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America’s Got Talent in San Diego

"It was easier than to move to L.A. by myself and die.”

Caleb J, Aaron Kayy, Dan Gutzman, Marcus Reum, Jesse French
Caleb J, Aaron Kayy, Dan Gutzman, Marcus Reum, Jesse French

On November 10, America’s Got Talent kicked off its latest multi-city audition tour at the San Diego Convention Center. Comedian Sam Brilhart brought the chicken costume he started wearing on the Santa Monica promenade “just because it’s huge and ridiculous. I’ll talk about how I’m looking for a job but I’m not really worried, because I’ve got a nest egg and didn’t put all my eggs in one basket. And I’ll talk about how fowl dating is for me; my girlfriend left me for Foghorn Leghorn and she wouldn’t choke me any more. It’s all punny chicken jokes.”

Walter Ford

Comedian Walter Ford brought a panda head, but not because he’s a black man who always feels like he’s got the whitest name in the room. “They hit up the comedians and said if we dressed crazy, we’d be able to skip the line.” (It worked.) Ford hails from Gary, Indiana — “the sixth most dangerous city in the world” — but he moved here after listening to Think and Grow Rich. “I couldn’t do it in Muncie, and I had two friends who moved here a year before me. It was easier than to move to L.A. by myself and die.” Eighteen months of hauling his clothes around in a bag and sleeping on the trolley nearly made him quit, but Kevin Hart’s audiobook kept him going. “Now, I’ve been on the Steve Harvey Show and I’ve done all the clubs in San Diego.”

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Sam Brilhart

Janette Jones came down from Ridgecrest, where he works as a lineman. It’s his fifth time auditioning, but his first in San Diego — and his first in drag. “The past four years, I was Jay Sinatra; I was involved in some B-roll footage a couple of years ago because they liked my Sinatra look. But the past few years, I’ve had some gender identity kind of stuff, and this is a grand stage, a good place to expose myself as who I am.” (Still, he regrets walking here from the Ramada. “It’s less than a mile, but it feels like a lot more in heels.”) He’ll be singing Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”

Janette Jones

But everyone in the post-audition jam session echoing through the Convention Center hallway — Marcus Reum (Montana), Jesse French (Reno), Caleb J and Aaron Kayy (Inland Empire), and Dan Gutzman (Mexico City) — came here to perform an original. Reum and French were in the same audition group, and Montana asked Reno for help with a lead guitar line. Like everyone else, they’ll have to wait until spring to hear if they made the cut. “You’ve got to forget about this and get on with your life,” says French. For now, they’re happy to listen to and jump in on each other’s stuff: Gutzman’s musical message on depression (“This is my medicine,” he says of his guitar), the cool Cali kids’ musings on ambition. Everybody’s watching, they all want to know what’s next/ But I ain’t pay attention, I just want to be the best…

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Caleb J, Aaron Kayy, Dan Gutzman, Marcus Reum, Jesse French
Caleb J, Aaron Kayy, Dan Gutzman, Marcus Reum, Jesse French

On November 10, America’s Got Talent kicked off its latest multi-city audition tour at the San Diego Convention Center. Comedian Sam Brilhart brought the chicken costume he started wearing on the Santa Monica promenade “just because it’s huge and ridiculous. I’ll talk about how I’m looking for a job but I’m not really worried, because I’ve got a nest egg and didn’t put all my eggs in one basket. And I’ll talk about how fowl dating is for me; my girlfriend left me for Foghorn Leghorn and she wouldn’t choke me any more. It’s all punny chicken jokes.”

Walter Ford

Comedian Walter Ford brought a panda head, but not because he’s a black man who always feels like he’s got the whitest name in the room. “They hit up the comedians and said if we dressed crazy, we’d be able to skip the line.” (It worked.) Ford hails from Gary, Indiana — “the sixth most dangerous city in the world” — but he moved here after listening to Think and Grow Rich. “I couldn’t do it in Muncie, and I had two friends who moved here a year before me. It was easier than to move to L.A. by myself and die.” Eighteen months of hauling his clothes around in a bag and sleeping on the trolley nearly made him quit, but Kevin Hart’s audiobook kept him going. “Now, I’ve been on the Steve Harvey Show and I’ve done all the clubs in San Diego.”

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Sam Brilhart

Janette Jones came down from Ridgecrest, where he works as a lineman. It’s his fifth time auditioning, but his first in San Diego — and his first in drag. “The past four years, I was Jay Sinatra; I was involved in some B-roll footage a couple of years ago because they liked my Sinatra look. But the past few years, I’ve had some gender identity kind of stuff, and this is a grand stage, a good place to expose myself as who I am.” (Still, he regrets walking here from the Ramada. “It’s less than a mile, but it feels like a lot more in heels.”) He’ll be singing Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.”

Janette Jones

But everyone in the post-audition jam session echoing through the Convention Center hallway — Marcus Reum (Montana), Jesse French (Reno), Caleb J and Aaron Kayy (Inland Empire), and Dan Gutzman (Mexico City) — came here to perform an original. Reum and French were in the same audition group, and Montana asked Reno for help with a lead guitar line. Like everyone else, they’ll have to wait until spring to hear if they made the cut. “You’ve got to forget about this and get on with your life,” says French. For now, they’re happy to listen to and jump in on each other’s stuff: Gutzman’s musical message on depression (“This is my medicine,” he says of his guitar), the cool Cali kids’ musings on ambition. Everybody’s watching, they all want to know what’s next/ But I ain’t pay attention, I just want to be the best…

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