CHAPTER IV: Its an Honor Just To Have
Been Nominated Part II
OK. I never learn. I should steer clear of contests of any kind.
But I couldnt resist this latest hare-brained scheme of mine
to enter a singing contest on a local New York talk radio show and
bring home the $2500 first prize. Piece of cake, I thought. But
as I said, I never learn. Well, maybe I learn, but I get really
I started listening to talk radio in my car because lets
face it music has become unbearable. New music more or less
sucks and classic rock
lets just say, if I hear Layla
one more time I might go on a murderous rampage. I never liked the
damn song to begin with. The show Ive been listening to is
called The Radio Chick. Its your standard chat
fest, but Im hooked on it. The Radio Chick is an intelligent
middle-aged Jewish woman who has a sexy and soothing delivery. Her
two co-jocks are both quick-witted and have a good chemistry with
So one day Im driving around and I hear them talking about
a singing contest theyre presenting based loosely on American
Idol. The twist is that their contest is called American
Ex-Con. To qualify you have to not only be able to sing a
tune, you also have to have been handcuffed, arrested and incarcerated.
Unbelievably I qualify. Yes, I am an ex-con. Technically speaking.
My crime? Trying to rescue a stray cat. Its a long story which
I will write about in a separate piece, but in short, I was placed
in a cell already occupied by two rather frightening gentlemen who
asked what I was in for and then when told, menacingly accused me
of trying to kill the cat. It took me twenty minutes to convince
them that I was no cat killer, that I was simply trying to save
her and find her a nice home when things went completely amok with
the park police. I know what these kind of people do to child molesters
and I definitely didnt want to find out how they handled kitty
slayers. But back to the contest.
I heard a couple of the initial entries and figured Id be
a shoe-in. The next day I sent in a song I had recorded for my new
album. Its a straight-ahead blues entitled Twelve Bars
and I Still Have The Blues. A few days later I was driving
around when the Radio Chick played my song on the air. Now, you
gotta remember that this is not a music show, this is a make-fun-of-everything-and-anything
provocative talk format. These people are skilled professionals
at being opinionated wise-asses. If they sense any weakness in a
caller or guest, they pounce like your worst nightmare bullies in
junior high the kind that make a mockery of the old adage
sticks and stones may break my bones. So I start having
second thoughts about the whole thing, but its too late. My
friggin song is blasting out of thousands of speakers throughout
the tri-state area, not to mention the worldwide web. Im waiting
for them to start mocking my effort with some facetious remarks
when the Radio Chick says You know me, Im a sucker for
the blues. Then her co-host chimes in well this guy
can certainly sing and finally the other co-host says I
gotta say, I love this. I almost run my car into a pole, Im
so hyped. Most of the other ex-cons didnt get off so easy.
The three radio judges ridiculed, criticized and laughed through
many of the songs they played for the contest. But thats their
job. I was just grateful they spared me the humiliation.
Cut to the end of the week I receive an e-mail telling me
Im being considered for one of the six finalists out of over
sixty entries. I didnt realize there were that many talented
ex-jailbirds in hearing distance of this particular radio station.
But apparently there are
kind of. I sweat it through the weekend,
kept in suspense until 4:00 Monday when they announce the six who
made it into the finals. They say the first four names and I begin
to wonder if maybe they had changed their minds. Maybe I sounded
too slick or something. Possibly Im too pro
this is supposed to be for laughs after all. When suddenly I hear
the fifth finalist is Xavier. Oh, I forgot to mention
, I decided to go under the partial alias of Xavier.
X. is my middle name after all and I didnt want
anyone to know about this
I was doing this strictly for the
$2500, which could come in handy paying off the cost of mixing the
new album. So Im in. I call Nancy and I have to admit Im
excited. Im ecstatic, actually. People who didnt know
me from Adam heard me sing and thought I was better than the rest
of the rotten bunch. I felt good.
My question at this juncture is what song should I sing to clinch
this thing. I know Ill do something by Stevie Winwood.
Dear Mr. Fantasy or Gimme Some Lovin.
