Not Quite Marketable

 

Synopsis

Alix Randall is short, chubby, and somewhat unattractive—in simple terms: everything that goes against the media's ideal star. After flying under the radar and getting onto "Star Seeker", a rigged televised singing competition, based on talent alone, he becomes a target for the producer, as well as the professionally trained Ringers he has to compete against. Through emotional turmoil, he fights to prove that passion and natural aptitude can mean more than just appealing to demographics.

Prologue

It was a waiting game now:  waiting to win, waiting to lose, waiting to see if he would make it past the auditions to the point where the others were even viable outcomes.  Were he not a patient individual, the sheer pressure of so much time biding could have proved crushing to him as he sat on the lightly padded waiting room chair.  Alix was a firm believer that, if you really wanted something in life, you would have to work for it, and if a wait was involved, then that would just make it all the more worthwhile to savor in the end.

The average, everyday person could be extraordinary; that’s what the Star Seeker televised singing competition always boasted as its motto.  Let ordinary people showcase their vocal prowess and see how high they can fly based upon their own hard work.  As he shifted in his seat, he hoped that he could match those core beliefs, because he felt like he was about as run of the mill as they came.

If nothing else, this was the ideal chance for people watching.  He could all but see the hopes and dreams in the form of near-tangible excitement positively filling the expansive hall.  Only a scattered handful of people, including himself, were wearing everyday street clothes.  The majority of the attendees were either in elaborate, chuckle-inducing costumes or the sort of getup that would make the most shameless prostitute blush.  Regardless of attire, all seemed unabashed and none seemed to be out of place in the slightest.  Exuberance and nerves were being coped with in various manners, from casual sitting to nail biting, from belting out show tunes at lung-capacity to performing energy-releasing flip-flops, making it a veritable haven for a distant anthropologist.  Once in a while, the smarmy show host would lead a camera-laden crewmember over to a hopeful for a brief chat and interview, and the animated performers were always more than willing in response.  The small South Dakota town was the last stop on the Star Seeker roaming search, and it seemed as if anyone who was unable to attend any of the previous auditions had trekked all the way to this middle of nowhere convention center to try their hand while they still could.

The room grew increasingly empty towards the evening hours and a late-teen girl who had spent the day chatting up both workers and contestants alike returned to her spot directly beside Alix.  She straightened her miniskirt and smoothed her silken blonde ponytail before addressing the other.

“Misty Clearwater,” she nodded at him, a tiny twinge of nasality in her tone.

“Alix Randall,” he stuck out his hand in an offer of greeting.

She seemed completely oblivious to his gesture.  “So, what’s the big ol’ backstory?” she pried, leaning over and filling his nostrils with the residual scent of stale cigarette smoke.

“Well…my mom’s father was an, ‘Alexander,’ and my dad’s father had the nickname of, ‘Ishmael,’ so they combined the names in their honor.  They decided to use Grandpa Yulee’s name primarily to cut down on the likelihood of whale jokes,” he shrugged casually.

The twiggy teen gave his fairly solid frame a quick once over with her eyes and snorted.  “I don’t think anything’s going to cut down on the whale jokes.”
“It’s a literary… never mind,” his cheeks flushed, his eyes straying firmly to his folded hands.

“Whatever.  Anyway, what’s your line supposed to be?”

“...I’m… sorry?” he reeled, taken aback, his head jerking up as she practically shoved her face back into his line of sight.  “I don’t exactly—“
“Why you’re here.”

“Oh.  Um…. Marco, one of my friends back home in Wabash, kinda kept harping on me to try out… so I figured I may as well.  Maybe not the best reason…but I really love singing… so it’s worth a shot.”  Alix wasn’t terribly shy, but he wasn’t overly outgoing, either.  He was soft-spoken and had a tendency to speak in a slow, almost unsure manner that uncomfortable situations only elevated.  The way that this girl appraised him instantly raised his wariness.

“Yeah?  And are they all around here somewhere?” she mused, looking around them briefly, as if trying to spot a crowd of people in the slowly dwindling mass.  “Your family and friends?”
“It was a five hour drive to get here.  My parents were all for coming, but… I said they didn’t need to take all that time away when I might not even make it past the prelims.”
“So, what?  Are you trying for the martyr card or something?”

“What?  No,” he stared in blank confusion.  “I’m just trying to be realistic.”

“Was that really the best they could come up with?  I mean, seriously.  That’s, like, worth about zilch in airtime.”

“I don’t….”

