Canadian Idolatry, part 1

On Monday at noon, I took a little time off work to visit and offer moral support to my friend Liz, who joined 10,000 other hopefuls at the Canadian Idol audition. The auditions were being held somewhere near the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, a quick bike ride from Big Trouble in Little China, a.k.a. my house. With the accordion slung on my back and a bag of pop and snacks for Liz, I biked around the north side of the Convention Centre looking for any sign of the audition without any success. The news stories predicted that thousands would show up — where were they?

Luckily Liz had brought her cell phone.

“We’re on the other side of the building, past the train station,” she said. Ah. The south side. I keep forgetting that the Convention Centre has a south building, located in the green space that is also home to the SkyDome and the former railround roundhouse which became the Steam Whistle Brewery.

When I arrived, I saw a ridiculous scene: instead of some kind of queue, the Idol hopefuls were corralled into a parking lot normally reserved for service vehicles. The lot wasn’t paved and was surrounded by a chain link fence. The north side of the lot had a row of porta-johnnies and a small grassy slope where a number of people lay motionless. The people inside were milling about listlessly, a good number of them with that sleep-deprived look that those of us who worked at Internet start-ups should find eerily familiar. A quartet of scowling people in red gold shirts with the word SECURITY emblazoned on the chest and back stood guard at the fence’s gate. That’s where Liz met me.

“Oh my God, Liz,” I said, “it looks like…like some kind of concentration camp for pop stars!”

“Let’s get you inside,” she said.

She had a word with the security guy at the gate with the most leader-like demeanor. At first, he said that he’d let me in if I left my bike outside. However, as I chained my bike to the nearest rack, he saw the accordion and decided that I was a straggler trying to sneak into the auditions and decided not to let me in.

“Hey, I’m not trying to audition. I have a real –” I caught myself about to say “real job”, which might’ve been impolitic, considering that dozens of sleep-deprived, grouchy aspiring pop singers were within earshot. “Um, I’m a computer programmer here to offer a friend some moral support and snacks. The accordion thing’s just a hobby.”

The security guard shook his head, looking resolute behind his Dirty Harry sunglasses.

I handed Liz the bag of snacks over the fence. “I feel as if I’m visiting you in prison!” I said. We both extended our thumbs and pinkies, pantomiming the act of talking on the phone through Plexiglas, the way they do in the movies.

“D’you think I should’ve put a file in the Doritos?” I asked.

“Some wire cutters would work well on the fence,” she replied.

“How long have you been here?”

“Since three in the morning. There was a line-up down the block, and then they corralled us into this lot.”

She went on to tell me how the transition from a line along the sidewalk to amorphous blob in a parking lot upset some people. Suddenly, camping out early — some people have been waiting here since Friday — was pointless. They might as well have spent a rainy weekend indoors and shown up in the wee hours of Monday morning.

No wonder some of them looked really miserable; they’d just been punished for showing some initiative.

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