In this same month last year I have just landed on the fertile shores of Sydney, all ready to begin the next phase of my life. Although I was not a stranger to this city (having lived here for half a year during my university student exchange programme) it was an entirely new ride for me this time round–leaving my friends and family behind and the beginning of “married” life. The excitement and adrenaline coursing through my veins brought me to this point in time relatively unscathed. Now that the razzle-dazzle has faded, I finally have the chance to see my new home in the raw, sans the fluff and make-up.
As you all know, I auditioned for Australian Idol 2009 and what I got from that was a very good lesson. Of course I am not referring to fashion tips from the noisy bimbotic airheads that I see (and worse still hear) all around me nor any singing or performing know-how I have garnered. I got to experience first-hand how people the likes of me are being viewed and treated in this country. And for once, what I am saying has got nothing to do with homosexuality.
The day started early and the friends who agreed to meet me there were all predictably late so I joined the queue alone. As the groups of typical rowdy and obnoxious Aussie youths gathered, I suddenly felt like a relic not because of the age difference but how progressed my state of mind and phase of life is compared to them. I know what I want in life and am absolutely sure of myself as a person and the swarming mass of insecurity literally made me an alien from outer space. I knew there and then that I was at the wrong place chasing after a wrong dream. But you know me–I always like to tell myself that at least I have tried.
As every second passed, my boredom and sense of being totally out of place grew and the usual faking and forced-acting associated with reality television were not helping at all. After waiting for five hours, I was there behind the door just before the time when I was supposed to impress the pants off the lone male vocal coach (the judge of the first half of the first round). I was fully prepared and I knew I would sing well. But I also knew from previous competitions that singing was one of the less significant items on the producers’ agenda.
The contestant before me came out without the pink slip of acceptance and then it was my turn. The song I chose was Rick Price’s “Heaven Knows” as it accentuated my vocal range and technique in the way I wanted the assessor to hear. A few seconds after music came out of my mouth, I could see a change in his expression and that single expression was stuck on his face till my very last note. At first I did not quite know how to interpret that bit of facial contortion because it was a mixed one but after hearing what he has got to say, it became crystal clear.
He said that I was lovely but just did not meet the standards set out in the programme. Gosh, could it get any more PR than that? While that guy was spewing that load, his face was tattooed with that same look on his face–a wow-he-is-good-but-what-a-waste-he-is-not-what-we-are-looking-for expression. I left the room just like the others and walked out of the building briskly trying to let everything sink in. I must admit I was totally taken by surprise and did not expect the results to be like this at all. The weeks of anticipation and the five-hour wait culminated in a sudden concentration of disappointment and it was a little hard to swallow.
Fortunately I have a formulaic way to treat times like these–when plans go awry and results do not match expectations and I began this rationalisation process as soon as I started walking out of that room of judgement. I am 30 (the entry age cap) [CHECK]. I am not as cute as Kris Allen [CHECK]. I am not an Australian citizen [CHECK]. I am Asian [CHECK]. And the final tally of all those checks could not be more unsatisfactory. I can take the attack in the age and looks department because those are the essential ingredients in the realm of showbiz. It is the nationality and race issues that got me a little riled up. But what else could I expect? How many Asian contestants have you seen in Western Idol competitions? Am I a good reflection of an Australian (and the country’s say, glorious beer-drinking culture)? Why did an intelligent person not see this coming?
As the walk out of the audition venue continued, I got increasingly irate. Here I am in the most cosmopolitan city of the continent contributing to its economy and development as a resident worker with skills that it sorely needs. Why then am I not treated just like any other Australian? Why am I not biting the hand that feeds me after being slapped by that same hand? I felt like a used-then-dumped item which is expected to be in an immaculate condition the next minute ready to be used again.
You might think that I am over-internalising an innocuous event and erroneously mixing the two disparate concepts of engineering and showbiz into a melodramatic whinge-fest. To that I have nothing absolutely rational to throw back in defence for what I felt then was what I felt then and no one can take that feeling away or say that is not true. Of course I have settled down now but I was noticeably upset for the rest of that day and I believe I had good reasons to be (especially when I have sung well). But with pain there is always gain–I got to see true-blue Australia. And for days following the audition, the fact that I have always known how racist Australians could be dawned on me more and more. You see, I have always purported that I have not encountered any racist episodes here but now I know that is a false assertion made when I was still blinded by the bright colourful lights. As I started to see Australia under the lens of truth, I noticed an increasing number of examples of such offensive behaviour.
As if to join the ends of the circle, I realise that racism actually works in a vicious cycle. The more the majority race sees the minority race as the species invading yet refusing to assimilate, the more the former will act out to express their disdain and the more the latter will retreat into its shell (and huddle together with its like in the spirit of “united we stand”). This vicious cycle fuels greater ignorance of the majority and fans the flame of offensiveness against the minority. This is the lesson I have learnt from the Australian Idol audition. Valuable? Maybe. Essential? Definitely.
The floodgates are now sadly opened and as much as I hate it, I am uncovering more reasons why Australia might not be the mecca of freedom I have once thought it was (google the Australian Matthew Johns sex scandal and the irrationally-conservative media fallout for a taste). Perhaps all this is simply a long-overdue culture shock or yet another fact of life. Reality checks are always good and this one makes me want to cling on much tighter to the fact that Sydney is still better than Singapore.
Now that I am more enlightened, I wonder what new levels of cognizance are waiting for me to attain by the end of my second year here. While I wait for that to befall me with my dream of stardom officially six feet underground and no new dreams to keep me occupied, maybe it is time to stop planning and only greet life one day at a time.