One day in early December of 2011 I received the following email from my colleague Dara Nai.
Subject: Real Smell Word, NYC
Do you have any interest in being on the show, as opposed to just gossiping about it? If not you, do you know anyone who might want to put themselves up for public ridicule/adoration?
I asked Dara whether the email was genuine. She said that it was, that she knew one of the producers, and that I should try out. Dara writes The Real L Word recaps on AfterEllen, and she probably just wanted me on the show so she could make fun of me on a weekly basis, but one thing was certain: the rumors were true. The magical Oompa Loompas and the lesbian Willy Wonka, Ilene Chaiken, were casting in my sleepless little town. The world was about to find out that there are lesbians living in places other than Los Angeles, and that we engage in activities outside of melting down during fashion week and doing amateur porn.
I laughed. Sign up for a reality show? This was like asking Hillary Clinton to get hammered in South America on camera and send out fake texting jpegs on Tumblr. Oh wait. But because I was a dutiful little lesbian, I sent out the following email to my extended social network.
Dear [50 of my closest friends]:
This is me, doing my job as a lesbian. If anyone wants to be on The Real L Word: NYC or knows anyone classy enough to be on the most important sociological experiment of the 21st century, please contact me. Feel free to forward this to anyone.
Most people ridiculed the email. Said one friend, “I would totally do this — if I were insane and didn’t care about my future.” Said another, “My mom would kill me and my girlfriend would help her.” But two answered the call. Both of them encouraged me to apply with them. I figured, “Why not?” One is way hotter and more telegenic than I am, and the other? She should have her own reality show. If JWoww and Pauly D had a love child and she turned out to be queer, that would be my friend.The Magical Elves would certainly pick either of them over me.
Later I was also told that a couple of others in our extended social group were also throwing their hats in the ring. We were all in this together now. Safety in numbers. We were going to Occupy Showtime. I filled out the application and pressed “send.”
The next day I received an email asking me to come in for an on camera screen test. No one else got the email. Occupy Showtime was no longer an exercise in collectivism. My buffer between me and the reality show machine had evaporated overnight. Should I respond? Should I ignore the email? Should I forward it to all my friends and ask them, honestly, what was wrong with me? Why me? How could I be the most absurd person in our social group? Should I look at the woman in the mirror and ask her to change her ways?
That week I was in between projects at my day job. My old project had wrapped up two days beforehand, and I was told to sit tight at home until my new project started the following week. I had nothing to do. I could either sit at home and watch daytime TV, or I could break up the week with something other than collapsing on the couch in my pajamas, such as going into a studio and yammering on camera for a Showtime reality show. I told the casting director I would come in for the screen test.
The next day, I threw on New York City’s unofficial lesbian uniform – a tailored blazer over a trendy top and skinny jeans – and traipsed into Room 1225, Studio I of Three of Us Studios in Chelsea, where the Magical Elves awaited. The candidate before me was heading out of the studio. She was a white girl with dreads – I kid you not. Remember when every boi circa 2005 had the “I just stuck my head under the blades of a lawnmower and then fell into a vat of egg whites” look to emulate Shane on The L Word? While it hasn’t become an epidemic like the Shane Flu, the Mixter Bug looks like it is trending, although looking like the clone of an existing cast member may not be the best tactic of getting on the show. Sorry, kid.
This is where the magic happens
The casting director, a nice woman named Jen, sat me down in front of a camcorder and started asking me questions. Within two minutes she found out I wrote for AfterEllen. I couldn’t gauge whether this was a good thing or whether I should be looking for the emergency exit to avoid her wrath. She asked me what I wrote for AfterEllen. The only thing that came to mind at that point was my scathing review of The Real L Word Season 1, in which I wrote “The series was fragmented, lacked a trajectory and failed to keep my attention.” That would not put me in her good graces. I had to think of something, quickly.
“Uh,” I said. “I wrote about Lindsay Lohan and Tila Tequila. And The Real World. And the New York City lesbian scene.” And I prayed she wouldn’t Google me. But wait – wouldn’t it be in their best interest to put me on the show? I’d have to sign an NDA, and I wouldn’t be able to talk about anything relating to the show. Namely, I wouldn’t be able to write any more negative reviews.