Upon my arrival home, I immediately pick up my acoustic guitar and
start scheming. Im confident Im going to win. These
songs suit my upper register and people have commented in the past
how much I sound like Mr. Winwood when I do his material. Im
champin at the bit. Let me sing for the Radio Chick!
Then a second e-mail comes in. This is what I feared. It says,
do not bring any instruments with you. You will be required to sing
a duet with one of the other five finalists a cappella. You will
be assigned your song at the station on the day of the contest.
It will be one of these:
I Got You Babe (Sonny & Cher)
Enough Is Enough (Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer)
Dont Go Breakin My Heart (Elton John and Kiki Dee)
Ebony and Ivory (Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder)
It Takes Two (Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston)
A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit RocknRoll (Donny
and Marie Osmond)
I see the $2500 going up in flames and the ashes raining down.
I make a snap decision to back out of this farce at all costs. But
then I have a vision of them tearing me apart verbally on the show
for being a thin-skinned wimped-out spoil sport. They might even
get hold of my real name and turn me into the laughing stock poster
boy for the sore loser of the week. Or something equally horrible.
OK, heres what Im going to do. Im gonna go through
with this but on my terms. The only song here on which I can retain
any shred of proficiency, not to mention dignity, is It Takes
Two. I can even sing Kim Westons part. I dont
care. Just dont make me sing one of those other creepy songs.
I mean, I love the Beatles and Stevie Wonder is a genius, but come
on, Ebony and Ivory is a piece of crap. Hated it when
it was a hit, hate it even more now. Some things improve with age,
most things dont, and Ebony and Ivory is even
more cloyingly annoying and sappy in the new millennium. The metaphor
isnt even correct. Any musician will tell you that the black
key on the piano next to a white key produces a half step interval
which is a dissonance. Metaphorically, Seinfeld had it better with
the black and white cookie when describing racial harmony. And thats
the second best choice I have. The rest of the selections are so
dismal at least as far as me trying to sing them that I begin to
regret ever listening to this Radio Chick. It also occurs to me
that there is only one female finalist. What are they going to do,
make her sing the girl part on all these duets?
I practice It Takes Two over and over. Sometimes Nancy
sings the female part and I concentrate on the Marvin Gaye sections,
or I just sing both sides of the duet so I can be ready for anything.
Im sticking to my guns; Im only learning this one duet.
Heres the other thing I forgot to mention in the second
e-mail, they informed the finalists that one of the three duet couples
will be eliminated. Boom, done, get outa here, you lost, its
over. The both of ya scram. So Ive gotta get past this
part of the competition. And damn it, I will. As a matter of fact,
Im doing a pretty good Marvin Gaye as interpreted by a skinny
white Jew, of course. But not bad. And my Kim Weston well,
lets just say I may need to wear some tight jockey shorts
to nail the high notes. But I can do it. As Sammy used to say between
knee-slapping fits of hysteria, Yes I Can! My plan, if they insist
I do one of the other lame choices, is the Robert Kennedy
Robert McNamara Cuban Missile Crisis theory. Nikita Kruschev sent
two notes to JFK. The first said he would back down and not send
the nuclear missiles. The second one was more aggressive and threatening.
RFK said, lets just pretend we never got the second one and
respond to the first. Which is what they did, saving the world from
a nuclear holocaust. Thats what Im going to do. Ignore
the second e-mail. Ill just say I never got it, the only one
of these duets I even remotely know is It Takes Two.
Once Ive made it past the a cappella duet with one of the
other criminals, then Ill bring it all home with a solo vocal
sung to a karaoke track. Again, the choices are from a list in the
second e-mail. But Im in luck. Good Lovin
by The Rascals is one of the selections. Thats a song I can
sink my teeth as well as my vocal cords into. Like Eddie G. said
in Double Indemnity, everything is fitting together.
Like a watch.
