Last night was the big night - SHOW TIME! This was the culmination of the weeks of preparation, rehearsals, and anxiety. Throughout, it was a lot of fun working with super wonderful people under the usual pressure of a large and complex production. I had a strange combination of confidence shaded by a slight touch of nervousness.
I arrived at the studio a little past noon and walked down the corridor toward my dressing room. The door next to mine had the name Clint Black on it. This country-singing star was going to be doing stand-up comedy. I was invading his turf as a country singer. This was the wonderful craziness of Hollywood. I walked into my room. My western outfit -- fancy black embroidered shirt, black jeans, boots and all -- were hanging in the closet. I'm an actor used to seeing Starfleet uniforms hanging in my dressing room closet. But this western outfit somehow seemed to me surreal. And my gig tonight was to be singing country wearing it. How bizarre can life get! As it turned out, VERY bizarre.
The network execs had decided the musical interlude in my song was a bit long. So at the last minute, as we were about to go into dress rehearsals, the change came. There was no time for nervousness now. I had to adjust to the new shortened version. We rehearsed it a couple of times and that was it. The in-studio audience was arriving. Show time was fast approaching.
I had just gotten into my western outfit when my relatives came to my dressing room with their friends to cheer for me. Then, my partner-manager Brad Altman arrived with more friends. He told me that there were hordes of friends and supporters gathering outside with signs to cheer for me. Making the final grand and glamorous entrance into my dressing room, Nichelle Nichols, my Star Trek colleague, swept in to wish me well. A production assistant came to usher me to an interview with Entertainment Tonight so I thanked them all and off they went to their seats.
After the interview, I was ushered back to my dressing room to wait for my call to the stage. I was now alone in my room with only the leftover picking of fruits and crudités. I put on my CD for a final round with the instrumental version of my song. And that was it. Any more rehearsals would just be pointless edginess. I waited alone and calmly until Studio Producer Greg Harvey came to usher me to the stage.
There was the bustle of stagehands during a commercial break as I approached the stage. When I stepped onstage, a thunderous cheer from the audience greeted me and a magical thing happened. There is a weird and wonderful power that a generous audience casts. I felt at home, relaxed, and comfortable. The stagehands cleared the stage; I heard the countdown and host John O'Hurley started my intro. I could see every word of John's introduction on the prompter in back. The music started and I got with the beat. The rousing rhythm of Willie Nelson's great hit, "On the Road Again," felt so right. The song joyfully flowed out of my body. I sang my heart out. The cheering, stomping and hollerin' when I finished was tremendous. Signs that read "Beam Me Up" and "This is Takei Country" bobbed up and down. It was truly an exhilarating feeling.
John O'Hurley guided me to the judging panel composed of Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, Grammy winner Brian McKnight, and television producer Gavin Polone. First up was Brian McKnight. He loved my "passion." Being judged by Debbie Reynolds was so exciting. When I was a kid, I remember going to a movie palace on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles to see her in "Singin' in the Rain." She was a sparkling bundle of talent dancing and singing with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. I love her. And here was this iconic sweetheart of America in front of me saying she liked ME and saying she needed a "spacey" singer for her opening act! It was dizzying! The only down note was Gavin Polone. He took a cheap homophobic shot that was totally unrelated to anything. The crowd gave him an eminently deserved boo. I think it's fair to judge the judge, and, in his case, I deem him to be an irresponsible and incompetent poop. Polone is a liability on the panel.
The upshot of the evening was that I was not a semi-finalist. The tap-dancing Mya and I were released to go home. Clint Black and Sasha Cohen, the Olympic ice skater, will be going on to the next round. Congratulations to both. I'm now out of the game. That's fine with me. I was competing as a country singer against a contortionist, a standup comic, and a tap-dancer. It was a fifty-fifty shot. I had a great time, met some wonderful people, and had an unforgettable experience.
I am grateful to some extraordinary people who made the experience so memorable. My studio producer, Greg Harvey, a giant of a man at 6'8", is as big in his enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism as he is physically. Edgar Struble, my musical arranger who worked with me from the very beginning straight through to the final musical cut right before the performance, is as affable and supportive as he is a hugely gifted musician. An unexpected gift was to have the hot country duo, Montgomery Gentry, the team of Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry, coach me on country singing. They now have a fan forever in me. I felt so honored by the terrific musicians of the all-star band behind me and the trio of fantastic backup singers. They have all become my friends. Singing country on "Secret Talents of the Stars" made me feel for one night like I was Willie Nelson "making music with my friends."
Working With The Pros - Saturday, April 5, 2008
Last night's rehearsal for my country singing debut on "Secret Talents of the Stars" was like a fantasy I'd never even dreamed of. All my life, I had been singing only in the warm, steamy resonance of my shower stall, hearing just my voice and the sound of the water spraying on me. But last night, I sang with an all-star band of seven great country musicians and two amazing back up singers. These artists had performed with some of the greats of country music - Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, and on and on. This was my fantasy come true! However, the most astonishing fantasy come true was, not only meeting, but also being coached by the new country sensation, Montgomery Gentry-the two artists, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry! I love their new hit song, "Some People Change." They were doing a gig in Ft. Worth, Texas, but when the producers invited them to come coach me for the show, they flew straight away into Los Angeles. Just for me! It was overwhelming!
