It is through this threshold Shannon Smith and I re-entered the American Idol vortex late Wednesday. An innocuous yet guarded doorway, it’s the gritty entrance to a subterranean hive teeming with shrill electronics, intense journeymen and an ample supply of brand name snack foods. Welcome to the hyping floor. At least that’s what I thought as I found the table with El Ocho’s call letters on it, a dimly lit corner featuring graffiti spackled concrete walls. Though it was just around the corner from the glittering Mecca surrounding the Kodak Theater, our little rat-hole felt far from Hollywood. But Shannon and I hadn’t wedged our way onto two jam-packed, smelly airliners to sight-see. We had a job to do.
Step one was to establish a workspace. As Shannon talked up the harried feed coordinator, I unlatched the pockmarked camera case I’d drug in from the rent-a-car. Inside the battered container, a late model optical disc recording deck, mounds of tangled cables and a monitor dating back to the Nixon administration sat covered in bubbled plastic wrap. Ripping open the plastic, I extracted the hardware and began setting up shop. Video Out, Fire-wire In, Timeline Open. In the course of a few minutes I’d erected my very own hyperbole terminal, a feature laden laptop editing system unthinkable on the day I first stumbled into this silly business. Ain’t technology grand?
Once I broke my gaze from the flickering screens, I glanced around at the crackling industrial space around me. Every where my eyeballs lingered they fell upon the huddled forms of visiting news crew, dynamic duos consisting of distracted technophiles and their far more attractive on-air partners. Once my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I began recognizing certain photogs and reporters, fellow Fox affiliate employees I’d done battle with at earlier Idol shoots. Chief among them were Jeh Jeh Pruitt and Greg Long - the ever affable Birmingham crew, currently laser focused on their local shoo-in Taylor Hicks. Over the embroiling three days that followed, I took every opportunity to rib them over their hoofing, hammy home-boy. Soul patrol, my ass!
There were other faces in the cavernous space I identified, some from intimate camera scrums, others from distant satellite feeds. Most of their names escaped me. Blame part of that on my absentminded nature but the electronic assemblage before me didn’t help either. I am far from a techno-wizard. I tend to think in flowery prose, foggy long-shots and ironic imagery. In other words I can wrap my noodle around the most esoteric of notions, but the simplest of linear schematics can cause me to scratch my whiskers in befuddlement. Thankfully, a phone call or three to Weaver backed up my hypothesis and I quickly worked through a series of systemic glitches. Soon after, I was lounging with a free can of Pringles and chatting up my fellow members of the Fourth Estate, blissfully unaware we were about to lock elbows in full-on mortal camera combat...