April 9, 2008
You Gotta Have Friends
Last night was the big night - SHOW TIME! This was the culmination of the
weeks of preparation, rehearsals, and anxiety. Throughout, it was a lot of fun
working with super wonderful people under the usual pressure of a large and
complex production. I had a strange combination of confidence shaded by a slight
touch of nervousness.
I arrived at the studio a little past noon and walked down the corridor
toward my dressing room. The door next to mine had the name Clint Black on it.
This country-singing star was going to be doing stand-up comedy. I was invading
his turf as a country singer. This was the wonderful craziness of Hollywood. I
walked into my room. My western outfit -- fancy black embroidered shirt, black
jeans, boots and all -- were hanging in the closet. I'm an actor used to seeing
Starfleet uniforms hanging in my dressing room closet. But this western outfit
somehow seemed to me surreal. And my gig tonight was to be singing country
wearing it. How bizarre can life get! As it turned out, VERY bizarre.
The network execs had decided the musical interlude in my song was a bit
long. So at the last minute, as we were about to go into dress rehearsals, the
change came. There was no time for nervousness now. I had to adjust to the new
shortened version. We rehearsed it a couple of times and that was it. The
in-studio audience was arriving. Show time was fast approaching.
I had just gotten into my western outfit when my relatives came to my
dressing room with their friends to cheer for me. Then, my partner-manager Brad
Altman arrived with more friends. He told me that there were hordes of friends
and supporters gathering outside with signs to cheer for me. Making the final
grand and glamorous entrance into my dressing room, Nichelle Nichols, my Star
Trek colleague, swept in to wish me well. A production assistant came to usher
me to an interview with Entertainment Tonight so I thanked them all and off they
went to their seats.
After the interview, I was ushered back to my dressing room to wait for my
call to the stage. I was now alone in my room with only the leftover picking of
fruits and crudités. I put on my CD for a final round with the instrumental
version of my song. And that was it. Any more rehearsals would just be pointless
edginess. I waited alone and calmly until Studio Producer Greg Harvey came to
usher me to the stage.
There was the bustle of stagehands during a commercial break as I approached
the stage. When I stepped onstage, a thunderous cheer from the audience greeted
me and a magical thing happened. There is a weird and wonderful power that a
generous audience casts. I felt at home, relaxed, and comfortable. The
stagehands cleared the stage; I heard the countdown and host John O'Hurley
started my intro. I could see every word of John's introduction on the prompter
in back. The music started and I got with the beat. The rousing rhythm of Willie
Nelson's great hit, "On the Road Again," felt so right. The song joyfully flowed
out of my body. I sang my heart out. The cheering, stomping and hollerin' when I
finished was tremendous. Signs that read "Beam Me Up" and "This is Takei
Country" bobbed up and down. It was truly an exhilarating feeling.
John O'Hurley guided me to the judging panel composed of Hollywood legend
Debbie Reynolds, Grammy winner Brian McKnight, and television producer Gavin
Polone. First up was Brian McKnight. He loved my "passion." Being judged by
Debbie Reynolds was so exciting. When I was a kid, I remember going to a movie
palace on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles to see her in "Singin' in the Rain."
She was a sparkling bundle of talent dancing and singing with Gene Kelly and
Donald O'Connor. I love her. And here was this iconic sweetheart of America in
front of me saying she liked ME and saying she needed a "spacey" singer for her
opening act! It was dizzying! The only down note was Gavin Polone. He took a
cheap homophobic shot that was totally unrelated to anything. The crowd gave him
an eminently deserved boo. I think it's fair to judge the judge, and, in his
case, I deem him to be an irresponsible and incompetent poop. Polone is a
liability on the panel.
