No Rest for the Restless: The Reality behind Reality TV Exposure
Okay, so I did this thing. And I feel that if you’re reading this what I say doesn’t matter because you already know me and think I’m cool. I don’t really feel that it is necessary to get into the details of what happened out there, but for an overview of my thoughts and feelings, you can check out my Voice Blog on the topic. http://www.nbc.com/the-voice/artists/lex-land/
I also feel that it is sort of my responsibility to educate you lovely people about some of the reality of the industry in which, I, for some reason, in a moment of absolute stupidity, decided to pursue a career.
I’ll start out by saying that I’ve been performing forever, and do not struggle with nerves. There are always a few butterflies right before I hit the stage, but the stage is my home. I open my mouth and suddenly people actually care about me and what I do. It was the same at my Voice audition- butterflies, of course, right before, but I went onstage and did what I always do. But then something happened. And it was immediate. Two Coaches at once? Right away? I didn’t know anyone was gonna turn- and I thought, if anything, maybe at the end. What everyone keeps saying were nerves was actually me being emotionally overwhelmed. I wasn’t afraid of singing! I’m awesome at it! I was just in shock.
Everytime (before this experience) I saw these voice competition shows I would always say the singers were whack. But after going through the process (not the audition, the casting and everything that goes along with it), I realize that audiences at home simply can’t comprehend how nervewracking, emotionally exhausting, and mentally detrimental it is for a person to be in that situation. After so much worrying and preparation, to know that I made it and that I was going to get to continue was a HUGE relief, and it was all I could do to not fall to my knees and just start sobbing.
I knew it was terrible then (this happened in October, by the way), and I knew it was terrible when I saw the raw footage of it after it happened. Mark Burnett himself came up to me afterward and said it was the worst performance he’d ever seen from me. I KNOW it was bad. But what my close friends who knew, and my fellow Voice contestants kept telling me was, “Well, maybe it was terrible. But you’re on a team so who cares?”
I realize there were many singers who did a much better job at their audition than I did. What was I supposed to do? Say, “You guys are so sweet to choose me but that was terrible and I don’t deserve to be on any of your teams”?
I have never experienced getting the wind knocked out of me emotionally during a performance and then HAD to finish a song. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve done it or how bad or good you are. I had no resources to get me through that emotional tumult any better than how I did. It sucks. I’m not proud of it.
I recently saw a tweet at Blake Shelton (before my audition was aired) saying something along the lines of “Why do 9 out of the 40 Voice contestants already have Wikipedia pages?” Implying, I assume, that already-established artists shouldn’t be on the show. Blake responded correctly, I felt, by saying, “Why not?”
I have a BIG problem with this attitude. There’s a grand misconception in our society about musicians automatically equalling “rock star” status. I’ve had at least one, if not several, conversation(s) with my dear friend and music industry veteran Gavin Castleton about this exact subject. You can read several of his own authored articles and forwarded postings on the subject here and at his tumblr.
Just because YOU might “know who we are” doesn’t mean anything as far as our notoriety or financial success is concerned. Even more successful musical acts than I don’t make enough money to support their daily lives. Meanwhile, we’re encumbered by a new business model where “innovative” music aggregators “promote” our music so that you will (maybe) buy it.
Additionally, The Voice doesn’t promote itself as a show for unknowns… they are trying to find the best “Voice” in America. Am I it? Maybe not. But why wouldn’t I try to at least let a few more people know about the career for which I have sacrificed my livelihood and comfort? This wonderful show targets working musicians, because they are the best of what’s out there. They’ve already faced the difficulties in this industry, despite our closed-minded and prejudiced public, and at least TRIED. (The person that won last season? A highly talented veteran artist who was not “unknown”- but deserved to win!)
Not to discount the TV shows that do find REALLY undiscovered talent (or the talent they find, please understand), but why should some barista who’s never attempted a career at music get acceptance (and encouragement) from pursuing national musical exposure, and I, a struggling, working artist (who still isn’t making any money, not to mention the debt I’ve acquired from past releases), should be disallowed?
Haters gonna hate- this I know, and I had SO many wreak negative havoc toward me - and I’m not surprised. I performed poorly, and I am very much aware I don’t fit the stereotypical pop-star persona because of how I look. And maybe that is, unfortunately, part of why I haven’t achieved more success in the past. (A quick digression- “The Voice” has “Blind Auditions” so that the Coaches will NOT base their judgement or reaction on how a person looks… that’s the whole gimmick of the show, and what makes it cool, in my opinion.) That doesn’t make me a bad person, it doesn’t make me a worthless artist. I dare any bad-talker to go in with a loaded, depression-leaned mind to an audition in front of 14.4 million viewers, 4 of the industry’s biggest personalities, and the guys-behind-the-curtain at a major television network to at least try to do what I did. I won’t allude to what the alternative might be.
