America’s Got Emma, Trudy, and Elaine [Boroughing]
By David Fine
America’s Got Talent is a reality performance show set in the incongruous halls of Newark’s Performing Arts Center. The PAC, as everyone calls it, bears witness to spectacles of American “talent” of such a strange, wide variety during the show’s run that if aliens caught an episode light-years away they might assume we were declaring war on them – or offering to surrender, depending on which segment they picked up. The PAC’s wood-paneled, acoustically optimized performance space offers deep-cushioned seating and an air of legitimacy that is all but sucked out of the room when Nick Cannon, the host, walks onstage. The crowd erupts as technicians scurry about completing final preparations. It is summer and I am there on assignment for Tablet Magazine, an online Jewish politics, arts, and culture publication (AGT must fall somewhere at the crossroads of the three).
Edon Pinchot, a rosy-cheeked, very short fourteen-year-old crooner had made it to the show’s semi-finals and Tablet wanted the story. Aside from an ability to give you goosebumps with his rendition of David Guetta’s “Titanium,” Pinchot is a Modern Orthodox Jew. Cover him I did:
“Justin Bieber might say the Shema before every performance,” the piece began, “but it’s doubtful he understands the prayer’s meaning as deeply as Edon Pinchot, the 14-year-old breakout star on NBC’s reality talent show, America’s Got Talent.”
To Tablet’s readers, Edon was the story, but I left the PAC knowing the truth. The story that night was Emma, Trudy, and Elaine, three ladies I sat next to in the AGT crowd, three ladies who represent all that’s good and just and fair in a world where America’s Got Talent exists.
Emma, Trudy, and Elaine (pseudonyms I’ve granted them in order to protect their reputations) trundled into my empty spectator balcony box five minutes after the show started and shuffled by me to take their seats, each apologizing as they passed. As their bodies swung by my face I caught strong whiffs of floral perfume I hope was purchased in the discount section of Filene’s. Metal jangled on wrists and necklaces drooped into my face and they issued a general flurry of kretzes settling into their seats.
Elaine sat down next to me and promptly squeezed my—unprepared and therefore flaccid (that’s why, I swear!)—bicep, leaning close. “This. Is. So. Exciting. So exciting!” She whispered in an almost too authentic New Jersey grandma accent. Her breath smelled like cinnamon trident gum and her eyes glowed only in the way that an AGT disciple’s can.
“Let go of the poor kid,” Trudy interjected. As Elaine’s clutch reluctantly loosened on my—by now flexed and very, very large—bicep, Trudy gave me a knowing glance. She was the ringleader, and she knew that she had brought the circus to my balcony box.
I wish I could say Emma paid me much attention, but that would be a lie. A dirty, dirty lie. A cruder documentarian might suggest that Emma was the so-called GILF of the New Jersey Three. One might note that she wore an altogether too low halter-top, and a less charitable reporter would say that the makeup cake on her face ran the deepest. As soon as she sat down she trained her stubbornly highlighted hair down toward the judge’s table.
I wondered why, unlike her two compatriots, Emma refused to be entranced by my youthful demeanor and full head of hair. The reason soon became clear.
“Howard! Howard! HOWARD!” she yelled into the perma-frozen bush of Howard Stern’s hair during a break in the performances.
She was leaning over the balcony, waving her bejeweled hand as rapidly as she could, looking as if she was ready to launch herself down to Howard the moment he acknowledged her.
“It’s her birthday,” Trudy explained.
“And she loooves Howard,” Elaine continued.
“Always has,” Trudy shrugged.
“He didn’t notice me,” Emma turned in dejection to tell us.
“Maybe scream louder next time?” I offered meekly.
She just glared and turned back, staring at her hero. I pouted as the next act came on. This next one was of the local variety: a New York street performer who could contort his body in terrible, terrible ways. All four of us stared, mouths agape, as this guy twisted his body in unfathomable directions.
The performer’s techno background music faded, the stage returned to normal, Emma turned to us, said, “weird,” and went back to yell Howard’s name at the top of her lungs (looked like she took my advice).
Trudy pulled no punches and declared the man, “a freak,” and, “so disgusting.” Elaine, the perennial AGT fan, observed, “I’ve always hated him. If he wins I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“You’ll most likely keep watching because you are a slave to the strange and hypnotic power that manufactured reality TV casts upon our nation,” I did not say to her, nodding my head in silent agreement instead.
And so it went for each of the performers that night. Dancers, singers, mimes, and power lifters alike laid their “talents” at Emma, Trudy, and Elaine’s altar. The tribunal would offer in turn either their unadulterated praise or opprobrium, depending on their predilections and tastes of the moment.
These ladies were brutal. They had seen much in their lifetime, and, judging by the many jewels and precious metals adorning their hands, had conquered many rich nations. Legion was their judgments, and solid were their opinions.
We began to talk in between acts about issues other than AGT. Once Emma realized I wrote for a Jewish publication, she asked me anxiously, “You’re going to write about how Obama is destroying Israel, right?” She looked at me, fear in her eyes, the loose skin around her neck moving up and down as she nodded, anticipating my answer. I assured her I would and she patted me on the shoulder.
I must say I was nervous for Edon to come on. Sure, the entire nation might have been watching, but the collective eyes of America’s TV viewing population were no match for the New Jersey Three’s judgment.
By the time it was Edon’s turn, they had needled my true purpose out of me, and so when they announced him, Elaine once again clutched my—now properly prepared and flexed—bicep and exclaimed, “It’s your boy!” Trudy had to pry her off, and we all watched in trepidation as the fog cleared and Edon began to sing.
He was Edon as expected. Pitch perfect and cute as a button, though I wished he had eschewed the addition of an accompanying band and had picked a song not by One Republic. Overall, though, I would say that he was one of the saner, better acts of the night.
According to the Three that was exactly the problem. Emma just shrugged and turned back to Howard baiting.
Trudy delivered the verdict: “He’s not going to make it.”
“What?” I responded downcast and dejected.
Elaine patted me on the arm and said, “He’s just not interesting enough.”
“He doesn’t have a shtick, he needs a shtick.”
I tried to defend my man to them—“he’s the best singer by far”—but I silently mourned Edon’s fate. Though votes would not be tallied and announced for two more days, I knew that Edon would not make it through. If the New Jersey Three said so, then it was so. Sure enough, Edon did not make it to the next round and went back to the Chicago Jewish day school from whence he emerged.
As the performance wound down, the three women—each of whom I swear could play the voice of Kyle Braflasky’s mom on South Park—began yawning. It was late and their senses had been continually assaulted for quite a while. When the show came to a close and the lights went up, we turned to each other and said our goodbyes. Elaine gave me a forceful hug and Trudy gave me a forceful handshake.
Emma turned to me and said dissolutely, “He didn’t notice me.”
“I’m sorry…Happy birthday, though.”
“Maybe if I had flashed him?”
I silently nodded in agreement and watched as the New Jersey Three receded back toward their Jersey enclaves, sated after savoring a pyrotechnic slice of Americana.
DAVID FINE is a senior in Columbia College and a senior editor for The Current. He can be reached at [email protected] Photos by Virginia Sherwood, courtesy of NBC. First image design by Matthew Sherman.