The day of the show, I carefully pick out my wardrobe; even though
I know this is radio, I want to look slick for the Chick. I choose
a paisley shirt and black pants just flash enough without
looking like Im trying too hard, and anxiously take the subway
into midtown Manhattan to the skyscraper where Ill claim my
victory and seek my destiny. The security is tight; we are ex-cons
after all. Im patted down and have a metal detector wand waved
around my groin. It starts beeping, but its only my metallic
subway fare card tucked into my pants pocket and not a gun or some
kind of aluminum phallic enhancer a la Spinal Tap. So I am let in
to the radio station.
A security guard ushers me into the green room (the waiting room,
for you laymen) where I meet the other five contestants. Not a bad
looking group for a bunch of felons. Well, thats not exactly
true their crimes ranged from jay-walking to driving with
an expired registration to one guy who jumped out onto the field
at Yankee Stadium disrupting a game. The most egregious crime was
that of a six foot five Southerner who got caught masturbating in
his car. I fit right in with these hardened thugs.
A producer from the show comes in and begins assigning us our duet
songs. Before he starts, he tells us that one of the finalists dropped
out of the contest. The producer did not have nice things to say
about this upstart who had the audacity to challenge the wisdom
of the radio elite. Inside, Im thinking that dude is my hero.
He did what I should have done gotten the hell out of this
godforsaken contest. He told the station I want to sing my
own songs or I dont sing at all. The producer went to
great lengths to pin this prima donna down as the biggest jerk this
side of Hoboken, even though he said he was perfectly polite in
his stance. He was promptly replaced by a runner up.
The first duet goes to two of the guys; they get I Got You
Babe which is not exactly a singers showcase. I laugh
to myself, suckers, Ill buy you a drink with part of my $2500
winnings. The next duet, Dont Go Breaking My Heart,
goes to a guy and the one female finalist. This girl is ridiculously
cute. Im talkin five foot two eyes of
notice the color of her eyes; I was too busy eyeing her perfect
bod. Twenty-two years old and
well, if this were TV shed
win even if she couldnt carry a tune.
So Im anxiously waiting for our duet. Our meaning
me and the big country masturbator. Hes the only one left
besides me. I start chanting It Takes Two, It Takes Two
over and over in my head to induce the idea by osmosis into the
producers brain. Then I begin to pray. Please dear lord,
Ill be good. Ill do anything you want. Ill be
kind to strangers. Ill even stop surfing for porn. Whatever,
just grant me this one wish. It Takes Two by Marvin
Gaye and Kim Weston. Im begging you.
The producer looks at me and the big guy and says Xavier
and Mark, you two will be doing
As his mouth forms the words Ebony and Ivory I scream
silently to myself, nooooooooooooooo!. I muster up the courage and
very diplomatically and soft-spokenly ask ah, sir, would it
be possible if we did It Takes Two instead? No,
Im sorry, these are the songs weve chosen. I try
one last attempt. How about Mark does Ebony and Ivory
by himself and I do It Takes Two? I point out
that I can sing both parts quite handily. But now hes adamant.
I slowly sink down onto the couch and watch my contestant life flash
before me. Im slithering down into the deepest regions of
hell where one has to listen to songs like Ebony and Ivory
for the rest of eternity. In my shocked state I hear my partner
Mark say with a southern drawl I dont even know It
Takes Two, never heard it. I now know what it must have
felt like for a prisoner on death row in Texas while Dubya was governor.
Doomed fait accompli might as well be measuring out
the coffin because my ass is fried. Over the years Ive managed
to tune out as I best I could music that I dont like. But
back in the day a song like Ebony and Ivory was hard
to avoid and snuck in a few times, enough to know it when I heard
it. But thats it. I dont really know it. And I dont
want to know it. Could you imagine the uproar if I back out now?
The producer just trashed the guy whod wisely quit in advance.
I can only think of what the Radio Chick and company are going to
do to that poor shmuck on the air.
With my best poker face (which isnt very convincing) I tell
my singing partner Mark that I sort of know Ebony and Ivory
and well be just fine. OK, where do we rehearse, I ask the
producer. Rehearse? Oh, ah, I dont know, I guess right
here. In the green room. The room is only 12 x 12 foot square
and there are six of us doing three different songs. Sorry
thats all weve got. I didnt think I could
feel much worse, but conjure up this bit of auditory cacophony.
