I've always thought reality shows were stupid and demeaning. Who cares about a group of strangers eating ants on an island in hopes of winning a million dollars? Why would any woman subject herself to a nationally televised rejection from a bachelor who most likely took his mother to prom? And why would people grovel for Sean Puffy Combs just to get a shot at music stardom? This is why I was surprised when I found myself effortlessly swallowing my self-respect and auditioning for the future reality show INXS Rock Star. An even greater surprise came when I discovered that this new competition had started unearthing feelings of rivalry I thought were long buried.
I guess a little history is in order: between 1998 and 2003, I was the lead singer of a band called Venus Envy. Though we had a knack for getting high-profile gigs and regional publicity, we never really had much in the way of success. There was another band in the same position, Audra & the Antidote. Our styles were very similar. Our looks were even more similar. Audra was just as driven as I was and at times seemed to be my doppelganger. Whenever we would run into each other around town, we were professionally cordial, like two gunslingers sizing each other up. While we talked, we tried to one-up each other the whole time. There was only room for one outspoken, scantily clad rocker chick, and both of us thought we'd laid claim to that title.
I believed this contest between Audra & the Antidote and Venus Envy had come to a poetic ending when both of us, surprisingly and unexpectedly, found ourselves pregnant. We both moved away from Nashville and put aside performing—that is, until INXS announced that they needed a new lead singer.
I had purposely left my band's website up even after we had all gone our separate ways, thinking that maybe one day some Hollywood music supervisor might come across a song they liked and I could turn a profitless venture into real money for my 2-year-old's future college education (where he would major in anything but music). Sure enough, one day I got an email from Mark Burnett Productions extending an offer for a private audition to be the lead singer for INXS. They assured me I wouldn't have to wait in line and I could bring an instrumental track or have a musician accompany me.
Wow! I had finally moved on, and music was just a hobby now, but how could I ignore this? But I was still guarded; it was a reality TV show, after all.
I couldn't talk myself out of it. I found a way to justify every potentially humiliating detail. Then, a few days later, I got another email. It was a mass mailing from my old rival, Audra. She was announcing to her old fans that she had been asked to audition for INXS; a producer from the show had set up a private audition for her in Nashville. She wrote about it on her website, so I quickly went online and read the whole sordid story—which, not surprisingly, mirrored mine. Perfectly.
That old feeling of competition started creeping up again, and I couldn't put it out of my mind. So I went through the whole audition process. I didn't get the gig.
I was pretty disappointed, but the next day, it didn't matter that much to me anymore. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about Audra and this stupid rivalry we'd had. So I sat down and wrote the following.
Audra, if you're reading this, write back, OK?
When I read the letter you'd posted on your Web site, I was surprised at how angry it made me. I know it was just a letter to your fans, but it felt like it was directed to me. I thought I had left you and the whole music scene behind. I thought I'd adequately suppressed all those feelings and ambitions, but I hadn't. Like you, I can't get away from the lifetime pursuit that broke my heart. It's like an ex-boyfriend who knows the weak spots in your armor, like an addiction you think you've beaten.
Yesterday I also had a private audition for INXS. I was contacted by a producer and asked to try out. The old thrill filled my heart too, and I related to every word you wrote on your Web site. I had the same thoughts and concerns that you did. Is INXS so desperate for a comeback that they have resorted to this? Is reality TV too lame now? Can anybody really replace Michael Hutchence? Worst of all, would I end up the "Crazy Mary" of INXS Rock Star? I didn't want my 15 years of pursuing music to conclude with me winding up the butt of a joke that would be forgotten just as quickly as it'd been made.
But you get that old feeling and you ask yourself...what if? Is this the reason God has led me down this lonely path? Are all my pleading prayers and hard work are going to pay off? Is it finally my time? Yeah, I guess you could say I was considering it.
Remember when you and I were in the scene in Nashville? We were the two baddest chicks in town. Well, according to the press clippings I kept anyway. We worked it, huh? And it always seemed like our successes paralleled the other's. Like when you got picked to be on Jimmy Iovine's Farmclub and I got picked to be on MTV Online. When you got a song in the American Music Awards Sing at the Grammys contest, I got a song on the CMJ music sampler. I ripped my top off at a show opening for Henry Rollins, and you posed nude for a magazine. Remember when you were featured on MSNBC online? That same week, I got my first magazine cover. If we weren't trying so hard to compete with each other, we actually could have been pretty good friends. We could have probably helped each other out.
When I got pregnant and tried to keep my career going, everybody supported me, but also treated me differently. My reviews went from, "She is the funkiest, angriest white girl around" to, "Even with a kid, she can still control the stage." What does that mean?
At some point, the cheers faded and were replaced with the cries of a child. Don't get me wrong, that boy, Iggy, is the greatest miracle of my life. But I do miss performing. I miss the honesty of a live show. Do you? Do you still play out?
When I heard you had gotten pregnant, I was shocked. Did you know what you were doing, what this meant for your career? I wanted to help you through it, since I was a year-and-a-half into it and could offer some hindsight. One of us had to succeed!
