This is “The Voice.”
Waiting in line for more than four hours. Losing feeling in my fingers and toes. Using a port-a-potty — repeatedly.
But this is also “The Voice.”
Cheering on the contestants in person. Sitting within hollering distance of the celebrity coaches. Fulfilling a superfan dream.
I have no shame: I hand-heart the singing competition show on NBC, which will kick off its 10th season on Feb. 29. I have been watching the program since the beginning, when the Original Four (Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and CeeLo Green, with Purrfect the Cat) first swiveled around in their red knockoff La-Z-Boy chairs.
My fandom has escalated over the years. In Season 7, I decided that experiencing the show from the solitary confinement of my apartment was not enough. I wanted to be in the Los Angeles studio, surrounded by my soul (or pop or country) sisters and brothers, shouting my support into the ears of the performers and America.
This is my Voice.
A company called 1iota dispenses free tickets for several TV shows in New York and Los Angeles, including “The Voice.” Dates book up faster than the blink of Gwen Stefani’s caterpillar-lashed eye.
The first step to securing tickets is to create an account with 1iota. I provided basic info (name, age, email address) and decided to sacrifice my privacy to increase my chances. According to my Profile Strength, which started at a weak Rookie level, I could improve my odds of scoring tickets by including personal details. So I added eye and hair color, height and weight, ethnicity and build (choices include “more to love” and “bodybuilder”). I balked at sharing my social media contacts; “authorizing” the company to use my account seemed like a Faustian deal. But I did upload a photo and earned a bump up the ladder.
In early March, I submitted a request for the May 11 show and was waitlisted. About two weeks later, I messaged the company for an update.
“For the season finale shows of The Voice, it could be a while,” Agent Danny wrote back. “Probably up to a month.”
I explained to Agent Danny that I was flying in from Washington and needed to book my flight. Any advice? He suggested that I choose a lower-demand episode. Translation: Try next season, kid.
I saw a glimmer of hope the following month. An email said that if I attended a new show called “Beyond A.D.,” I would receive priority tickets for “The Voice.” I didn’t — more like couldn’t — take the bait. On May 9, my request was rejected.
After the summer, I geared up for another round: a blind audition taping on Oct. 12. Three days before the event, while vacationing with my parents in Nashville, I received a message that should’ve compelled me to hug a Porter Wagoner impersonator.
“You are one step closer to scoring tickets!” the email stated. “Your ticket request status just changed from Waitlist to Available.”
Biological family, however, comes before “Voice” family.
For the next set of dates, I self-helped myself to remain flexible and patient. I was waitlisted for the live shows on Nov. 16 and 17, but didn’t sweat it. I told my D.C.-based friend Shelly to clear her schedule. (I had ordered two tickets.) She started to book flights and cancel them every 24 hours.
I was in San Francisco when I read the bad news: “At this time, the demand for tickets . . . exceeds our limited supply, which means we will NOT be able to accommodate your request.” The next morning, on Nov. 15, a new email appeared in my inbox. A few hours before I was supposed to fly back to Washington, I called Shelly with an urgent message.
That evening, we rendezvoused at the Los Angeles airport and checked into our hotel at Universal Studios. Before bed, we pulled out our outfits — the dress code was “hip and trendy” — and discussed Gwen and Blake’s relationship.
We were ready for our appearance on “The Voice.”
The audience members for Episode 918 gathered in the Curious George parking lot structure at Universal City Walk. We were told to arrive 30 to 45 minutes before the 2 p.m. check-in time, but no more than 90 minutes in advance. We were also warned, in all capital letters, not to bring cellphones, which were banned from the set. At noon, Shelly and I joined about 20 people in the general ticket line; many were hunched over their gadgets.
We stood behind a pair of sun-kissed friends who had flown in from Hawaii for the show. They looked as if they greeted every day with sunrise yoga and an acai bowl.
“This is Southern California,” one of the blonds said. “We’re casual.”
To be sure, the fashion seemed more appropriate for brunch with the besties than for national TV: jeans, Ugg boots, breezy tops. The fanciest dresser was the guy behind us who flashed a diamond neck tattoo.
To bide our time, Shelly asked people in line when they received their tickets (yesterday, last night, this morning) and why they weren’t at work (between jobs, day off, self-employed). When a staff member walked by, Shelly quizzed him on our chances of getting in. (As general ticketholders, admission was not guaranteed.) He scanned the four lanes of heads and replied, “One hundred percent.”
After about an hour, the queue started to stir. Something was happening. A man with a clipboard approached and asked for IDs and tickets. Our reward: a purple wristband. We passed through a security machine, the portal to Narnia.
In the outdoor holding area, a vendor was selling “Voice” souvenirs (mugs, T-shirts, hoodies), and several food trucks were cooking up lunch (burgers, wraps, churros). To stay warm in the blustery weather, we boarded trams and huddled like stray kittens in a box.
Several girls in our car wore red wristbands. They were the chosen ones who would fill the two halves of the pit in front of the stage. They would have the closest views of the performers and the most camera face time. The trade-off: They would have to stand for two hours straight and keep their energy level at “dance party.”
As the sun started to slip behind the buildings, a short bearded employee stopped by our caravan with some guidance. He told us to have “positive energy” and to “be out of your minds.” He also advised us to clap our hands over our heads, like a cheerleading squad.
“It feels silly,” he said, “but it looks fantastic on TV.”
On the short ride through Universal Studios, the tram driver showed us a montage of movie clips and riffed on the industry like a stand-up comedian.
“Hurry up and wait,” he said over a loudspeaker. “This is probably your most Hollywood moment of the day.”
He explained that the episode we were attending would air live on the East Coast but would run three hours later on the West Coast.
“You are going into the future,” he said.
He dropped us off a few feet short of Stage 12, the largest soundstage on the Universal lot. We assembled by colors outside the large, impenetrable building. About an hour before the 5 p.m. start time, employees started to escort the different pigments inside. The purples entered, but Shelly and I had fallen behind because of a traffic jam at the port-a-potty. We were now clumped in with the outliers. As the number of waiting hopefuls dwindled, the chatter on the staffers’ headsets increased.
“They don’t have enough seats,” a girl with a turquoise wristband speculated.
I incited a protest: “Let the purples in!”
A guy motioned for us to approach and led us under an awning and into the studio. The venue was dark and mirrored, like a gentlemen’s club. A young woman offered us bottled water and directed us to our seats in the second-to-last row. I had a clear view of the stage and the backs of the coaches’ heads.
Some rules: If we needed to use the bathroom, we would have to flag down our section’s usher, who would accompany us to the outdoor toilets. She could take five people at a time and only during the commercial breaks. We were also told to clap to the beat, wave our arms to slow songs and stand for each performance. And no booing.
“You’re not here to sit and watch,” said the man in charge of rousing the crowd. “You need to be the loudest, rowdiest audience.”
When the top 12 contestants appeared onstage, I hopped out of my seat and whooped — without being asked.
If there was a moon that night, I was over it.
I clapped, danced and sang — or, more precisely, screamed — for nearly two hours. During breaks, I watched the coaches: Blake swaggering over to Gwen’s chair and flirting; Pharrell Williams keeping to himself; Adam bantering with Carson Daly, the host. I sometimes paused my squealing to take in the surroundings, a less painful way of pinching myself.
“You were truly an amazing crowd,” said the audience-energizer. “If you were here last Monday, you wouldn’t have heard me say that.”
After the show, we reversed the morning’s course. Shelly and I cut through the parking garage, now devoid of lines, and raced through Universal City to the hotel.
A few minutes before 8 p.m., I took a seat on the bed to watch “The Voice.”