America’s Got Talent: The Vegas Verdict
“See you in Vegas!” Piers’ words made the America’s got Talent competition seem so much more real. We were IN. The first audition had been just one day, with minimum preparation. Vegas was going to be an entire WEEK with contestants from ALL OVER AMERICA!
We barely got back to the Bay Area, and immediately started brainstorming. Being a fairly versatile Bollywood Dance company, and having a vast repertoire that ranges from Classical and filmy dances to those that are more Hip Hop or Contemporary based, we pondered about which direction we wanted to go in. After a lot of discussion, research, sleepless nights and ENDLESS cups of coffee, we decided to do a fusion of Hip Hop and Bharatnatyam and add the typical Bollywood flavor to it.
A few of us began conceptualizing the piece, and we started training three times a week, for several hours. Technique, flexibility, partnering and stunts; we pushed ourselves to a whole new level. Those were days of incredible soreness, constant fatigue, but a RELENTLESS drive kept us going. Not to mention this was during our Spring Student Performance quarter. So almost all of us had several classes to teach and the Junior Emerging Performers had several new works to learn for the showcase. Beat and BROKEN, we’d reach classes and could not say a WORD to anyone about this!
During all this, Amrita was swimming through enormous stacks of paperwork that were needed for the competition. The legalities that had to be dealt with would have made any lawyer CRINGE. Some of us were watching every possible episode of America’s Got Talent to see what the show was all about! The songs also, had to be pre-approved, due to copyright issues which added another chaotic dimension. After email chains that would put the Great Wall of China to SHAME, and conference call hours to match, our songs were approved! “Boom Boom Pow” by Black eyed Peas and “Nahi Tere Jeha Hor Jisda” by Rishi Rich.
After weeks of being in the studio, we finally had an ELECTRIC MIX and it was time to begin the choreography. Mona Khan, Shannon Hanly (our resident Hip Hop Choreographer and teacher) and Krisuan (another fabulous Hip Hop choreographer), began working on the piece, based on Mona’s vision. Monika and I added inputs when needed, so it was a huge MELTING POT of ideas and creativity.
As time rushed by, we found out that we had to leave one day after our showcase. There was a CATCH! We did not know when we’d be back from Vegas. They told us we could be sent back in a few hours, a day or at the end of the week. Only time would tell!
THE VEGAS WEEK
Somehow we survived the four student shows over two days, rehearsed on Monday, and Tuesday morning we were in Vegas. We arrived in Vegas and were taken to the fabulous Palms Resort and Casino, where we were to stay. This time, besides the 22 dancers, we had 10 parents accompanying the kids. We barely arrived at the hotel lobby, when we were told that we had less than an hour to rehearse our routine. We abandoned our luggage right there and rushed to rehearsal.
We came out of rehearsal and were told that we had to be ready in costume and makeup in a few hours. Only the adults were called because the kids had to go to SCHOOL. Yes! There was part-time school for all minors who participated in the competition. Our kids were NOT happy. They whined and complained but were dragged off to school. (It was a a legal requirement!) The rest of us got through that first day of waiting and shooting.
We woke up at 6:00 am, and reported to the holding area. After hours of waiting we were taken to the theater. The theater was BREATHTAKING. Sitting in the audience seats, we were ITCHING to just get on that stage and tear it apart. We also finally got to see the other participants, some whom we had met at the LA audition. There were funky costumes, ludicrous accessories, mad makeup; just a lot of unique artists with incredible talent.
We were divided into three sections, there was no way to tell on what basis. (but having watched past seasons we knew there was a reason!) After a few more hours, the judges arrived. We waited with baited breath as they announced that we were group A and the judges’ FAVORITES. We would perform and after they picked the groups who would proceed, they would look at group B. I looked over at Group C. Right in front sat the kids from Future Funk and the dancer Haspop, both of whom we had seen in L.A. There was no way they were going home already! Sure enough, the judges announced that were going straight to Hollywood. We were not even intimidated that 10 spots were GONE out of 48! We were just happy that we would be performing. All the dancers would have been disappointed if we didn’t get to perform, EVEN if we went straight through!
We were looking forward to getting some food and crashing early so we would be fresh for the performance, the next day, when we were told that we would be performing that very night. We had to look at a board to see who we were competing with (they had divided us into categories) and we were listed with Bhangra Empire, a Bay Area based Bhangra group and Kruti Dance, an Atlanta based Bharatnatyam group.