One quick perspective that was helpful, which my dear friend, singing-songwriting colleague, and former Voice contestant Rebecca Loebe (Team Adam, Season 1) shared, was: that it’s “whatever” to be a struggling songwriter trying to make it in this industry. People come to your shows because they somehow discovered you and want to support you and try to encourage you because they love what you do. When you’re on TV, you’re a product that invades the public’s living rooms, their personal spaces and lives- and their familes’ and friends’ lives. You’re an ad, an object. You’re a coke bottle, a Pepsi can. She shared a story with me about how, weeks or months later, she got a notification on her phone while she was on tour (probably via Twitter), from some rando kid in a foreign country bashing on her for being “FAT.” (She’s not.) She said something to me about it, like, “I didn’t just invite you and your pointless opinion into my morning while in line at a Starbucks, but there you are.” And it upset her for weeks, despite her upbeat and usually positive attitude. While I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, this kind of interaction with artists totally boggles me, if not in an unsurprising way.
It’s crazy to think, because I feel I am a kind person, and it’s something I would never do, that someone at home watching TV would find the best contact and say something horrible directly to you and think it’s okay. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked, but… how do you not know you’re addressing a real person, with real-life adversities, struggling in this world to survive the same way you are? Not to mention, struggling to achieve their ULTIMATE DREAM. (Mine isn’t anything more lofty than solely making music and somehow getting by… that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of work and business and sacrifice involved in that.)
And now that you’re in their world (their product), they have free reign to say what they wish about you. I knew going into this that that was going to happen – it’s not a strange idea to me. Being a musician of any notoriety whatsoever, especially in the age we live in with social media sites and YouTube… I’ve already been in the public eye and under public (and often anonymous) scrutiny and criticism since the very beginning. It doesn’t mean that my ultra-sensitive skin has become invulnerable to cruel comments. Maybe that’s the thing that’s most disturbing… that I still allow myself to become distraught over these kinds of comments and opinions.
This was particularly heart-wrenching cause it seemed to be from a “fan” who already knew my music (-“You’ve got to step up your game?” What does that even mean?):
On a more positive note, there have been many conversations I’ve gotten to share over the past few days about this type of experience, and I’d like to share a few of my favorite responses with you:
In response, on iTunes, from the previous iTunes screenshot:
(Thank you to Michael Olivier, whomever you may be.)
From Nakia, my dear friend and former Voice Season 1 (Team Ceelo) Contestant:
“They’re actually helping make people pumped about it. If they were more subtly insulting it might detract, but they’re ridiculous.” - Text from Caz
“It doesn’t matter. If there are 2000 people at a show and they all love you, except for the one bored guy in the front, that guy is what you’re going to be focused on.” - Matt the Electrician
This was a particularly good one for me (again, not verbatim):
“You’re a sensitive person- that’s what makes you the artist you are, and why you’re so good at it. So the bad things people say to you are gonna be what gets to you. The showboats who are super cocky and confident are gonna see the good things and that’s gonna get them pumped instead. Since you’re an intropunitive person, you’re going to focus on the bad stuff. In order to balance that out you have to look at everything with a more positive perspective to get you to to a closer comprehension of what the actual reality of the situation is.”
I think that will suffice for now. Here’s a link to a blog post I recently read that prompted me to finish this writing I had already started in the wake of my newfound semi-celebrity. Patrick Stump (via Gavin Castleton's reading recommendation) explains, from another perspective (and a much more experienced one), a lot of the things I've been feeling, and fear I might feel later to a further extent. I hope you'll take the time to read it.
I am not meaning to sound whiny but am just doing what little I can to bridge the gap between us (the artists) and you (the listeners). If anything, all this has been a reminder for me (not that I’m generally a trash-talker, and certainly not in any textual format) that regardless of someone’s rank in the world, there’s so little we actually know of who someone is. Everyone deserves some respect and at least the benefit of the doubt as much as you or your closest friend. Also, that no one is exempt from this kind of mortification or scrutiny. I certainly will make it more of a point to not speak negatively of anyone else’s attempts at trying to get a little closer to where ever it is they want to be.
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