Soul Food

Walking into the waiting room for an audition is often like walking into some strange hall of mirrors. The Casting Director has a brief to fill and, until you are a known actor, you fit the brief based on height/weight/ hair color/looks. So you walk into a room and see 15 versions of yourself. It can be surreal.

I got an audition for a KFC commercial. Not exactly the product I’d like to be known for hawking, but I heard a rumor that the job paid £10k, so I went for it. (Besides, it’s really hard to say “no” to your agent.)

The audition was held in some dance studio near Bond Street. I hoped there would be no dancing, partly because I’m not a dancer and partly because I wasn’t wearing the right bra for it.

The waiting room was more of a holding pen. I got a glass of water and found a seat. I could hear several people singing in the next room. I asked the woman next to me about it.

“This is a group audition, they’re having everyone sing.”

That’s when I realized I hadn’t walked into the usual blond assemblage. I was sitting in between Aretha Franklin and her twin sister.

“What kind of singing?”

“R&B – didn’t your agent tell you?”

No, not really. True, I had singing on my resume, but not R&B. I mean, I can comedy sing, or sing karaoke (sometimes the same thing). Maybe I could fake my way through a chorus, but R&B? I scanned the room for an escape route, but then I realized if I ditched the audition, my agent might ditch me.

About 30 of us were ushered into a room complete with mirrors, ballet bars, a sound technician, a cameraman, a keyboardist and Terrance, the Casting Director. The keyboardist played a few notes we’d all have to sing as a group. No words, just “Mmm, mmm, mmm” – apparently a commentary on the tasty chicken. Then we got in a semi circle to sing one by one. Terrance told the girl at one end to “start on C and then scat”.

“What does ‘scat’ mean,” the hapless girl asked. I was glad she was the one to ask because I was clueless as well.

As the scatting inched its way around the circle, I could sense my impending embarrassment. I futilely tried to practice in my head until – all too soon – it was my turn. “Mmm, mmm, mmm.” I hit the notes well enough, but then I began my disastrous scat. Terrance mercifully cut me off quickly.

Thankfully I was not the worst one there as I had feared. Really, I like to set my sites higher than “not being worst”.

When the last woman finished, he had us stand in a line then pointed to about five women and asked them to step forward A Chorus Line style. The rest of us were unceremoniously dismissed.

The following month, I caught a glimpse of the ad on TV. It was three customer service reps trying to sing about how good their food was with their mouths full – hence the “Mmm, mmm, mmm”. I didn’t hear any scatting.

Later I found out that the Advertising Standards Association had received a record number of complaints about the ad. Although nudity on TV is acceptable (after 9 p.m. of course), apparently talking with your mouth full is not. The British simply cannot abide bad manners.

To Die For

Being glamorous is easy when you have a personal assistant, a chef, a stylist, a hair and make-up team and time to work out two hours a day. Unfortunately, I have none of the above. It has been an indulgence, however, to go to a top London hair salon every six to eight weeks for highlights, a cut and blow dry.

When I told Cheri how much it was costing me, she immediately whisked me to the nearest Superdrug, picked out a Garnier Nutrisse box and told me she would do my hair for free – or almost free. I would have to do her color as well; we’d make a DVD night of it.

I don’t know why I said yes...maybe it was the name of the color she picked – “Champagne Fizz #82”. I’ve never been one to turn down champagne. Or maybe it was the chance to redeem myself.

About a year before, Cheri had me do her home hair highlights with a new paint-on dye kit. It sounded easy enough and, after all, I had done an oil painting course in college. When she washed out the hair dye, I realized my creation was less Titian and more Salvador Dali. It looked like she had a blonde bowl cut on top of an auburn bob. Cheri shrugged off the results: “I’ll just fix it next time”. I can’t say my reaction would have been as subdued, but I tried to be encouraging: “it doesn’t look that bad,” I lied. Thank God it was winter so she could wear a hat.

So there we were a year later, watching Six Feet Under re-runs, drinking Bellinis and taking turns mixing solutions while wearing thin rubber gloves. I did Cheri’s hair first. I was relieved there were no paint-on highlights this time. Then Cheri did mine. “Do you think I should have done a test first? I do have sensitive skin,” I asked. “Don’t worry,” she urged me, “that’s just legalese so you can’t sue them. I never do a patch test.”

She coated my head in a mass of gooey dye and set a timer. About five minutes later, my scalp started to burn. I decided I would not abandon ship. People have endured worse in the name of beauty. But I did clench my fists so hard I almost gave myself an instant case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Cheri’s time was up so she washed out her solution. When she returned from the bathroom I was relieved to see a lovely chestnut color. I had redeemed myself.

Then my egg timer rang. I washed out the color and looked in the mirror. It took a full minute to register, and then I yelled “It’s ORRRANGE!” I ran into the living room. Cheri’s first words were “DON’T cry!” (I cried over one bad haircut and have not lived it down.) She tried to calm me “use the conditioning rinse”. I leaned over the tub and let the water rinse through my pumpkin-colored locks until all the blood rushed to my head. All I could think was that Cheri had finally gotten revenge for the blonde yarmulke.

A few washes and a blow dry later, my hair was really more of an orangish hue. It wouldn’t be too bad as long as I stayed out of direct sunlight for six to eight weeks. Luckily, that would not be a problem in London.