But I didn't help.
Why? Not sure, really. I guess I thought we were still rivals. Stupid, huh?
Anyway, now that I have moved to the Midwest and you are in Maine somewhere, I revel at how much our lives still mirror each other. This week, we are both trying out to be the lead singer for INXS.
I don't know about you, but I stayed in denial up until the day of the audition. I didn't email you to let you know I was doing it because I felt that rivalry again. It made me feel alive to have my old feelings of ambition back. I scheduled my audition in Chicago, instead of Nashville, just so I wouldn't run into anyone I knew. I wanted it to be a surprise when I made it onto the show.
Everyone was very cool at my audition. The whole staff was really encouraging and didn't give off that "I'm from L.A." attitude. There were some old dudes there, though. The guy who went after me had THE tightest leather pants on, and a mullet to rival anything I'd ever seen. The girl who went before me complained about signing the release waiver. She said something about not wanting INXS to steal her "art."
When I was called, I was so glad that they didn't ask if I was married or had kids. I was fighting how I was going to answer that question. What about you? I mean, I didn't want to lie and ignore the best things in my life, but I still wanted the opportunity to rock again.
I sashayed in and took the stage. Like I had thousands of times before. So what if it was just two producers, an intern and the sound guy? I figured, hey, I've rocked 12th & Porter with only two drunks and a bartender in the room, so no problem, I could do this.
I looked at the camera and held up a big manila envelope with the number 133 on the front. I stuck a rocker-type pose and started to give them my name, when I was interrupted by a voice. "Excuse me Mrs. Laurent, can you get closer to the mic, please?"
I started again, "Hi, I'm Jul...."
Interrupted again! "Umm, closer to the mic please."
What? I knew how to work a mic! I opened for No Doubt at River Stages, for crying out loud! How could I be blowing a minor thing like saying my name? Then I stepped up, put my lips right near the mesh top of the mic and gave my name and age, which of course I lied about.
I got the name thing out of the way. Finally. Then just like that, they started the backing track. No warning. No time to get into position. I must have looked startled. I recovered quickly, however, and launched into a rock show that I thought would blow their minds. I sang my Jimmy Eat World-ish number about wanting to be a rock star and wanting to be a reality star. I writhed around the stage, dancing and pointing at anyone who made eye contact with me.
They gave me a round of applause. "Thank you. You have great energy. We are going to review the tapes, and we will call you by about 10 tonight."
"Great," I said. "Thanks."
Then I walked out of the room. It seemed to take forever to leave. I opened the door and saw my husband Chris standing there. He was proud of me. "You kicked ass, baby," he said. "You're such a rock star." He kissed me, and we went to pick up Iggy from his Aunt Holly's house.
After taking Iggy to the Shedd Aquarium and going to eat dinner, we got home at about 8:30 p.m. Finally, at 10:40, the phone rang. Chris and I both screamed. I had already rehearsed my casual yet excited response. I looked at the caller ID and...it was my friend Sarah. I felt my heart sink, and I couldn't bring myself to pick up the phone. I somehow realized in this moment that they weren't going to call me back. How would I tell my friends that I'd failed? How could I tell Chris that it wasn't them on the caller ID?
"Its not them," I said quietly to Chris. "It's Sarah."
"That's cool," Chris said. Then he kissed my forehead and said, "You still rocked them today."
For as long as I live, my husband will think I am a rock star. For as long as I live, he will know that I did indeed have my moment when a thousand people rushed the stage and cheered me on and demanded encores. He will always know. I think that's how I keep it alive in myself, just by how he looks at me. I hope your husband is the same way.
Well, I guess it's back to real life now. Today was hard because it is the day after the audition, and all those what-ifs are quelled. It's a little hard to deal with. I guess I cared a little more than I was even ready to admit to myself. Once again, my destiny is up for debate. What am I supposed to do with my life?
Still, I'm happy that all I have to be sad about today is that a 23-year-old Hollywood producer didn't want me on his show. I just wish I didn't feel like I've lost 15 years to the music industry and my own vanity. Well, I guess I'll wrap this letter up. Iggy is turning 3 in a month and I gotta find a clown who can twist balloons into animals.
For what it's worth, Audra, I hope they put you on the show. If not, I hope that you somehow find peace in the fact that they contacted you and wanted to see what you've got. I'll bet you did well. I have checked your Web site and haven't seen a journal entry about the audition. I have a feeling that if they'd called you back, you would have let people know by now.
In this strange world we found ourselves in, I was forced to see you as my competition and not my ally. Though we most likely had more in common than we could imagine, we might have had a disadvantage from the beginning: we were too much alike. For the first time the other day, I downloaded some of your songs. They're really cool. I wish I'd come to more of your shows and supported you. I hope you get this letter and believe me when I say, I truly wish you the best. If you want to contact me, you can still reach me through my website. I guess I should take it down, but there's always that hope.
a.k.a. Venus Envy
This is a listing of articles and interviews done about Audra & the Antidote over the years.