In front of the Golden State Theatre and spilling down Alvarado to Franklin Street, scores of wannabe American Idols were waiting for their chance. There were celebrities-in-the-making that wore stylish sunglasses as large as welding masks, and regular looking folks who stood in line singing to themselves in angelic voices.
One of the many characters waiting to compete in the Central Coast Idol Contest, run by local Fox TV affiliate KCBA, was Rowena, a 23-year-old woman from Salinas. Rowena seemed to sparkle more than a diamond mine, with a gold belt, gold top, gold earrings, gold eye shadow and a hairdo that defied gravity. If Rowena won, KCBA and local adult contemporary radio station KWAV would fly the young vocalist to Philadelphia, where she would be given a front-of-the-line audition at the American Idol tryouts at the Wachovia Center on Aug. 27. She and her friends Kim Martinez and Whitney Moore bided their time before the doors opened with an impromptu take on the Fugees’ version of “Killing Me Softly.”
Nearby, 23-year-old Hector Vargas strummed an acoustic guitar while fellow Idol hopefuls Cindy Salinas and Rick “Ricky Ticky Tavi” Deschamp sang along like they were having a street-side campfire jam session. Vargas, who was wearing a pin-striped shirt and pants along with a fedora cocked askance on his head, announced that he liked to sing the “goodies but oldies” before launching into Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.”
Deschamp, decked out in an elaborate zoot suit with slicked back hair, crouched down like a surfer on a board and added backing vocals while Salinas wove strands of harmony into the song. Meanwhile, Rowena and her crew danced along and clapped.
Vargas, who lives in Big Sur, has been in competitions like this before. At the 2006 Gilroy Garlic Festival, he competed in the Garlic Idol Contest for the grand prize of 1,000 gallons of gasoline. He made it into the top three. The young performer says he also got to the semifinals of a tryout for La Academia, a Spanish language talent show on TV Azteca.
As fellow contestants waiting in line burst into spontaneous song or chatted on cell phones, Vargas rubbed his hands together nervously. “I feel good,” he said, “like something is going to happen.”
The matchstick-thin Deschamp, snapping his fingers, broke into a version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” The animated performer, who listed incongrous musical mentors including the punk rock band The Misfits and the pop crooner Michael Buble, bobbed and weaved to the song like a boxer. When he was finished, Salinas carefully reminded him that he should save something for the contest.
** * *
At 5:30pm, the contestants poured through the theatre’s doors. Vargas and Deschamp filled out paperwork and were shepherded into seats.
While holding a note card showing that he would be the 34th contestant, Vargas turned around and stared at the seemingly endless stream of competitors filing into the room. “It’s gonna be tough,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in here. I am going to have to focus a lot.”
Vargas then took off his fedora and placed it atop his guitar case. He slowly rocked back and forth as a DJ from Jammin’ 97.9 spun shrill, beat-heavy music.
When the contest’s MC, Fox TV’s Tim Wells, called the evening’s first 10 competitors to gather at the edge of the stage, the crowd erupted with applause. “This sh*t’s gonna be funny,” said a woman in the audience.
Sensing that he would be onstage in a matter of minutes, Vargas continued to bob back and forth like he was listening to a soundtrack in his mind. Meanwhile, handfuls of performers attempted to woo the audience and the judges, which included KWAV DJ Barry Brown, KCBA anchor Olga Ospina, and musicians Mike McKinley and Luana Pedota. With just 30 seconds to prove their mettle, the vocalists tore into songs ranging from Christian rock “Porcelain Heart” to “Over the Rainbow.” It was like a speed-dating version of a talent show.
Finally, it was Vargas’ turn. He took off his fedora, placed it on the side of the stage and walked out to the microphone stand. As he held a hand on his stomach, Vargas began a heartfelt rendition of “We Belong Together.”
After hours of waiting, it was over in a flash, leaving the young singer unsatisfied. “I felt that I wanted to sing a little more,” he said after exiting. “I wanted to give a little more of myself.”
THOUGH VARGAS DID MAKE IT INTO THE TOP 10, 17-YEAR-OLD PACIFIC GROVE NATIVE KATIE HAZDOVAC ULTIMATELY WON AND WILL BE SENT TO THE PHILADELPHIA AMERICAN IDOL TRYOUTS LATER THIS MONTH.