“My bad, my bad,” she brushed his bafflement off, easing back in her chair now that she had his visual attention again.  “If that’s all you get, then that’s the best you can work with.  Whatever.  You want my story, right?  Okay, so here’s the deal.  So, I’m supposed to be some big high school senior cheerleading team captain.  Super popular.  Everyone loves me, everyone wishes they were me, all that jazz.  I’m supposed to be one of those girl’s that so pretty and popular, that, even though I’m a snotty bitch, all my friends and family treat me like I shoot rainbows out of my ass.  You can’t be that long out of high school—you know the type.” She flipped her ponytail off her shoulder as she continued, not giving any semblance of a chance for Alix to slip a word in. She spoke in a frenzy, barely allowing herself the time for breath as her gaze drifted faraway, mentally preoccupied.

 “Yeah, well, they tell me how great I am at everything, including saying that I sing like some angelic vixen.  I’m going to have a whole troop of supporters coming in soon.  The family and friends and other cheerleaders?  Yeah, they’ll be getting here in time for me to finish my talk with the crew, so they’ll get filmed as I go in and try out and come kicking and screaming when they drag me away.  So, anyway.  I’ll be shrieking songs until their ears bleed, and they’ll be all, ‘You can’t sing,’ and I’ll be all, ‘I can so sing,’ because, you know, they don’t know what’s going on.  I’m going to keep demanding that they give me a chance to continue singing until see I’m good enough for Hollywood to the point that they have to have security see me out, and when the guys grab my arms, I’ll kick really high and knock out a guard’s fake tooth—but that’s all if they can get the tooth in right.  I have to see if one of them’s wearing a wedding ring, and I’ll know which to aim for.  A guaranteed special segment, fifteen minutes at least, maybe more.  It’s going to be great.”  She let her reverie dissipate as her eyes come back into focus on him.  “So, what about you?  How bad are you going to be screeching?”

“I… what?  I’m not going to be screeching.”

“Oh, my bad. I’m so embarrassed,” she said again with a wave of her manicured hand, though she didn’t seem remotely off-put.  “I figured you were a Plant, like me.  So, you’re a Ringer then, huh?  Not bad—makes your bland story better if you look like that and still can sing,” she started to nod approvingly.  “Maybe not my first choice, but it’s not like you’ll make it to top five.”

Alix could only stare as Misty flashed him a Cheshire Cat-like grin.  After a pregnant pause and still no response from the boy, the girl’s face paled to the color of old, soured cream.
“Oh.  My.  Gawd.  Oh.  Ohmigawd, you’re a normie.”  Ruby red nails flew up to delicately cover her mouth as her eyes widened exponentially.  “I’m so sorry!  I thought you were one of us!  Oh, shit.  I’m sorry—I just screwed up big time.”

“What do you mean?” Alix asked, his thoughts pulling together the information he could gather from her long-winded ramble.  “Are you saying—?”

Before he could get the chance to fully ask for clarification, Misty had flagged the crewmember with the camera over with frantic hand flapping.  The middle-aged man put his device down and listened intently, smoothing his mustache contemplatively as she divulged.  His expression grew more and more distressed as she explained what had just transpired.  After the two shared a moment of rapid-fire whispers, a few disconcerting glances in the young man’s direction, and a brief conversation hushed into a walkie-talkie, the man cleared his throat awkwardly.

“Yes, erm.  It seems there was a slight misunderstanding.  A mix-up, if you will.  This young lady was under the assumption that you were—well, someone else.”

“...Are you telling me that this show is… rigged?”

“Not exactly.  Not entirely.  I don’t know how to say this—I’m just a temp.  Here’s the deal, kid; it’s almost your turn.  Forget all about this for right now.  You go in there and sing your heart out.  The judges?  They know nothing.  They’re as oblivious to this as you were three minutes ago.  If they like you and want you to go on, then good for you.  If not, well, that’s too bad.  Either way, once your audition is over, we’d like you to go see someone about this whole little issue.  Jeremiah Holtz is here today, and he’d like to explain the entire matter to you.”

“The producer?”

“Yep.  He’s the guy pulling all the strings, and he’ll be straightening this all out for you.  Right now, don’t worry about it.  Get on, now.  They’re waving you in,” he rushed.  “You’re on.  Remember, just forget all about this for now; you’ll get the info when you’re done.  Just go!”

Unable to argue as he was all but shoved out of his seat, Alix made his way to the door, only scarcely answering the host’s leading inquiries before stepping through and shutting the door behind him.  After initially agreeing to go through with the audition, he really had not put much thought into trying out beyond having a good time, seeing some interesting people, and wasting a slow day off with something more than apartment hunting over the internet in his jammies.  Whether or not he got through didn’t particularly matter to him as much as the experience did; music meant enough to him that he would keep singing, even if a professional career in it was beyond his reach.  The waiting period had finally ended, but he wasn’t as sure that he was ready for the audition as he had been a few moments prior—though, as he stretched out his hand to push the door open, he knew he’d probably never really be ready for what awaited him.

 



© Katie Bailey, 2012
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