How real is ‘Reality TV?’ Local lass tells her story
By Arlyn Wolters
Arlyn Wolters, who was born and raised on Long Island, graduated with a BFA in Acting from SUNY College@ Fredonia, New York. She began her musical and acting career in Rochester, New York, and continued in Manhattan. She has been living and performing in Philadelphia since 2002 and currently resides in Germantown.
Although I really didn’t want to do it, I did it. Everyone wanted me to do it. My friends, fans, family…Facebook. They undoubtedly believed that I would not only make it on the show, but I’d win the whole bloody thing. They couldn’t understand why I would NOT consider auditioning for “The Voice”, since it seemed like a sure thing. The fact is, I’ve done this kind of thing before…this so-called Reality TV. What I’ve learned is there is not much “real” about it.I know there are fans of this show out there. That’s fine. I watch junky reality TV often. (My vice is Judge Judy). I don’t feel the need to bust wide open the hidden workings and agendas of these productions. I’d like to believe that you, the reader, have the awareness that it’s all smoke and mirrors. The networks want ratings. They get them. However it takes.
In 2007 I was on a show on NBC called “Clash of the Choirs.” The premise was five choirs from five cities, each led by a celebrity from that city, competing on live TV to win a money prize that would be donated to the charity of the celebrity’s choice. Being from Philadelphia, we got Patti LaBelle. After the audition, we didn’t see her again until the live broadcast. She had NOTHING to do with the rehearsals, the arrangements or conducting. It was all done (brilliantly) by her musical director, John Stanley.
I learned plenty about reality TV through this experience. I learned that people were chosen for the callback, not because of their talent but because they stink. They were filmed during their callback, only to have that footage spliced with Patti LaBelle rolling her eyes. They were led to believe they had a chance. Instead, they were humiliated on national TV. The network is allowed to do this because we signed a consent form to allow our likenesses to be used as the network chooses.
I learned that it’s OK to rearrange the wording on the teleprompter, creating grammatically incorrect sentences for all America to hear, all because the host couldn’t articulate what was written.
I learned that if the network allows us only four hours of sleep every night, then feeds us M&Ms and pretzels for breakfast, then doesn’t provide hot water for tea, then doesn’t give us a comfortable, warm room to stay in during our 14-hour days at the studio, then they can bring a camera into our dressing room during naptime, have a choir member talk about her cancer recovery, and it’s a guarantee that we will all start crying. That’s the best footage of all. Tears.
I learned a lot. Enough to give me pause when encouraged by the masses to audition for this type of thing again. On the same network, too!
Now, I am quite content with my musical life as it stands. I am the lead singer of Philadelphia’s best-loved blues band, The Dukes of Destiny. I perform with local pianist Chris Marsceill, performing jazz and standards. As “Miss Arlyn”, I teach music and entertain young children at preschools, daycares and birthday parties. Why would I want to go through the process of auditioning for “The Voice,” knowing what I could be getting myself into? The answer is this: I might win.
So I registered to audition at the open call in New York. There was no pre-audition. There was no special selection or invitation to audition. I just signed up. I was lucky enough to sign up before the audition was filled. But that’s it. Which could only mean one thing: ANYBODY can do it. I got my audition pass and went to the audition. It was not in New York, by the way. It was at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A call of this size would not fit in any one place in New York City. Or I should say, the queue would not fit. There were THOUSANDS of people there.
I had been confident that I was going to impress. I felt I had selected the perfect song, Sly and The Family Stone’s version of “Que Sera Sera.” To me it had the elements to give me an edge. Good solid lows and highs to show off my range. It was familiar yet unfamiliar. It had a soulful “stank” quality that I’m pretty good at executing. It also had what I call, “the money note.” Those of you who have seen “The Voice” know what I’m talking about.
It’s the big, high, dramatic note that gets the celebs to hit that button and turn the chair around. Oh yeah, I was thinking ahead. I was armed. I was also counting on all the others to audition strictly with songs by Rihanna, Katy Perry and Mary J. Blige. Among the multitudes I was going to shine! A Beautiful Bright Star!
You know what I was? A cow. As we all were — cows. Cattle. Being herded en masse from line to roped-off line. It was a tremendous event! I was just a speck in all of this, and I began to have my doubts as to how much I could possibly impress the judges who have to sit and listen to all of these people.
I was in the company of self-important 18-year-olds who had dreams equal to, if not bigger, than mine. They weren’t competition, so I thought, as I listened to them humming along to their audition piece on the earbuds of their iPhone. (is that “Umbrella” I hear?) Maybe they ARE my competition. I would find out in five hours.
We were brought to the judges in groups of nine, so we got to hear each other’s auditions. Most of the people in my group were not bad singers. They weren’t singers at all. Bad choices, no power, no commitment. To me, they were just there to wear out the judge, a young woman with a laptop and most likely a list of criteria assigned to her by NBC.
How many of these people did she have to hear before my 60-second audition? Poor thing. I don’t blame her for not rising before me, applauding and handing me the “red card” that would grant me admission to the callbacks. None of us got it. We were hustled out of the room where a girl cut off our wristbands and pushed us out the backdoor of the facility into the blinding afternoon light, where they toss the garbage.
Disoriented, I found my way to my car. I immediately posted my banishment on Facebook. I needed the encouragement from all my friends and fans to make me feel better. The fact is, I didn’t feel all that bad. I was proud that I did it. At the very least, I had a story to tell.
I hope I told it well.