The upshot of the evening was that I was not a semi-finalist. The tap-dancing
Mya and I were released to go home. Clint Black and Sasha Cohen, the Olympic ice
skater, will be going on to the next round. Congratulations to both. I'm now out
of the game. That's fine with me. I was competing as a country singer against a
contortionist, a standup comic, and a tap-dancer. It was a fifty-fifty shot. I
had a great time, met some wonderful people, and had an unforgettable
I am grateful to some extraordinary people who made the experience so
memorable. My studio producer, Greg Harvey, a giant of a man at 6'8", is as big
in his enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism as he is physically. Edgar
Struble, my musical arranger who worked with me from the very beginning straight
through to the final musical cut right before the performance, is as affable and
supportive as he is a hugely gifted musician. An unexpected gift was to have the
hot country duo, Montgomery Gentry, the team of Eddie Montgomery and Troy
Gentry, coach me on country singing. They now have a fan forever in me. I felt
so honored by the terrific musicians of the all-star band behind me and the trio
of fantastic backup singers. They have all become my friends. Singing country on
"Secret Talents of the Stars" made me feel for one night like I was Willie
Nelson "making music with my friends."
Working with the pros
Saturday, April 5, 2008
night's rehearsal for my country singing debut on "Secret Talents of the Stars"
was like a fantasy I'd never even dreamed of. All my life, I had been singing
only in the warm, steamy resonance of my shower stall, hearing just my voice and
the sound of the water spraying on me. But last night, I sang with an all-star
band of seven great country musicians and two amazing back up singers. These
artists had performed with some of the greats of country music - Kenny Rogers,
Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, and on and on. This was my fantasy come true!
However, the most astonishing fantasy come true was, not only meeting, but also
being coached by the new country sensation, Montgomery Gentry-the two artists,
Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry! I love their new hit song, "Some People
Change." They were doing a gig in Ft. Worth, Texas, but when the producers
invited them to come coach me for the show, they flew straight away into Los
Angeles. Just for me! It was overwhelming!
Once I got over the initial surprise of meeting them, I learned that both
Eddie and Troy are Star Trek fans. When Eddie was guiding me on how to hold the
microphone, I said, "Believe me, Eddie, I cling on to it like my security
blanket." He guffawed, "Klingon!" With that, he sure enough proved his Star Trek
credentials. He then told me to "eat the mike." I had no idea what he was
talking about. He laughed and told me to hold the mike real close to my mouth.
As baffling as sci-fi techno babble can be, I think I understand it better than
country music lingo. Troy helped me stay with the beat. He had the guitar
soloist and the drummer emphasize some of my cue beats. It helped. I could use
all the help they can give me. And, I'm getting it from the best - the shooting
stars of 21st century country music and my newfound friends, Eddie Montgomery
and Troy Gentry. I spent the evening jamming and laughing with my country
friends. If only all rehearsals could as fun as this. It was a fantastic
I got in the car taking me home exhausted but feeling great. Now for the
tough part of preparing for a live television show - camera rehearsals, dress
rehearsal and then the BIG night in only three more days, Tuesday, April 8. The
Into the Studio
Friday, March 28, 2008
What had seemed
an exciting opportunity at first with "Secret Talents of the Stars" was now
becoming a very real test. The show was providing me with a bounty of backups. I
now have had three sessions with a terrific vocal coach, Dave Stroud, a number
of promotional interviews, a discussion on wardrobe concepts with the costume
designers, and, to top it all off, I met a couple of country musicians who are
going to be my backup musicians -- and they've worked with legendary country
artist, Kenny Rogers! All this for ME, a mere shower singer!
As the challenges intensified, my anxiety almost became panic. At my first
vocal session with Dave Stroud, I was so nervous I was racing past the beat of
the song. Dave gave me real insight into singing country. He said that the most
important quality of country music is a relaxed enjoyment of the music. Forget
everything, loosen up, and give yourself up to the song. Easier said than done.
I'm loose and relaxed in my shower stall, but this isn't shower singing anymore.
This is going before millions and millions of people all across the country.
Dave gave me supportive compliments about my vocal quality and we forged on.
