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Schecter feels certain his record will win over the judges. "I'm not expecting to walk out of here with a deal or even a 'we'll call you next week,' " he says, speaking with authority and confidence. "I'm walking in there with the expectation of, OK, I'm going to rudely in troduce myself to these guys, and when they hear from me again, they will be offering me something in a few months."
Out of the studio door bursts Eric Lumiere, the singer-songwriter who had the dance-club hit. His eyes are red from crying. A few paces behind him, his mother follows, also in tears. And a few paces behind her is Lumiere's equally teary-eyed professor, Nick Sansano.
"They didn't understand me," is all Lumiere manages to choke out.
Lumiere had just finished pitching the pop album he self-produced. While the school is cautious to refer to these panels as merely an educational exercise, the starry-eyed students see it as something elsea chance of a lifetime to score a record deal. But the judges are brutal. They call Lumiere arrogant for comparing his sound to that of U2, Coldplay, and Damien Rice. They call his business plan a wish list.
Lumiere walks off, leaving his mother to explain, "They said they liked his music, but they didn't say that until the end." She and Lumiere's father had flown out from Los Angeles to watch the big event that has not only ended with them in tears, but also with faculty members in the room crying as well. "I guess that's real life," she shrugs.
Schecter tries not to focus on the wreckage in front of him. He walks up to the studio door and then gets down on his knees and says a prayer.
"Tom! Tom! Tom!" a professor calls from inside.
Schecter struts in with a full swagger into the middle of the semicircle of judges. He takes off his black leather jacket and swings it over the bar stool in the middle. Then he gives his opening.
"All right. So I'm the last one. You guys have been here for a while. I appreciate that. So I'm gonna make this as brief as possible. Hand to God, you're not going to be here for more than another two hours."
The boast gets a big laugh. He cocks his eyebrows, tucks his chin down toward his chest, and stares them down with his rock-star gaze. He's the bad boy and they love him. After playing them two clips and giving a pitch, he has the panel hooked.
"I love this kind of stuff," says Susan Dodes, manager, producer, and a&r executive of SuLeDo Music, who describes herself as "a rock chick from way back." "Your presentation is really good in that you have the whole story there. You say you've been to rehab already and you're not even signed. You've got your rock persona and you've got the attitude." But she adds, "I want to know, do you kick ass live? What is the audience reaction like? This is rock and roll, man. It's a way of life."
"So, what's my next step?" Schecter asks, fishing for good news.
They tell him to tour, go out on the road, and build a fan base. Someone suggests doing a YouTube video. Schecter leaves, confident he'll see them all again soon.
On the Sunday after the panels, at an end-of-the-year awards ceremony called the Remmys, the students gather in an auditorium, where prizes like Best Production or Best Song are announced. And less serious awards like Best Hair and Best Dressed. One citation, the Tom Schecter Rock Star of the Year Award, obviously goes to Schecter.
"It's been a long four years and I wish I remembered more of it," Schecter cracks in his speech.
On the back of every certificate is the face of Clive Davis and a slogan: "Congratulations, now you're going to be famous."