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.