So we rushed back to our rooms, began the usual dressing up ritual. Few hours later, we were all charged up and reported to the holding area. We warmed up, rehearsed, sat down, dozed off. This cycle repeated many times, in many different rooms. Many more hours later, sometime late at night, we were told we were on. We frantically tried to re-focus, re-energize, re-rehearse. And it was FINALLY time!
We were led backstage along with Bhangra Empire and Kruti Dance. Bhangra Empire went on first while we watched them on a feedback monitor. Then was our turn. After hours of waiting, we were just BURSTING to perform; all nervousness and apprehension had melted away! We went on stage and danced our hearts out. Months of hard work culminating in 1 minute 30 seconds where we put in EVERYTHING we had and MORE. We finished our piece and stood in front of the judges awaiting their comments. They said almost NOTHING! We went back stage again and the producers said we were acting like “we had already won.” It is hard to explain the immense satisfaction you get when after killing yourself in the studio, the performance is EXACTLY what you had had aspired towards. It is when dreams and reality meet. That was how we felt at that point. We watched Kruti Dance perform and then we were all led away.
Tired, relieved, excited, we began discussing our chances. It was hard to tell. We had strong competitors, each group excelling in their style. We had no idea what the judges’ were looking for. We had done our best.
For once we had a late start; we slept in, lounged around and were told that we would probably have the day off. At 1:00pm just as we were making plans to hit a famous Vegas buffet, we were asked to report to the holding area. In JUST two hours! Now a few hours may seem like a lot of time. (For a lot of people in regular clothes who were singers it would take a few minutes to be ready) For 22 dancers who had to do full makeup, pin up random costume accessories, curl our hair and more, few hours is HIGH STRESS! The only person probably more elaborate than us was Prince Poppycock. (who was always flawless!)
We got there at 4:00pm and waited around for a few hours. We thought we would be told the results. It would have been our last day in Vegas, but then we were told we were done for the day. Nothing happened!
So we went out to the strip with the whole troupe, and generally enjoyed Vegas. Being in the holding area for days, we had forgotten what it was like to be outside.
Another early start, another day of waiting. Then suddenly at noon, we were told we were done for the day. By now we were used to the unpredictability of things. We went to lunch and to the pool and through it all, we kept our hair curled and makeup on. We packed in a great lunch, synchronized swimming, jacuzzi time, lounging around, drinks with pop rocks all in a few hours.
This was the last day in Vegas. We knew it was time for results. We woke early, got dressed and began the familiar waiting game. And then we were led to the backstage area, along with Bhangra Empire and Kruti Dance. We were to go on stage first; we figured that three large groups would be hard to fit together. It was amazing how quickly the euphoria from the performance EVAPORATED. Three days later, we were no longer sure what was going to happen. We stood rooted to center stage, awaiting the verdict.
The judges just STARED at us for what seemed like eons. It was so intimidating to just stand there while they studied us. There was NOTHING we could say or do. This was it. We just had to wait. We clutched at each others’ hands, some of us were ready to pass out. Then the judges began talking.
They spoke about how this was one of the toughest choices for them as each group was very strong, Piers told us to keep our smiles. (this is when I started crying!) They said there could be one spot, two spots or NO SPOT for these three groups. Their words were encouraging, but the kind of encouragement you give someone, as you are rejecting them. “Mona Sampath Dance Company…” said Piers, and after the LONGEST pause in the world he completed his sentence, “…you are going to Hollywood.”
We were ECSTATIC! The parents who were waiting at the door, heard our screams before they even saw us. We laughed, we cried, we rejoiced. We started chanting “Mona..Mona…,” celebrating our amazing mentor who had flown back to the Bay earlier that day, to make it for the TIECON show, where another group of our company dancers were performing, that VERY NIGHT. Amrita followed her soon after the results, with her large suitcase crammed with costumes, that could now be used for TIECON. We called Mona and the rest of the company to share the excitement of that UNFORGETTABLE moment. We had made it to the Top 48, out of the THOUSANDS of performers who had auditioned!
Day 6: The happiest group in the world made their way back to the Bay!
See MORE pictures of the amazing Vegas experience in our Media Gallery