A month ago, singer-songwriter Bethany Summers and I decided to make the trip to Baltimore, MD to try out for The Voice. Summers grew up playing the flute, having studied under Carl Bergner and passed auditions at Yale University and doing undergraduate work at Western.
After carpal tunnel surgery, Bethany quit the flute and changed her major to psychology, but as she says, “really found music.”
“I started to focus more on writing songs than performing. I started playing the guitar, doing open mic nights and just jamming with people.”
She’s played in bands, open mic nights, and has a demo on reverbnation.
We drove down to Baltimore, on Friday, Feb. 24. We left around 11 a.m. driving through New York State, New Jersey, and Delaware, before arriving at the Super 8 in Essex, MD.
We stepped out and stretched our legs. It was strange not seeing mountains and hills everywhere. The flattest road in Berkshire County is what a hill is in Maryland.
On Saturday, we got up, grabbed some Arby’s, and drove down to Baltimore to the Convention Center to audition.
Baltimore is right on the coast of Maryland, there are spectacular bridges, spanning large channels, and tunnels down through the water to get in. Before driving under the Atlantic, the earth is flat as far as the eye can see. Once in the city, massive skyscrapers towered above us, Pandora, Bank of America, Hilton, Emerson Bromo-Seltzer. We crept through traffic, past the line for auditions, hundreds of people lined up down Pratt Street.
We parked in the Sheraton Inn parking garage, which was oversold. We walked down to the Convention Center and got into line which had essentially dissipated since we drove in. Unfortunately, press wasn’t allowed in, so Bethany and I said our goodbyes. Apparently The Berkshire View doesn’t mean anything in Baltimore.
Outside the Convention Center were troves of family and friends who were also denied entry, as well as hopefuls who had already auditioned.
Brandon, 28 of Baltimore had auditioned at the 12 p.m. time slot and had just gotten out at 3:45 p.m. gave a me an idea what the audition process was like, “You go into this big room, you know, hundreds of people, and they break you off into groups of ten. Then they take you upstairs group by group and have you sing in front of the producer. There were a lot of talented people in there. I mean really talented. Not one of them made it.”
It began to rain as we spoke. John Searles, from Baltimore had a bit more experience with these sorts of auditions. He explained that this was the first of three auditions before you perform in front of the judges. That day there were only four or five people out of several thousand to be given back a red callback card.
Once inside, Bethany was ushered upstairs, following the velvet rope toward the escalator to the second floor of the Convention Center. From there, contestants were herded into a large room, estimates ranged from 800 to 1000 people. Contestants were broken off into groups of ten and were brought up individually into smaller rooms to audition.
As Bethany sat in the great cacophony of performers practicing their songs, producers from the show would make their rounds, fast tracking artists who had a certain look or zest about them, asking them to sing before bringing them upstairs to audition.
“People started booing them once they realized it was based on looks,” Bethany says.
Outside the Convention Center it started to rain. Drizzling at first, but then growing and receding. A man appeared as if out of nowhere carrying 10 to 15 umbrellas on his arm wearing a bucket hat, sunglasses and wind pants, “Umbrellas, umbrellas,” he called. “Umbrellas, umbrellas.”
After the rain died down, I walked over to the Sheraton Inn and sat down in one of the leather chairs on the second floor to write down some notes. Sitting next to me was Tom Jones (not the ghost of Tom Joad), a husband of one of the man hopefuls at the four o’clock auditions.
We made small talk, he’s some sort of manager at a sales company, I told him I worked for a newspaper up in Massachusetts, he asked me if I took 95 down, I said yeah, we discussed the weather, and eventually we ran out of things to talk about and took to looking at our phones.
Inside the Convention Center, Bethany continued to wait and send me updates on how things were going, lamenting that the girls seated behind her would not stop singing Lady Gaga.
By then it had been a couple of hours, so I walked down Pratt Street, hoping to find something cheap, passing by steakhouses and seafood restaurants. By the harbor I found a Noodles and Company and ordered a bowl of chicken pad thai.
When that was finished, I walked back to the Sheraton to charge my phone. I sat down and tried to take a nap, but eventually decided that I didn’t want to be that guy. Luckily I had brought a Gameboy and was able to pass the time playing The Legend of Zelda.
After what seemed like an eternity, I got a message from Bethany saying that she was finished with her audition. After some brief confusion as to where she was located, we found each other and walked back to the car.
In the end, Bethany didn’t make it through.
“I don’t feel bad or disappointed. There were some amazing people on there, better than a lot of the people who actually make it on the show. Plus I would have had to take out a loan to stay out here.”
Overall though, it was a fun weekend enjoying some of the amenities in Maryland, most notably Arby’s, and Checkers, a drive in burger joint, found most commonly in the south.
Bethany is currently looking for members for a full band. If interested, contact her at email@example.com
Give her original songs a listen at reverbnation.com/luxnflux