He taught me exercises to relax and loosen my vocal cords. I made ridiculous
sounds going up and down the musical scale. I burred, I rolled my rr's, I made
round vowel sounds. My nephew's five-year-old kid would be squealing with
laughter if he heard Uncle George making these silly sounds. I did feel
ridiculous. But, it worked. The exercises calmed me down and the singing became
more comfortable. By the second session, I was doing a tad better. I was more
relaxed. But I was still dependent on singing with the vocalist on the CD track.
Dave's homework assignment to me for the next session was to get off the vocal
track and sing only to the accompaniment.
For the following couple of days, I practiced diligently with only the
musical track. I no longer had my training wheels. I was now singing solo and it
was breathtaking - I kept getting lost. The music did fancy but confusing
curlicues. It was exasperating. Over and over again, I practiced and sang to the
fancy part of the music. Eventually, I got the beat and the feel of it. I went
to my third session with Dave feeling reasonably confident. But then, when I
arrived, there was a whole camera crew from the show to film my lesson with
Dave. My vocal lesson with Dave was going to be seen by millions across the
nation as part of the show! Again, nerves attacked! My singing without the vocal
track was hit and miss. I can only hope that they edit the film kindly.
Yesterday, I went to my first studio session. We're now getting closer and
closer to the Big Day. I met a part of my musical backup team for the first
time. Edgar, the musical arranger, introduced me to the two guitarists - Chuck
and John. They were affable, down-to-earth, and immediately seemed like old
friends. They were real country people. John was from Georgia and both Edgar and
Chuck were from Michigan but all had spent a good hunk of time in Nashville.
Both guitarists, John and Chuck, had handsome guitars with beautiful abalone
shell inlays. Then Edgar and Chuck told me that they had toured with the
celebrated Kenny Rogers! They are part of country legend! I had no idea I would
be performing with the greats. Like the true country people they are, however,
they brought the conversation right down to earth. They had toured with Kenny
Rogers in Japan, they told me, and loved the food there. I could tell from
Chuck's generous girth that he enjoyed good eating. From Edgar's lean figure, I
could tell he had very good metabolism. The talk of Japanese food made me feel
that I would be making music with friends. And we did. We had a great time
singing country and laughing through the session. The two hours we had seemed to
go at warp speed.
However, I would now have a whole week before I could get together with my
newfound musical friends again. Tomorrow, I fly off to New York for my weeklong
gig with the Howard Stern Show on Sirius Satellite Radio. I do, however, plan to
continue rehearsing with my trusty CD player everyday. A week goes fast and I
intend to rise to the challenge of my "Secret Talent." I'm publicly coming out
of my shower stall to face a national television audience.
Monday, March 24, 2008
For over four decades, I've
trekked the galaxies on the Starship Enterprise "boldly going where no one has
gone before." I did the Star Trek television series in the 60s, recorded the
voice in the animated series in the 70s, the movie series from the 70s to the
90s, and conventions all over this planet. It was no longer "boldly going" on to
new adventures. It had become almost tradition.
However, with one e-mail from my agent with an offer from the "Secret Talents
of the Stars," I truly felt the sensation of "boldly going" where I had never
gone before. It was an offer to do what I do every morning in my shower stall -
singing country songs. But the offer was to sing live on stage before an
audience of about four or five hundred people in studio AND millions of
television viewers across the nation. I'd never done this. I felt excitement,
the thrill of a new challenge, but there was also a tingle of anxiety. What if I
fall flat on my face? But then, what a great opportunity this is as well! This
is what life is about - to try new things and see what happens. I decided I'll
Immediately after accepting the offer, however, I had a scheduled trip to
Coventry, England for - what else - a sci-fi convention. After the gig, I was
also giving ourselves, my partner, Brad and me, a week of whoopee in London and
a quick dash through Brussels and Bruges, Belgium. When we arrived in London,
the "Secret Talents of the Stars" production had sent a c.d. player with the
song I was to sing to the hotel. So for the rest of our trip through Europe, I
was singing country - vocalizing in hotel showers, humming on trains, and body
swaying to the beat of the music on the plane flight back home. I'm trekking and
I'm preparing to "boldly go" where I've never gone before.