Thursday 24 January 2013

America's Got Talent Invite, Must Be The Music, and my Rapid Rise to Superstardom

First off, thank you to all of you on Facebook and Twitter that responded to my question about how I should respond to the invitation to participate on 'America's Got Talent'.  I'm not going to do it, and I'll explain why. 

I'm surprised by how many of you said 'go for it', and  'what have you got to lose'.  I have a wonderful group of people that appreciate the music I make and come to the shows and buy my records and help keep my head above water.  I'm sure there are plenty more people out there that would appreciate my act and my music it if they just knew about it. That can be frustrating so I am just as enchanted as the next guy by the idea that something like this could possibly be a magic bullet of mass exposure and move my career up to that seemingly ever-evasive proverbial 'next level' or break through stage.   Several of my friends that surprised me by saying "go for it" are also artists that have significantly larger fanbases. I know I need to build my audience if I want to keep going and growing, but is it really necessary to stoop to being involved in such ugliness to do so?

 I'm also a little, but not too, surprised that so few recall that I've played this game before a few years ago when I was invited to appear on similar show 'Must Be The Music' in Britain.  I was in two minds about that one and struggled to decide, but in the end the 'what have you got to lose' voice won out. I thought well, someone's gotta stand up and let the kids know that we don't all aspire to being the next Robbie Williams or Mariah Carey, and the idea of me with Hornicator on that kind of show seemed too absurd and surreal to reasonably pass up the invitation.  I've also thought that it seems important for me to cement my identity in a larger public arena before someone in that larger arena rips me off (trusted friends have told me I'm paranoid when it comes to things like this). I even thought maybe here was an opportunity to try and battle the corporate homogenization of music by infiltrating it from the inside.  But I should have known better.  I used to work at MTV, after all.

  I mostly enjoyed the actual experience though, and I don't regret doing it, even though these kind of shows really turn my stomach and after further contemplation I think they are even more of an ugly blemish on our modern culture than I originally thought (more on this later).  Anyway, on the show I think I performed my rendition of 'Why Dogs Howl At The Moon' well.  In fact, the live audience were clapping along and howling without prompting (see email below).  They let me finish the song, but the judges promptly and unanimously voted me off.  I wasn't all that surprised. We each had an on-camera exchange of words following the performance (as is the standard thing) which I thought was priceless and in a nutshell went pretty much like this:

Jamie Cullum - "When I saw you setting up I was hoping maybe it would be something like Tom Waits"

Me: "So, in a contest where you're supposedly looking for something original, I'd have faired better if I'd been a Tom Waits imitator?"

Dizzee Rascal
: "You got the crowd going I'll give you that"
then he turned towards the crowd and said "but would anybody want to BUY a song like that?" 
(As I recall, a large part of the crowd roared approvingly, to his dismay). 

Sharleen Spiteri: "That was just a lot of noise with no melody, it was terrible"

Me: "That's what my parents used to tell me when I listened to old rock and roll and punk music when I was a teenager"

Dizzee Rascal: "It were good fer da eyes, but not fer da ears"

Me: (intending the comment for all the judges, though Dizzee seemed to take it personally) "Everything you've just said to me I could say is how I feel about your own stuff."

With that a big 'Woooooo!'  from the crowd and I was ushered off.  I left feeling quite happy about all that and thinking how great it would be if they aired all that. But I knew deep down how it was probably going to turn out, and what was actually aired in the end was about five seconds of me howling into the Hornicator and Dizzee's final comment, my response and a priceless shot of him looking dumbstruck, all as part of a quick edit montage with an introduction something to the effect of "the solo acts didn't fair so well either".  I was surprised they kept that last part, as that show is obviously really more about perpetuating/glorifying the celebrity of the judges than any new talent. But I guess they were trying to show that they knew how to laugh at themselves sometimes too.