Once I got over the initial surprise of meeting them, I learned that both Eddie and Troy are Star Trek fans. When Eddie was guiding me on how to hold the microphone, I said, "Believe me, Eddie, I cling on to it like my security blanket." He guffawed, "Klingon!" With that, he sure enough proved his Star Trek credentials. He then told me to "eat the mike." I had no idea what he was talking about. He laughed and told me to hold the mike real close to my mouth. As baffling as sci-fi techno babble can be, I think I understand it better than country music lingo. Troy helped me stay with the beat. He had the guitar soloist and the drummer emphasize some of my cue beats. It helped. I could use all the help they can give me. And, I'm getting it from the best - the shooting stars of 21st century country music and my newfound friends, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry. I spent the evening jamming and laughing with my country friends. If only all rehearsals could as fun as this. It was a fantastic evening.
I got in the car taking me home exhausted but feeling great. Now for the tough part of preparing for a live television show - camera rehearsals, dress rehearsal and then the BIG night in only three more days, Tuesday, April 8. The excitement mounts.
Into the Studio - Friday, March 28, 2008
What had seemed an exciting opportunity at first with "Secret Talents of the Stars" was now becoming a very real test. The show was providing me with a bounty of backups. I now have had three sessions with a terrific vocal coach, Dave Stroud, a number of promotional interviews, a discussion on wardrobe concepts with the costume designers, and, to top it all off, I met a couple of country musicians who are going to be my backup musicians -- and they've worked with legendary country artist, Kenny Rogers! All this for ME, a mere shower singer!
As the challenges intensified, my anxiety almost became panic. At my first vocal session with Dave Stroud, I was so nervous I was racing past the beat of the song. Dave gave me real insight into singing country. He said that the most important quality of country music is a relaxed enjoyment of the music. Forget everything, loosen up, and give yourself up to the song. Easier said than done. I'm loose and relaxed in my shower stall, but this isn't shower singing anymore. This is going before millions and millions of people all across the country.
Dave gave me supportive compliments about my vocal quality and we forged on. He taught me exercises to relax and loosen my vocal cords. I made ridiculous sounds going up and down the musical scale. I burred, I rolled my rr's, I made round vowel sounds. My nephew's five-year-old kid would be squealing with laughter if he heard Uncle George making these silly sounds. I did feel ridiculous. But, it worked. The exercises calmed me down and the singing became more comfortable. By the second session, I was doing a tad better. I was more relaxed. But I was still dependent on singing with the vocalist on the CD track. Dave's homework assignment to me for the next session was to get off the vocal track and sing only to the accompaniment.
For the following couple of days, I practiced diligently with only the musical track. I no longer had my training wheels. I was now singing solo and it was breathtaking - I kept getting lost. The music did fancy but confusing curlicues. It was exasperating. Over and over again, I practiced and sang to the fancy part of the music. Eventually, I got the beat and the feel of it. I went to my third session with Dave feeling reasonably confident. But then, when I arrived, there was a whole camera crew from the show to film my lesson with Dave. My vocal lesson with Dave was going to be seen by millions across the nation as part of the show! Again, nerves attacked! My singing without the vocal track was hit and miss. I can only hope that they edit the film kindly.
Yesterday, I went to my first studio session. We're now getting closer and closer to the Big Day. I met a part of my musical backup team for the first time. Edgar, the musical arranger, introduced me to the two guitarists - Chuck and John. They were affable, down-to-earth, and immediately seemed like old friends. They were real country people. John was from Georgia and both Edgar and Chuck were from Michigan but all had spent a good hunk of time in Nashville. Both guitarists, John and Chuck, had handsome guitars with beautiful abalone shell inlays. Then Edgar and Chuck told me that they had toured with the celebrated Kenny Rogers! They are part of country legend! I had no idea I would be performing with the greats. Like the true country people they are, however, they brought the conversation right down to earth. They had toured with Kenny Rogers in Japan, they told me, and loved the food there. I could tell from Chuck's generous girth that he enjoyed good eating. From Edgar's lean figure, I could tell he had very good metabolism. The talk of Japanese food made me feel that I would be making music with friends. And we did. We had a great time singing country and laughing through the session. The two hours we had seemed to go at warp speed.
However, I would now have a whole week before I could get together with my newfound musical friends again. Tomorrow, I fly off to New York for my weeklong gig with the Howard Stern Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I do, however, plan to continue rehearsing with my trusty CD player every day. A week goes fast and I intend to rise to the challenge of my "Secret Talent." I'm publicly coming out of my shower stall to face a national television audience.
Monday, March 24, 2008
For over four decades, I've trekked the galaxies on the Starship Enterprise "boldly going where no one has gone before." I did the Star Trek television series in the 60s, recorded the voice in the animated series in the 70s, the movie series from the 70s to the 90s, and conventions all over this planet. It was no longer "boldly going" on to new adventures. It had become almost tradition.
However, with one e-mail from my agent with an offer from the "Secret Talents of the Stars," I truly felt the sensation of "boldly going" where I had never gone before. It was an offer to do what I do every morning in my shower stall - singing country songs. But the offer was to sing live on stage before an audience of about four or five hundred people in studio AND millions of television viewers across the nation. I'd never done this. I felt excitement, the thrill of a new challenge, but there was also a tingle of anxiety. What if I fall flat on my face? But then, what a great opportunity this is as well! This is what life is about - to try new things and see what happens. I decided I'll do it!
Immediately after accepting the offer, however, I had a scheduled trip to Coventry, England for - what else - a sci-fi convention. After the gig, I was also giving ourselves, my partner, Brad and me, a week of whoopee in London and a quick dash through Brussels and Bruges, Belgium. When we arrived in London, the "Secret Talents of the Stars" production had sent a c.d. player with the song I was to sing to the hotel. So for the rest of our trip through Europe, I was singing country - vocalizing in hotel showers, humming on trains, and body swaying to the beat of the music on the plane flight back home. I'm trekking and I'm preparing to "boldly go" where I've never gone before.