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Living The Dream (Once Again)

A day in the life of an RPD judge

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff

Houston - Pretend for a moment you were presented with the opportunity to preside as a judge at the Rockets Power Dancer auditions. What’s the first thing that would pop into your mind? The girls? The power? The prestige? How about a quote from our nation’s 26th president?

“In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

“The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

OK, so maybe good old Teddy didn’t have RPD on the mind when waxing poetic about the valor of those who dare to compete, but his words were certainly something I kept in mind while composing my 2nd annual running diary of the audition process. 200 young women willingly put themselves through a rigorous day of dancing, nerves and scrutiny knowing full well that only about one-tenth of their group would have a chance to make it to the final round. As Roosevelt reminds us, that sort of courage deserves to be applauded.

Besides, his quote seems far more appropriate than the one made by my clueless friend whose advice prior to the competition consisted of these sage words: “Just remember: You can teach dancing to anyone - but you can’t teach hotness.” I call him “clueless” because anyone who’s ever witnessed me bust a move knows that Mikhail Baryshnikov himself couldn’t teach me to dance. Then again, the fact that I just referenced both busting a move and Baryshnikov in the same sentence probably provides concrete evidence that I’m far too old and out of touch to be caught on a dance floor anyway – and also helps explain how I managed to get lost in the bowels of the very building in which I work before the competition began.

(So just to recap: I can't dance, I have absolutely no sense of direction and being an RPD judge makes me think of Teddy Roosevelt. Yes, I’m a disgrace to mankind.)

But you didn’t come here to read about my myriad issues (though many more are to come, trust me); you’re here to find out what it’s like to live the life of an RPD judge for a day. So without further adieu, let the 2nd annual RPD audition diary commence!

10:15 AM – I arrive at the Toyota Center loading dock, which is where all the judges have been asked to park for the day. Keep in mind, this is not where I typically park when working, which is why the next 15 minutes turn into a scene from the movie “Labyrinth” as I hopelessly wander around the building’s underbelly, attempting to find my way to the Rocket’s practice court where the auditions are taking place. Just for the record: No, I did not encounter David Bowie during my misadventures, but did discover the Toyota Center’s version of the Bog of Eternal Stench after accidentally stumbling upon the epicenter of the building's trash collection. Imagine someone somehow transforming the putrescent 2000 NBA draft class into smell form and you’ll start to get an idea of the olfactory assault I suffered through. Not good times.

10:30 AM – Just as I recover my bearings (and sense of smell), I begin to reflect upon the epic disaster otherwise known as the last seven hours of my life. Quick rewind: At 3:30 AM I discovered that my car had been wrongfully towed from a friend’s downtown parking garage. Not only did this cost me nearly $200 and several hours of sleep, it also marked the third time my car had been towed in the last two years – with each time taking place under the most sketchy of circumstances. Mark my words, when I grow weary of the sports writing business I promise to pen a Pulitzer Prize-winning book revealing the racket that is the towing business. At this point I’m absolutely convinced

it’s nothing more than a money-making scheme run by a consortium consisting of Bin Laden, Kim Jong-il and Tom Cruise. Maybe George Lucas, too. After all, anyone who produces a pile of dung like the second Star Wars trilogy clearly savors human suffering. I’m just saying…

10:38 AM – All the judges, myself included, convene in a conference room overlooking the practice court while the day’s participants get warmed up and work on the first routine. Meanwhile, one of my bosses is asking me if I’ll be live-blogging this event. Ummm, no thanks. That might be the single worst idea in the history of mankind. I mean, can you imagine making unfiltered, stream of consciousness comments about hundreds of young women dancing in front of you??? Not only would someone get their feelings hurt, you’d be fired before the weekend is out.

And then it occurs to me: Is that what my boss wants? Is that why he’s prodding me to do a live blog? So he’ll have an excuse to terminate my employment?!? At this point it’s probably fair to point out that there’s a proven connection between sleep deprivation and rampant paranoia.

11:15 AM – Rockets Dance Team Manager “Sweet Susie” Boudwin enters the room and gives the judges a quick tutorial on how the process works. It couldn’t be simpler. The first round consists of 10 dancers performing at a time, while the judges write down “yes,” “no” or “callback” for each performer.

For the record, I think this sort of weeding out process should be used in all walks of life. For example, if we performed this exercise for sports broadcasters my scorecard would read thusly: Jeff Van Gundy and Charles Barkley – emphatic yes. Jalen Rose – callback. Emmitt Smith – not even in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Though, to be fair, I do feel a sense of loss now that the man who brought us terms such as "escape goat" and "rice of package" is no longer a part of my life.

11:30 AM – Since the start of round one is still a few minutes away, I’ve sequestered myself in the back of the boardroom with two fellow Rockets employees in an attempt to plot the future of the organization. Our impromptu think-tank has some bold ideas about team-building, though none is quite as daring and avante-garde as my pipe dream to field an all Spanish-speaking starting lineup pairing Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez with Trevor Ariza and Luis Scola (I’m still contemplating various options at center – Marc Gasol, maybe?). Make it happen, Daryl.

(Note: Therein lies the beauty of having Daryl Morey as your club’s General Manager: absolutely anything seems possible. Have a wacky, improbable, never gonna happen in a million years trade scenario? Don’t worry – Daryl can do it! We all have unshakeable faith in his abilities, which is why the Rockets should stop brainstorming new marketing slogans for the ’09-10 season and just go ahead and adopt the credo fans have been using for nearly a year now: “In Morey we trust.” I’m telling you, this thing has legs. Just imagine the possibilities. Call me crazy, but I don’t see a downside.)

