Did you know there is an American Idol style talent competition going on right here in Lake County? Again this year, the Lake County Board of Developmental Disabilities/Deepwood is holding an Idol contest in its adult workshops, Vocational Guidance Center (VGC) in Mentor and Willoughby Workshop in Willoughby. I did not know how big this contest was until I became a part of it this year.
Andy and I Get a Big Idea
Some of you know my son, Andy. Andy is 25 years old and has Down syndrome. He works every day at VGC. He loves his job and his supervisors and has lots of friends there. Over the past few years, Andy has been involved in several group music activities with music therapist Bonnie Hayhurst of The Groovy Garfoose. During one of these activities his group performed the song Some Nights by the group, fun. In this activity they sang and played drums.
When the VGC Idol competition was announced this year a light bulb went on in my head. What if I got a group together and did that same song? I asked Andy if he would like to perform and he said yes. He gave me some names of his friends that he thought would like to be involved. This was a good start since Andy doesn’t volunteer much information. If he was enthusiastic about the project his friends would be too.
I ran the idea past his supervisors at VGC, Denice and Dawn. They both were enthusiastic about the project and promised their support. They helped figure out who would like to be in the group. I talked to VGC’s habilitation manager, Katie, about the logistics. She made sure everybody had the correct paperwork and permissions to participate. I ended up with a solid group of five guys and one girl. With most of our ducks in a row we started to rehearse.
We Begin Rehearsals and Hit a Temporary Roadblock
Our first project was finding drums. I thought we could make drums but I ran into all kinds of roadblocks, the main one being time. Dawn and Denice called around to try to find someone to loan us drums. Pfabes Music in Painesville answered the call with the generous loan of a full set of drums and a set of bongos. Thank you Pfabes!
Finally with instruments in front of them, rehearsals started in earnest. The first task was to name our group and choose “rock names” for each member. The group loved the name Weapons of Mass Percussion! Their rock names were even more fun to choose. Wildman, The Pearl, Giggles, Da Man, Tom-Tom and The Ninja were ready to rock it out with drums! It would be an understatement to say this group was attentive and were also fast learners. They were enthusiastic. They were also a polite and helpful group, carrying my computer equipment, drum bag and their drums without prompting. All have varying intellectual disabilities but I will not even mention them. To me they are a serious group of musicians!
Our first objective was to get past tryouts. There were 16 acts trying out with only 10 spots open. By tryout day on February 12th, I knew they were ready. However, I did not realize what a big event tryout day was! Our group was up first so I went into the tryout room early to make sure our CD was in the stack and that our drums were set up. What I saw was amazing! The judges table was covered with a white cloth. At each judges spot was a blue place mat with judging sheets and pencils. Also on the table were water bottles and snacks. I was in awe.
When I left the room the group was gathering in the cafeteria waiting area. I was informed that one of our members, The Ninja, was on a bus that was running late. Because of the many acts waiting to try out, the decision was made that we should go on but that he would still be able to perform in the semi-finals if we went on. The group looked great! Each of them had put their rock star on for the performance. We had a group hug and I briefly went over the opening routine. They did not seem nervous but I was! Truthfully, I was barely able to breath.
Soon they were called in to perform. Each of them took their place behind their respective drums. It fell to me to introduce the group. I turned to the judges and said, “This is the group, Weapons of Mass Percussion. You have their real names in front of you so I will introduce them by their rock names. Meet Da Man, Wildman, The Pearl, Giggles, and Tom-Tom. They will be performing the song Some Nights by fun. “ I also informed the judges about the bus problem and it was confirmed that it would not be a problem. The gentleman at the CD player put our music on. I turned to him and said, “Play it loud!”
The first chord rang out and they started the intro routine. Then they started drumming and I almost started crying – they were doing such a great job! It was a little rough but that was to be expected at this stage of the competition. They finished the song and the judges applauded! There was a definite happy vibe in the room. I was told to expect comments from the judges on how to improve or questions about the act but they asked nothing. On cloud nine we left the room.
Another group hug and then then each member went back to their workstations. I hung out in the cafeteria for a couple of hours to listen to the other acts that were trying out. Everybody was prepared and did their best. Each participant received a certificate of achievement for trying out and each person got a gift, hats for the guys and games for girls. We were told not to expect results until afternoon. I was glad I was not one of the judges. It was going to be a tough decision.
Waiting for Results
Since February 12 was Fat Tuesday, Andy’s group had a planned luncheon at Hometown Buffet so I went with them. It helped make the time pass and take our minds off the impending announcement.
Back at VGC after lunch, no one was in the mood to work. Finally, about 2 pm, the American Idol theme music came on the intercom and Scott, the facility manager, came on and said he was ready to read the results. The group gathered together and held hands. Scott, ever the joker, pretended he had lost the list and everyone groaned. Finally he said, “This is the list in no specific order.” We were all holding hold our breath and then we hear our group name announced – Weapons of Mass Percussion was in the semi-finals! We screamed, we laughed, we cried! We didn’t even hear most of the rest of the list. Each finalist was presented with a certificate informing them they were in the semi-finals on March 14. At the semi-finals, three acts from VGC will be chosen to perform at Great Lakes Mall on March 30th along with three acts from Willoughby Workshop.
Since tryout day, we have been meeting three times a week for rehearsals. The group did so well in the first round I do not want to take away their enthusiasm or make it a drag to practice. I have them practicing sections of the routine and then run we through the whole song twice. They suggested some changes and we incorporated those suggestions into the act. We laugh and have a good time. By the March 14th performance, they will be ready to put on a great show. I know the audience of their peers and family will be smiling with joy when it is over.
We Get A Sponsor and You Can Help Too!
I would like to thank my employer, Carlo Miceli, president of Best Truck Equipment Inc. in Willoughby for sponsoring the group by allowing me to leave work and practice with them and by donating funds to buy matching t-shirts. If you or your business would like to donate cash or gift cards for prizes please contact Katie Huth, Habilitation Manager for the Vocational Guidance Center, at 440-350-5193 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You and your business will be recognized and thanked for your support. You will also make some hardworking, talented individuals very happy!
Will Weapons of Mass Percussion be one of the finalists to perform at Great Lakes Mall on March 30th? They have as good a chance as any other act. Even if they are not chosen, they are still winners! Stay tuned for part 2.