I find myself today in an unexpected place. I don’t mean to say that I don’t know where I am. Or how I got here. And I suppose it’s also fair to say it’s not entirely unexpected, either. It’s a feeling somewhat akin to the difference between shocked and surprised. I am often shocked, but I am rarely surprised.
Yet, surprised I am. Relieved even at the blessings we’ve received here. Today I am in a Los Angeles hotel room on an uncharacteristically rainy day, anticipating the brunt of the tropical storm formally known as Hurricane Hillary. But only a few hundred yards from here is the set of the iconic television series “America’s Got Talent.”
Our daughter, Lavender, is currently a semifinalist on the 18th season of this epic talent show. She earned her spot here through the enviable achievement of receiving a “Golden Buzzer“ from celebrity judge Heidi Klum earlier in the season. Which, we came to learn, was something of a social media coup of its own. Heidi is a master of it.
For those unfamiliar with this ubiquitous elimination reality series, America’s Got Talent is a worldwide franchise of television talent competitions, developed in Britain and premiered in the United States on June 21, 2006. It has the unique distinction of being meta-famous, even to those who never watch the show itself, but who see its vast presence through an array of performance clips online. Practically everyone in the world knows about this show.
You might think the awareness of that would permeate the environment of what is quickly becoming a high-stakes moment. But I have to say, without exception, every single contestant we’ve spent time with is someone we would be happy to call a friend. The environment does not feel competitive at all despite the real nature of what all these marvelous contestants are doing here.
To put it in perspective, tens of thousands of people audition every year to get one of these coveted 55 slots in the live shows of the competition. This is rarefied air we’re all breathing here. All of the five semifinal episodes featuring eleven acts each will send only two of those acts forward to the finals in September. Most of the people with whom we’ve shared this unforgettable experience will end their AGT journeys here. We may be among them.
Our days here have been either full or smattered with music rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, reality filming, or performances for the big wigs who are plotting the stunning visuals that will frame the roster of entertainers readying themselves for their best moment in front of millions.
Few, if any, of those competing in this week’s semifinal have experienced production values like these before. The band True Villains, for instance, still carries around its own sound gear back in Nashville. Here they are treated like rock ‘n’ roll royalty. As they should. They’re fantastic.
Jamie and I spent the evening hanging out with them at the hotel pool last night. All of them are charmed by Lavender, which, of course, made us charmed by them. Comedian Maureen Langan has lovingly fawned over her too. As have members of the wonderful Sainted Trap Choir, staying just down the hall from us at the Hotel Dena. Their enthusiasm to be here is contagious.
We’ve also become quite close with the families of 10-year-old dancer Lambros Garcia and 12-year-old ventriloquist and magician Brynn Cummings. Lavender has had a ball getting to know all of these talented and dedicated artists of all ages.
It’s worth mentioning that this experience is not at all in support of the rumors about the viciousness of Hollywood. While I am certain that those stereotypes exist for a reason, they are not evident here. Everyone on the production staff is not only kind to us, they are kind to each other. The environment is unfailingly cheerful, and well organized.
Some of the entertainers have to work long hours perfecting their upcoming performance. Admittedly, being a vocalist requires few props or technical elements that can go wrong or find themselves missing. So, with the exception of protecting her voice, Lavender doesn’t have many of the challenges that other entertainers face. Just the marshaling of all 27 members of the Sainted Trap Choir is a military maneuver unto itself. We frequently hear them passing by our hotel room door heading to and from their frequent rehearsals. Wardrobe took them all day.
It’s hard to appreciate from the audience’s perspective just how many spinning plates there are in producing a program of this magnitude. I couldn’t begin to estimate the number of people employed around here. After 18 seasons and dozens of franchises around the world, I can assure you this is a well-oiled machine. They know exactly what they’re doing.
It’s impossible to see what will happen from here for Lavender and our family. This might be the end of the road, or the beginning of a brand new life. Either way, Lavender is already a winner. As are the many friends we’ve made this past week. None of us will ever forget this experience or the people with whom we’ve shared it. That’s why it’s such an honor for me to share it with you. So that you may join us in basking for a moment in this special little spotlight that will last no longer than its prescribed 15 minutes. But what a 15 minutes they are.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is a Unitarian Universalist Minister at the First Parish of Fitchburg and the First Church of Lancaster. Email email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.