(Additional note: If Daryl ever reads the previous paragraph there’s a good chance his next move will be to trade me to Memphis for cash considerations and a package of Kraft singles. Needless to say, he prefers expectations tempered, not wildly enflamed.)

11:50 AM – Round one begins. This year’s initial entry into the “Songs I’ll never want to hear again for as long as I live” Hall of Fame: Hilary Duff’s “Reach Out” – a tune I’ll hear approximately 18,266 times over the course of the day. For those not familiar with the song, it relies heavily on a sample taken from Depeche Mode’s 1989 smash hit “Personal Jesus.”

Now since I never really was a Depeche fan in the first place, I obviously don’t much mind the fact that their song – and its brand new doppelganger – are about to be forever ruined, but God help me if the dancers are ever asked to perform to a tune from U2 or some other beloved band of mine.

The last thing I need in life is some version of the Ludovico Technique producing feelings of intense pain and nausea upon hearing music from my favorite artists. And, yes, I just compared my own experience as an RPD judge (which includes non-stop visuals of beautiful women) to the torture suffered by Alex, the primary character in “A Clockwork Orange.” Hey, I’m man enough to at least entertain the notion that I might be prone to the occasional bout of unnecessary hyperbole and melodrama.

11:58 AM – Speaking of which, our team videographer Evan Gelber just placed a microphone right next to me so he can record my comments throughout the proceedings. Great. This is even worse then a live blog. Can’t wait ‘til a pirated version of the recording ends up on Youtube. I’m telling you, there’s an organizational movement underway to get me fired.

12:12 PM – Lest you find yourself feeling concerned that someone as unstable as I am might possess too much power in the RPD selection process, fear not – I’m only one of about 20 judges so I can assure you the right choices will be made regardless.

However, that doesn’t preclude me from wreaking havoc with the judges by my side. To the left of me is Marcus Davis - the man who runs one of Houston’s best restaurants, The Breakfast Klub. This is his first year as a judge so, naturally, he’s asking me for guidance since, you know, I’m such an obvious dance expert and all. We hit it off right away (newsflash: I try to make it a point to always get along with people who think I’m smart) as I impart all the tips I have up my sleeve – most of which amount to nothing more than ambiguous platitudes about my search for “the total package” and that unquantifiable “it factor.” Still, my man Marcus seems to appreciate my expertise and even trusts me enough to ask, “Is it OK for me to say boobs?” while he’s filling out the comments section for one particular dancer. In other news, I love my job.

12:45 PM – Round one comes to an end. We’ve now narrowed the field by more than half which will give us a much more manageable group with which to work in round two when the stakes are raised and the dancers’ margin for error decreases. Meanwhile, Marcus has apparently been telling one of my co-workers how much he enjoyed the judging process in general, and hanging with me in particular (no lie). He even dubbed us the Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell of RPD judging. Wow. I don’t know about you, but to me the thought of Cowell conjures images of a snarky, sarcastic and cynical know-it-all. In other words, I’ve never felt more honored in all my life.

3:30 PM – Back from lunch just in time to see the remaining participants being taught the round two routine. Clearly distraught that I haven’t yet fallen victim to their nefarious scheme, my bosses are now upping the ante in their attempts to procure my resignation. Now they’re giving me the green light to play a roving reporter role similar to the one perfected by Triumph the Insult Dog. I’m not even joking.

Look, I heart Triumph. He cracks me up. There are very few comedy bits better than the time he set up shop outside a movie theater and proceeded to make fun of Star Wars fanboys for a full ten minutes. That said, I challenge anyone to tell me how I’m supposed to replicate that routine with these young women and not end up unemployed and on the wrong end of a sexual harassment lawsuit.

And you thought I was just being paranoid. I wonder if “reminds people of Simon Cowell” looks good on a resume?

4:35 PM – Round two begins. The song which will be hammered into our heads this time is Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me.” Not really my kind of tune, but it does come with a silver (or at least pewter) lining in that its oft-repeated lyric of “uno, dos, tres, cuatro,” has ensured that I’ll forever be able to count to four in Spanish; which, upon further consideration, should only be of benefit to me when Daryl Morey makes my all Spanish-speaking starting lineup a reality. Come on, Daryl! I’m doing my part. My copy of Rosetta Stone is already in the mail. Now it’s up to you. In Morey we trust!

4:42 PM – Everyone in attendance receives a dose of cold, hard reality when one of the dancers suffers a dislocated shoulder at the end of her routine. There are no words to describe the pain expressed within her scream. The paramedic on hand comes over to help her pop it back in place but the damage is done and her day has unfairly ended in pain and disappointment.

And that’s when I am once again reminded of the Teddy Roosevelt quote which kicked off this running diary. In the end, who cares what the snarky critic has to say? The only ones who truly matter this weekend are those who not only dared to dream, but followed through on that goal – however vulnerable they might have made themselves in the process.

So applause all around to those who tried out. You girls deserve it and should find solace in the fact that, whatever fate befalls you, it will not be found in the “gray twilight.” For that spot is reserved for me today - in the back of the Breakfast Klub, plotting the future of the franchise over wings and waffles with my man Marcus.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t so bad at all.

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