Blame It On Neil


By ADAM CLAYTON

So close, yet so far, far away.

A shot at stardom has slipped through my fingertips and I blame Neil. Neil Diamond, that is.

I was one of 10 would-be singers representing local media outlets who “auditioned” for Canadian Idol at CTV studios yesterday. Up for grabs in the eTalk Daily Media Idol competition was $1,000 for your charity of choice and a free trip to Toronto to compete against regional winners from across Canada.

The only catch is that you had to sing a capella in front of a pair of judges that included Zack Werner, Canada’s answer to acid-tongued American Idol judge Simon Cowell. Winnipegger Cher Maendel, who placed among the top 32 singers on the third season of Canadian Idol, filled the Paula Abdul role.

I had done my share of karaoke before — Just a Gigolo being my old standby — but singing on camera in front of judges and without the aid of liquid courage was a scary prospect.

Thankfully, I was up eighth so I had plenty of time to sit and worry while the sardonic Werner critiqued each singer.

Taking in the performances, which included a hyperkinetic rendition of the theme from the Disney animated series Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers, I realized my hopes that a few people would suck significantly worse than me had been dashed — everyone was OK or better.

Although you wouldn’t have known it by listening to Werner.

“I don’t know exactly what that is,” he said of the vocal undulations of one competitor. “Did you swallow something?”

TIME TO CASH IN

Finally, it was my turn to face the music — or rather, the lack thereof. Taking my mark under the lights, Werner cracked a joke about my sharing the same name as the bass player from rock band U2 before challenging me to “bring on the pain.”

And I did, in the form of the late Johnny Cash’s signature tune Ring of Fire. The song choice drew a smattering of applause from media folk, but would it impress the judges?

My stage presence apparently did not, as Werner chastised me for singing with both hands in my pockets. When I finished, Werner paid me a back-handed compliment.

“For an undertaker, you’re a pretty good singer,” he said.

Maendel was more generous.

“You have a really great low register like Johnny’s. I thought it was really good,” she said. “You pulled it off. It was really unexpected, actually.”

Three competitors would duke it out in the finals, the judges announced, and I was pleasantly surprised to be selected.

Having neglected to practise my backup song, I belted out the first verse of Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rosie. It was when I missed the chorus — despite holding a lyric sheet in my hand — that I was told to sit down.

In the end, I didn’t make the cut for Toronto but at least I learned something. Next time, I’ll think twice before singing a Neil Diamond song.

After all, there’s only one Neil.

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