I Got You, Babe, Dont Go Breakin My
Heart and the wonderful Ebony and Ivory, all being
sung at once in a small room, again and again, by six nervous misters
and misdemeanors who just met. On top of all my other misgivings,
I have a cough that started up due to allergies, so I brought along
my prescription cough syrup. I didnt bring a spoon because
I figured there would be metal detectors (this is New York), and
I didnt want to pull out my spoon and have someone shoot me
thinking it was a knife or at best an accoutrement for shooting
After fifteen minutes of this torture, were led into the
studio. Radio is a mystical medium. Because there is no visual,
you are forced to try to see what you hear. I had a certain vision
of the Radio Chick and her two co-hosts. Im pleasantly surprised
to find that they look pretty much as I suspected. The Chick was
attractive and sexy, one co-host was a good looking black man and
the other had a shaved head and a pleasant face. Im as star
struck as the next person and Im excited to be in the same
room with these voices Ive been hearing over my car radio
for the past several months. Each of the contestants was asked a
few humorous questions. when it was my turn, the bald co-host said
he wasnt sure he believed anything I said because I had a
smirk on my face. When I mentioned that my crime was attempting
to rescue a stray cat, the Chicks sidekick Chuck came back
without missing a beat, why were you trying to rescue Brian
Setzer from a city park?
Out of pure nerves I swigged down way more than the prescribed
dose of cough syrup, and before too long I was in a codeine stupor
accompanied by severe nausea and dizziness.
So the contest is underway. First up, the I Got You, Babe
contingent. They range from passable to dont-give-up-your-day-jobs.
I think even Mark and me massacring the already insufferable Ebony
and Ivory are going to beat these guys out. Next were
served up the delightful Dont Go Breaking My Heart
with the attractive female finalist. Not godawful by any means,
but not god-good either. Here we go. Mark is so tall that I grab
a stool as a joke and make the motion like Im going to stand
on it to get up to eye level, which gets a few chuckles. During
our so-called rehearsal, I snapped my fingers on the backbeat to
create a groove and more importantly to keep us together. We worked
out that big Mark would sing the opening chorus. I would sing the
first half of the verse, then he would do the second half, and then
wed sing the second chorus together in harmony.
Unfortunately, they gave us hand mics, so while my left hand is
holding the mic, my right is clutching the lyric sheet. I try snapping
my fingers but realize its impossible to make any sound with
a piece of paper in your hand; try it some time. In all fairness
Mark has a decent voice, with a nice country twang and good pitch,
especially for an auto-masturbator. He starts the song a little
lower than we rehearsed it but sounds strong. I start the verse,
we all know, that people are the same, blah blah blah
which is too low for my voice and admittedly wobble. Suddenly Mark,
of his own accord, begins singing along with me which throws me
off we go into a tailspin and were going down. When
its over the Radio Chick says Xavier, do you get nervous
when you sing? You sounded a little shaky. All I could muster
in my mortification was the word always. I dont
know what I meant by that. All I knew was there was no $2500 check
to sign that day in my future. They tell us to go back to the green
room so they can decide which pair is out of the contest. I already
know. I take my coat with me and seriously consider making a beeline
toward the elevator and down to the street. But I think about the
consequences. Mr. Heyman, Mr. Richard X. Heyman, that is your real
name, isnt it? You can run but you cant hide. I keep
my winter coat on hand and decide to leave after they humiliate
me and Mark in the next segment. I bow my head in prayer
please let it be the I Got You Babe twosome; I dont
care if I win, just dont make me one of the first to go. But
sure enough, the Radio Chick says there was one duet that
was shakier than the rest. Mark and Xavier, you are out. I
guess Im not a good loser because even though in my heart
I knew we sucked or at least I sucked on that song, we were really
no worse than the other duets. I was now livid, pissed off at the
whole world, sullen, miserable and completely sick to my stomach,
mainly from the overdose of codeine. I have to keep reminding myself
this is not a big deal so you made a fool of yourself in
earshot of tens of thousands of listeners. Its not a music
show, its a comedy show, but its not working. I may
not be a household name, but Im pretty certain Im the
most critically acclaimed unknown singer songwriter in the country,
maybe even the world certainly in the room. If you dont
believe me, just go to my website and read the reviews. My own family
doesnt even like me as much as some of these reviewers. I
sure dont think Im as good as some of these writers
gush, but now is not the time for the humble bit. False modesty
aside, Im a solid rocknroll singer and my fellow
loser, masturbating Mark is a good old country singer. Frankly,
we were the two best singers in the room but were axed because of
that stupid song and the dumb rules they came up with.
