First of all, TV production sets are always way smaller and rattier than they appear onscreen. Even though I knew this, it surprised Mrs. Nator, and it still makes things feel a bit strange. The whole time you're wondering, "how can that chipped, spray-painted construction of particle board even hold together, much less come across as nice-looking on television?" I guess it can, although I wonder about it as HD becomes the norm. Considering that, it makes even more sense that they filled the room with some kind of artificial smoke or mist, to pick out the spotlights and give everything a soft-focus glow.
Secondly, they are almost always cold. David Letterman's set is notoriously freezing (I can attest to that), but this was outside-temperature cold. I don't think Mrs. Nator took off her coat once last night. Maybe they wanted everybody to feel like they were outdoors caroling for the holidays.
Then comes the lead-in comic. Pretty much all comedy or live contest shows have a lead-in, who tries to whip the audience into a frenzy of adrenaline while convincing them to follow his cues to clap, cheer or quickly become silent like a bunch of lemmings. He is sort of the extremely annoying, unfunny horse trainer to the audience. In this case, the guy was even more annoying and unfunny than usual. In short order, the audience were amusing ourselves by making jokes about him to his face. I'm sure he's more than used to it, however, and he gets the paycheck in the end, so whatever works, I suppose.
Now for the most discomfiting part. When we watch reality shows at home, Mrs. Nator and I, like most normal people, spend the entire show making nonstop snarky comments about the contestants, the judges, the production values, the hammy oversell of sob stories, poor choices of song and choreography and just about everything else. Yes, we usually end up rooting for someone, but you and I both know that the running bitchy voice-over from the couch is what brings families together. But when you're at a live event where people clearly are emotional in earnest, trying their best and sometimes even in earshot (and one of you has cramps), in makes it a little more difficult to bring the cynical observational humour.
Difficult, but not impossible. At the beginning of the show, Mrs. Nator stated flatly that she was not going to stand up and clap like a trained monkey (or horse or lemming, if they could clap) for just anyone. She would only reward actual good performances, or things she gave a crap about. She was surprised at how often I clapped, but I told her that in person one should be a wee bit nicer and show appreciation for people's efforts, even if they were not the best. I also told her that if she sung again at the office Christmas party this year, I would be sure to only be supportive of her if she sounded like Renée Fleming. She clapped a few more times after that.
Despite applauding, we were able to keep up a few closely whispered snark sessions between us. We had fun mocking the comic, of course, and the bizarre sinister version of holiday music they played for suspense during the voting results sections. However, the most maligned thing that evening was probably Michael Bolton's ridiculously obvious hairpiece, which looked like a yarmulke made of cheap carpet remnants. Everybody knows you have a bald spot, girlfriend. If you're going to go the short-hair route and try to make everybody forget about the (unforgettable) mullet years, why ruin it by slapping a dead monchichi on your pate? Embrace the bald, honey child, and live with it.
However, we couldn't mock everything. The most difficult part was reconciling our feelings of being jaded about and sick of the milking of sob stories with the fact that we knew the people who had been forced to talk about their sob stories were actually sobbing about them. In fact, my friend Liimu, the very person we were rooting for, actually broke down sobbing onstage twice that night.
So I found myself with these mixed feelings of being proud of her for her solo, and understanding all the backstory that made her cry (her father died of cancer, her mother survived two bouts with it, her association of the song with song seriously crappy parts of her life, she's worked all her life for the opportunity to sing for a large audience and her only chance could be taken away if the were voted off, etc.), but at the same time feeling oddly manipulated and like the whole thing was inappropriate. I wanted to protect her by getting the damn camera out of her face, and yet I knew she had worked to get it there. I knew that, overall, the important things were both this opportunity for her and the chance to bring home some money for the cancer charity Patti LaBelle had chosen, even while I knew any of those celebrities could have made a greater contribution out of their pocket change if they wanted to. Most of all, I had to appreciate her performance, emotion, and the awesome Philly choir, while they were singing Jesus Take the Wheel, one of the most appallingly hokey, eyeroll-inducing songs to come down the popular music pike in the last couple decades, at least. In the span of a few short minutes, I found myself going from loathing the song to cheering for it.
I think I sprained my brain, people. I slept until one in the afternoon today, and I still feel concussed. Doctor, will I ever be able to make fun of people freely again?
I will say, however, that there were some wonderful high moments. I was very proud of Liimu, and team LaBelle, and actually was impressed by how much better every choir and performer sounded live than on television. Seriously, they must have the dreaded awards-show bad-mixing problem on COTC, because watching it back at home on TiVo did not do them justice.
Also, seeing Patti LaBelle sing Over the Rainbow live with her choir has to be, as Mrs. Nator put it, one of the Top Ten Gay Experiences of our lives. Miss Patti is a force of nature, and she was spectacular. I cannot believe they missed some of the best parts on the live broadcast, where she hurled the mic stand across the stage and kicked her shoes into the sky during the climax of the song. They referred to it later, but the cameras missed it. And she knocked everybody else's shoes off, too. To quote Mrs. Nator again, Patti LaBelle is like a wonderful drag queen homage to herself. Halleluia!
Finally, I was thrilled that Liimu got such a long solo, and really did well with it, despite all the stress, hard work and emotion she has been going through for the past month over this. I really hope she gets more opportunities out of this, because she is awesome and deserves it. I love her a lot and am so proud of her! You Go, Girl!
I just hope she will still love me when she learns I really don't like that song.
P.S.: I actually feel a little uncomfortable sharing her emotional breakdown here, but since it's been on national TV and YouTube already, here's a video of her performance for those who missed it.