Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How I Almost Became a Winner on AMERICAN IDOL! (Sort of.)

It was the summer of 1966.  I had just graduated from Hiram College and was spending the summer working at a boys' camp (teaching tennis) in the Adirondacks--a camp with the lovely name of Camp Paradox.  On Paradox Lake, this camp had been around awhile--in fact, they told us that Rodgers and Hart (think: Broadway) had met there.

I was there with my Hiram College roommate, Chuck Rodgers, who had a clunky white Rambler that somehow made it to upstate NY.  He and I had started singing folk songs together our senior year.  He had a nice tenor voice; I could stay on pitch, most of the time, and harmonize okay (most of the time).  I played a Guild 12-string guitar (without distinction--the instrument is still in my closet, unplayed for decades), and we performed (okay, ripped off) songs from the Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul, and Mary; The Limeliters.  We actually "wrote" one song--we put "music" to Emily Dickinson's "If You Were Coming in Fall."  (It made the Top 10 (in Hiram).)

Camp Paradox Logo
Chuck was an All-Ohio soccer player at Hiram (goalie) and was working with soccer kids at the camp.  By then we were calling ourselves The Outlanders.  We did some singing for the campers (who thought we were old and retro; we were 21); we won some local bar competition one night (don't ask me how many other folks competed); and then--somehow? whose idea?--we decided we would audition for the 1966 version of American Idol, a show called The Original Amateur Hour, hosted by a guy named Ted Mack.

Mack's show had begun on the radio in 1935.  It moved to TV and stayed there until 1970.  It featured not only serious musicians (like Chuck and me) but also variety acts of all sorts--tap-dancing chimpanzees, singing goldfish, elephants-on-horseback--that sort of thing (I made all that stuff up--but you get the idea).  Basically the kind of stuff that ambitious folks today put on YouTube and hope they will have a Justin Bieber result.

Anyway, Chuck arranged for us to have an audition with Ted Mack that summer, and on one of our days off, we drove down to NYC, found the studio, went in to audition.  The Outlanders--ready for international celebrity!

It was in a big open room with wavy wooden floors.  Probably a rehearsal studio (it featured a lingering sourness, an odor of many-dancers-having-rehearsed-there-for-a-long-long-time), it was supremely unimpressive.  At one end--an old guy who was organizing everyone, an older guy sitting at a sad, upright piano, some pathetic people sitting in folding chairs, waiting their turns.  We joined the pathetic people (right where we belonged.)

I wish I could remember the acts that preceded us.  Some folks sang, I think, while the old guy tinkled on the sad upright; maybe a little girl twirled a baton.  I remember a dog barking.

Then it was our turn.  The Outlanders!   The sad old guy at the sad upright asked us if we would like him to accompany us.  We thought not.  We launched into a couple of our songs ("Greenback Dollar" was one).  The old guy thanked us, told us we'd be hearing from him.

And back we drove up I-87 to the Adirondacks, certain of our imminent fame, fortune, sex, drugs, whatever.

We heard nothing the rest of the summer.

That fall, Chuck headed off to the University of Wyoming and has remained in the West (he was a Warren, Ohio, boy).  He jokes that for years he was the only psychologist in the whole state.

And I headed to Aurora, where I began my career teaching seventh grade English.  I was terrified.

Then--much later in the fall--Chuck sent me a photocopy of a letter that had gotten lost in the mail.  Ted Mack wanted The Outlanders for his show.  He gave us a performance date: It was two months earlier.

Chuck and I both realized we were cooked.  He was in Wyoming in grad school; I was grading essays about My Pet till two in the morning.  We hadn't practiced in months--not that that would have made much difference.

And so my flirtation with Dame Fame remained just that ... a flirtation, no consummation.

No American Idol, I.

ADDENDUM:  A couple of years ago--in the summer--Joyce and I were on our way to the Lake Placid area to see the final home and grave of abolitionist John Brown.  On the way--I suggested we stop and take a look at Camp Paradox, which I'd not seen since 1967 (I went back for part of another summer--mistake; I quit).  We found the road, found Paradox Lake.  But the camp was long gone.  All the buildings, gone.  There's a public park there now; the young attendant told me he didn't think he'd never heard of Camp Paradox.  And he'd definitely never heard of The Outlanders.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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