I am about to leave as the segment ends before a commercial break,
when one of the co-hosts says Xavier, you dont have
to leave. You can stay in here; you and Mark already lost so it
doesnt matter which makes me feel ten times worse than
I already did So I have to sit there and listen to the four remaining
contestants sing their solo songs. My mind is steaming. Just let
me do Good Lovin and Ill wipe the floor
with these posers. But that aint gonna happen. One by one,
they karaoke their way through a variety of tunes and then are asked
to leave the room so the three judges can eliminate the next two.
I feel about as low as Bushs approval ratings and dont
even have the strength to say no, Im going home;
I sit down on the couch with Mark while they decide on the next
Two of the guys get cut and it comes down to the guy who ran down
on the field at Yankee Stadium and the cute twenty-two year old
girl. They each get to sing another song. Baseball Crasher tackles
I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown and I have to
admit he does about as good a job as any white guy trying to do
JB. The young lady takes a gamble and does Creams Sunshine
of Your Love. Theyre both singing to karaoke tracks
and it is obvious that the song is in too low of a key for her.
It was originally sung by a couple of men after all. She soldiers
through, jumps up an octave at the end for a last ditch strong finish
and then the voting begins.
The outcome is to be decided by the listeners who can either call
in or vote via e-mail. People are calling in, commenting positively
or negatively about the two finalists performances and several
callers comment about the other contestants. Not one mentions Xavier.
Instinctively my masochism kicks in and I sit there debating if
its better to be totally insignificant and ignored or to be
laughed at as the butt of someones cruel joke. At this moment
Im leaning toward the latter before I fade into oblivion like
the guy at the end of The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Its a close race reminiscent of the Bush/Gore election but
after all the votes are counted, the cute girl walks away with the
first prize. What a surprise. We runners-up each get a t-shirt with
the name of the station on it.
Were each asked for a final comment about the two finalists.
If my mind was even half working and I wasnt jacked up on
codeine and ready to puke, I might have said something mildly amusing
like If I were that infield crasher runner-up Id ask
to have all the hanging chads re-counted but all I can do
is utter in a voice that couldnt conceal my disdain and disappointment
they were both excellent. To which the three
radio personalities all go ooooh, which translates to
what a thin-skinned spoil sport and the show mercifully
comes to an end. I shake hands with the Chick and company, ride
the elevator to the lobby, out the revolving door and promptly puke
all over West 53rd Street.
Through the ages, sages have passed down bits of wisdom such as
dont spit into the wind for it will surely return to
its source meaning you, the spitter. Well let me add to that,
if possible never puke outside on a blustery winter day. As chunks
of vomit cascaded toward Mother Earth, a gust of wind redirected
them back onto my shoes and pants. Fortunately, I had the perfect
item with which to wipe off my regurgitated breakfast the
92.3 Free-FM WFNY t-shirt. God works in strange ways.
I once played drums for a moderately well known rock singer/guitarist
who turned out to be such a jerk in person that I can no longer
listen to his music that I once enjoyed. The Radio Chick and her
cohorts were not in any way nasty or out of line in their conduct.
I gave a shoddy performance on the song I was forced to do, but
the whole experience has soured my desire to ever hear the show
again, which is a shame because unfortunately my only alternative
what do you do when you get lonely/and nobodys
waitin by your side
Lay-laaaaa! Oy. Look out!