day. Making my way through a snow-covered London in sub-zero temperatures, I arrive at the Excel Centre with my keyboard in tow, and my tightest spandex suit, shiny red cape and Mexican wrestling mask packed in my bag. Apparently 50,000 peoople apply to audition for Britain’s Got Talent, and my audition session is just one of three that day, the sessions taking place for the entire week in London before moving on to five other major cities. Several hundred hopeful acts are there, and it’s some bunch; scores of teenage girl groups, street dancers, and the obligatory ‘wacky’ contingent are in attendance, dressed to the nines in fancy dress costumes and face paint. I realise at this point, I’m one of them. What have I let myself in for?
After performing my piece, I was encouraged to be asked to film some extra shots of ‘B-Roll’ (supplemental shots used to intercut with interview or performance footage), and also by the fact that the producers seemed to find the act very funny. It was probably the costume more than anything. Two weeks later, I received a telephone call to tell me that I had been shortlisted to appear on the show, and carried out an interview with one of the production team, answering questions about my background, my aspirations, my inspirations and all manner of other subjects, with the intention of building a character profile and decide if I would make good television. There seem to be two types of people on the show – mentalists and those with a sob story – so I tried my very best to toe both lines. I even told them I was a stripper, to give a comedic slant to my backstory..
On Christmas Eve, I received the call I’d been hoping for: I was through to the first round of Britain’s Got Talent, and would perform on January 6th at the Hammersmith Apollo in front of a packed theatre and the TV judges – Amanda Holden, Michael McIntyre and Louis Walsh.. I immediately went to work, swotting up on Youtube clips of the show, which I must confess, I hadn’t really watched very much of before then. It was at this time that I began to consider the potential consequences of appearing on the show. What if I crashed and burned and became a figure of ridicule on the internet? What if it became a viral hit and gig offers started rolling in? What if I somehow got lucky and sneaked through to the next round? After some umming-and-ahhing, I decided to go for it.
On the big day, I arrived at the Hammersmith Novatel to check-in for the audition, accompanied by my girlfriend, friends and family. We would wait for an unspecified length of time (keeping participants informed doesn’t seem to be BGT’s strong point) and be interviewed on camera before being bussed over to the nearby Apollo theatre to perform. Surveying the scene and my competition, I saw a Polynesian dance duo, a group of youngsters each dressed as Edward Scissorhands, a beatboxing collecitve and dozens of oddball acts, including a hilariously rubbish singer going by the name of M-Zyne. Aged only eighteen or thereabouts, he spent the entire afternoon strolling around the waiting room, singing – badly – into a torch he had employed as a pretend microphone. With a seemingly bottomless bank of confidence, he explained to me this wasn’t too huge a deal for him, as he had “already done a crowd of 5,000 before.” When? I enquired. “I was in the Pied Piper at a theatre in Sussex when I was eight”, was his response, without a hint of irony.
After seven hours of waiting, taking part interviewed for both Britain’s Got Talent and ITV2’s Bitain’s Got More Talent, and sinking more than my fair share of whiskey’s in an attempt to muster up some courage, it was time to head over to the Apollo and do my thing for the panel of judges. Waiting in the cavernous underbelly of the theatre, it was impossible not to feel apprehensive, hearing the deafening sound of 3,500 audience members roaring applause or booing in dissaproval. I was to perform after the aforementioned beatbox group, and would be followed by an Amy Winehouse-impersonating drag act called Baga Chipz. In the hectic moments before heading onstage, the scene was abuzz with sound engineers, camera operators and production staff frantically working to keept the huge show running smoothly. After the beatboxers won over the judges and proceeded to the next round, it was my turn. Waiting in the wings of the stage, I was greeted by Geordie cheeky chappies Ant and Dec. ‘So, what are you going to be do for the judges then?”, they asked me. “No idea, just going to wing it” I told them, keeping up the pretence of being an improv act. In fact, I was going to sing a song about preserving the world’s stocks of fossil fuels by banning Michael McIntyre from having a limousine – because it would be a waste of petrol. Heading out to the centre stage, I exchanged some pleasantries with the judges. I even received chants of ‘Off, Off, Off’ immediately, after explaining that my day job was that of a stripper. And then I launched into my act. A confidentiality agreement prevents me from revealing the result, but I can tell you that one director of the show told me excitedly that ‘this is going to be a massive hit on Youtube’, and Michael McIntyre assured me that he was going to remember me. Whether we’ll be meeting again in the next round will have to remain a mystery for now, but be sure to tune into the show on ITV in April to find out. It may just be the start of a big adventure.