A day later I received a couple of nice facebook comments and the following email from people that had been in the studio audience:
(Andy, I'm assuming you wouldn't mind but  if you read this and you want me to take it off just let me know and I will, I couldn't reach you via the return email address)

"Hi Thomas

 I saw your performance at The Hackney Empire and I we thought your performance was very entertaining. I liked the way you looped the samples and built the song up in stages. We could see exactly what your musical concept was all about. I hope you could feel that the audience was with you all the way.
The song was very addictive and in case you were not aware that at least two hours after you had gone the audience were still doing the Howling sounds. So much that the compare felt intimidated by this and reminded us that you had left a long time ago and to think of something else. The judges were just considered as not really up to their job as they did not make decisions as individuals and they were not exactly the best people to judge. They themselves have not exactly had what we would consider ground breaking careers. It would have been better for A & R people to Judge these kind of events because they really know what to look for. But of course on telelvision its all about image I guess.

Have a great Career Thomas,you deserve it.

Kind regards

Andy ***"

Thanks Andy.

I felt okay about having done the whole thing, no regrets. I felt the sting, but I've been doing my thing for years, played large shows as well as empty rooms, lived through some bad reviews and rejections and sometimes downright violent responses (amongst the generally favorable reactions) and have, through the course of it all, built up a reasonably thick skin.  I took a chance that it might work, that maybe what Andy saw would also go out to millions of people.  A chance that some of those people might just happen to be open minded souls tied to their chairs by burglars and forced to endure Sky 1 programming rather than go out on a Saturday evening.  Problem is, in mainstream television, they have an agenda and have to answer to advertisers.  Together they hold all the cards, and will use and edit them as they see best fit to sell their products and keep their salesmen looking good.

Something else really bothered me much more than my own little situation though, and that was being in the green room beforehand and seeing all these hopeful younger kids go through the same wringer with much higher expectations and a bit more at risk.  A lot of them needed the encouragement they were seeking to grow.  Some of them will probably never sing or play an instrument in public again. Whether they have talent or not, a lot of them don't have all the positive things I do to fall back into after they get three (or four) giant X's and buzzers flashed in their faces by 'famous' 'judges' on national television, after they give it their best shot. Let me tell you, there's something powerfully psychologically destructive in that.  I only vaguely knew who the celebrity judges were (Yes I have to admit I'm out of touch that way) but what if one of those judges happens to be a personal idol or hero of yours? Seeing it on TV is one thing, but I'm telling you, it's cartoon rejection on steroids and if you can't laugh about it and see through it it's not going to result in anything positive.

I'm not saying that their foremost intention is to be sinister (they just don't care), but  after considering it more carefully I believe that shows like these personify and perpetuate some of the worst illnesses of our modern society, especially in the US, where the myth is more along the lines of either you make it real big, or you haven't really 'made it' at all.

I don't see music as a competition.  I think such things are about as healthy and realistic as a beauty contest.  When I was in high school and they had things like 'Battle Of The Bands' I steered clear and hid under the stairs making up scary sounds with my Moog Rogue and a Boss Delay pedal. I'm still doing that sort of thing. I wouldn't have been happier playing 'Stairway to Heaven' in a school gymnasium then and  I wouldn't be happier now playing on some televised red white and blue lit Las Vegas stage. 

I'm not sure the producers of AGT even realize I'm not living in America anymore anyway.
Now if it had been the Jools Holland show that called...


  1. I'm proud of your decision. :) Shows like that are soul-crushing, and people enjoy watching others get torn down.

  2. "Be careful because you tread on my dreams."

    Without our hopes and dreams we exist, not live. Who has the right to strip these from us for the sake of entertainment?

  3. Dude, you played the Edinburgh Backpacker's hostel years ago for Baby Tiger. You don't need AGT's small potatoes.

  4. Posts like this make me feel that humanity may have a future after all.

    I'd imagine Dizzee Rascal (who at least has a history as a human being) may have watched your performance, and, not very deep down in the aching chasm of his soul, felt a sharp pang of jealousy that you can create music unfettered by endless meetings with music industry wonks; tiresomely encouraging the churning out of yet another identikit 'banger'. I'd expect not even his array of 95 inch plasma tvs and 300 pairs of titanium-plated trainers came as much consolation at that point.