The interview lasted around 45 minutes.
I was asked how lesbians in New York differed from lesbians in Los Angeles, and I responded that lesbians in New York worked in fields other than fashion and film and that New York City lesbians could not be boiled down to one type. I talked about my side job of being a nightlife journalist and photographer and how it has given me access to the full diversity of the New York City lesbian and queer scene, from the upscale Manhattan galas and parties to the hippie-yupster Park Slope lesbians to the underground queer parties in Brooklyn. I told her that there was a large, untapped lesbian community in Queens, particularly in Astoria. There was no way I could compare Los Angeles lesbians to New York City lesbians, because there simply wasn’t a simple characterization of the lesbians in NYC.
I think she really wanted me to start a war between Los Angeles lesbians and New York City lesbians, but I have no beef with Los Angeles. Los Angeles never crosses my mind. Why would anyone in New York City think about Los Angeles anyway? It’s like asking the Miami Heat if they think about the Charlotte Bobcats. But I had to give her something. As they say, go big or go home: “Listen, I’m the scene queen. I know New York City, and I should be on the show.”
She looked unconvinced. After the interview was over she told me that the next step would be to send more personal materials, including a short audition tape of me going about my business during the day.
I went home, got on Gchat, where a few of my friends asked how the audition went. While they reacted with disdain before, they were now oddly chipper and eager to find out more. One of them, who had previously told me that she would never try out for the show in this lifetime or the next, asked me whether she could get a short scene of her doing a pole dance behind me if we were shooting at a club. Others asked for a cameo. A couple asked to be the Alyssa to my Whitney. These are the same people who ridiculed the original email, mind you. Real L Wordfever had hit my social group, and I was going to drag everyone into the fray. This actually made me smile a little. We were all going down in flames — or end up being covered in creamed corn.
Over the next week, I made my audition tape, sent it in and waited. And waited. I went to a party in early January where I met another person who made it to the studio interview. Neither of us had heard anything, but word on the street was that the show was still in the process of casting.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday. Entertainment Weekly announced the cast of Season 3, and I wasn’t one of the airbrushed characters, and while I suspect every so often – based on particularly bizarre incidents and coincidences that seem to occur in my life on a regular basis – that I have been cast in a reality show, no Real L Word camera crews have been spotted near my presence. So, if I am on a reality show, it definitely isn’t The Real L Word, but I’d like to know which one. Thanks.
So that was my Real L Word audition experience. Now that we all know who is going to be on the show, I have a few theories as to what the casting directors wanted.
Two questions stood out in the interview that seemed to be designed to weed people out — or at least weeded me out. The first was “What will you definitely not do on camera?” I said I would not have sex on camera. Not only would everyone I know be horrified to see my chocha, I have a corporate job that I actually want to keep. This season’s trailer features fast cars, drinking and clubbing — and sex.
The casting directors clearly wanted people who would be willing do anything on camera.
She also asked about my schedule, and I said I work around 50 hours a week in a corporate environment where security was paramount. I handle highly confidential financial documents, and I have to swipe an electronic card through three doorways just to get to my desk. Guests cannot even enter, so camera crews are definitely out. While cameras are free to follow me around the rest of the time, 50 hours a week is a lot of time where I couldn’t be on camera. Many of the cast members have jobs where they appear in public. This year, for example, local band Hunter Valentine is the cast, and it is their job to tour and appear on stage in front of people. So if you want to be on The Real L Word, you have to have flexible hours in your day job or hold a job where camera crews can enter. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers, engineers, ad executives, marketing directors and consultants who work 50-60 hours a week, which is considered normal in New York? That’s most of Manhattan. Sorry, boos.
With that being said, the members of Hunter Valentine are good people. Most of them are originally from Canada, and Canadians are generally some cool cats. I followed them around on tour and filmed them for this profile and produced this short documentary on AfterEllen. I am happy with the casting decision.