    Cowell and his demonic legion of celebutards are only "winners" by the rules of their own twisted game. So it's an almighty hurrah from Mr. Patronise here that you've chosen to write the rules to a game of your own.

  5. Nobody gets pulled up into the lifeboat unless somebody (on board) leans over and gives him a hand. And they only got so many cans of tuna fish, so don't count on it... unless you're related to or making nice with somebody what got their hands on the can opener......well, you know what I mean. On the flip side, people are like cattle. They only acknowledge yet-to-bes if BIG NAMES say it's OK. this is true. Two years after CASABLANCA came out, they did an experiment. The same script was submitted to agents and producers, only credited to unknowns.Needless to say, everyone passed on it. The ridiculed it and tore it apart.... I know what I'm going to say isn't COMPLETELY TRUE, but it is LARGELY TRUE... What we got in the English speaking world isn't an ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY, it's an ENTERTAINMENT COUSINS' CLUB and you ain't gonna be a cousin, unless you GOT A COUSIN... :o)

  6. I used to watch "American Idol" and AGT and a few others from time to time because I enjoyed seeing the new acts but I finally had to throw up my hands in disgust and quit all of them. These things would be just fine if the voting were left entirely to an audience (and there are ways to do that even at the early stages) but the judges ruin these shows. Not only do they say rotten things to hopeful people but they make up stupid dramas amongst themselves to liven up the show. These are cheap to produce shows and that's a large part of why they persist. The other is the fantasy they push that anybody can get on television. They have given a few people pushes in their careers but the number of others who have been put through the mill and sorely treated is too large to justify the few good starts. I'm done with them and I find it very interesting to hear about one from the other side of the stage.

  7. A great post Thomas, loved your script of the banter with the judges :) some things are meant to stay special and untampered with. It's fantastic that you are keeping true to yourself and your music! Perhaps it will set the trend for other musicians and performers who are thinking of taking the plunge too...

  8. Excellent and really inspiring. You made a good choice. Can't wait to see you play again soon!

  9. Right on. I've always loved your shows (I particularly remember the first time I saw you at the Tunnels in Aberdeen and you game fully clambering over people in an eventually successful bid to get the upper floor of Musa involved). Having said that, it must be hard to get the full Thomas Truax experience across in a single song. In my opinion one must see a full set in order to appreciate the mesmerising array of instruments and your wit, humour and showmanship.

    Also I would love to play on Later. Maybe one day...

  10. wonderfully written and true. as danny kelly sings we are after a "different kind of gold"

  11. nice text mr. you're great just go on :-)

  12. Hi Thomas,
    Loved your post and story! I actually did Britain's Got Talented several years ago for same reasons "why the hell not" and to get the word out about the marvellous instrument that is the theremin! I had a similar experience, awful 'warm up' people cajolling a vicious crowd and did feel like being cast to the lions. However I did alright, actually got through to round 2 and had the delight of Simon Cowell saying 'it's the worst thing I ever heard." I ran away from Round 2 in a bunking out of school fashion. Once was enough!
    Didn't make the edit (neither did the thereminists previously) however it can work -my friend ThereminHero got through to final with his Laser Harp act.
    I didn't regret it - was a great piece of business development being able to perform in such a challenge context!
    You do what you do, if the right TV opportunity comes along you will know it!

    Miss Hypnotique

  13. Friend of mine got asked to do BGT. They put him up there knowing he wasn't going to fit and used his appearance and good nature to turn him into an object of ridicule. You are well out of it. We love you and if you got mega successful and started playing bigger venues you'd run out of breath AND song trying to run around the back of the building as you normally do :-)

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