LAX had a reputation for being a very
busy place, but that day everyone in the whole world had been sent to
get in his path. The people walking off the plane had been extremely
slow, seeming to walk almost backwards as they came out into the main
part of the airport. If he'd been with the guys he would have heard
Chris moo like a cow or Justin whine about the line, but today it was
just him. He had a million and one thoughts going through his head, the
first being the thoughts about how to kill the person who invented the
nasty perfume the lady in front of him was wearing. He kept his mouth
closed and his eyes on the ground. He stayed away from where he might
have to make eye contact with anyone, knowing that on days like this
anything might set him off, which would have been a public relations
nightmare considering the reason for his trip to the city.
Being away from the group with only security with him,
having the attention solely on him, wasn't a situation that he wanted
to be in. If he was going to voice his opinions he needed a little
bit of back up. It wasn't that he was scared of what might happen.
He wasn't a coward like that. He just didn't think that
he needed to get into something like that on his own. The guys
had long ago mastered the fine art of covertly voicing their opinions
to the general public. If Justin or Chris or JC would have been
there they would be playing the insult game with Joey saying what they
wanted to say to the people around them, only directing it at Joey or one
of the other guys instead of saying what they wanted to say to the person
they wanted to say it to.
"My momma gave me these meat hooks for a reason," Loni
grumbled as he latch a hand onto Lance's shoulder when they stepped
out of walkway from the plane. "And this wasn't the use she intended
Lance had been staring at the feet of the woman in front of him
and had been jolted by the sudden grab at him. His eyes went wide
and his whole body tensed. He'd been used to crowds and had gotten used
to people grabbing at him, but he usually didn't encounter a hand that
was as big as Loni's. When the pressure on his shoulder eased
he was glad that it was Loni on his side.
As far as airports were concerned LAX wasn't as tourist
friendly as Chicago-O'Hare. Lance had spent more than a few days there
and liked the layout of the place better than any other airport he'd
encountered so far. Chicago had it's own style and due to the long
nature of the hallways there the amount of foot traffic to have to deal
with was less. Considering the amount of time he spent on tour, airports
had become his second home. Instead of going to the mall to hang out
as a kid, he and the guys had
roamed the hallways of the various airports that they'd
been stuck in. This one almost seemed like home, if that wasn't too
sick a thought to be stuck with. He was at his usual gate and could
almost count the steps to the Starbucks Coffee Shop that was down
to the right and knew that the no-name coffee shop to the right probably
had a new batch of cinnamon rolls ready about now, considering that
it was just after ten in the morning.
The sound of the wheels of his tiny rolling suitcase
was lost in the noise of the crowd as his feet scuffed across the
industrial carpeting as he stepped off the plane following Loni's
lead and took a deep breath. The air was stale and hot and the jet fuel
mixed horribly with the woman's perfume that hung in the air as the
woman who'd sat across from him on the flight from Orlando moved across
his path to hug a grandchild that didn't look at all excited to see his
grandmother. He'd been smelling the woman for hours now and it was starting
to make him sick to his stomach. He'd tried to block it out and sleep,
but this Pigpen-like cloud of smell hadn't let him sleep too soundly.
Normally this kind of disruption in his sleep pattern
would have left him a little grumpy, but with a full day of meetings
and having to spend time with the Talent Search candidates he wasn't
at all looking forward to keeping his eyes open. He'd been the one to
set up the Talent Search, but eleven months ago he hadn't thought that
the touring schedule would have been so hectic. It had been a long
week and it was going to be an even longer weekend seeing that he had to
fly back and forth to Orlando to get there by Monday then up to New York
to meet up with the guys for their appearance on TRL on Wednesday.
He could have done something via satellite. Last time
it had been a little barstool and microphone in front of a blue or
black background. It was a poor substitute for the real thing, but sometimes
his schedule called for it. He always seemed to feel guilty if
he didn't make the trip with the guys, not only would his "brothers" get
upset, but the fans always seemed to get upset that he didn't show up
with the others. He didn't pay attention to the internet much, but
Melinda usually would send him a little blurb or two about their appearances
and he would find usually that when he wasn't there it was noticed. It
was a strange twist of fate considering that they hadn't noticed him at all
a year or so before.
Being a no-show, although totally not professional position
to be in, sounded good at the moment. He wanted a warm bed at the
W hotel or at least a lumpy couch at JC's or even at this point
a small corner in the airport where he could curl up in a ball and close
his eyes for as long as it took for him to catch up on at least three
or four hours of the sleep he'd been lacking that week sounded good.
He wished that he could be a slacker and not care about things like
that. Some of the guys had gotten a little more relaxed about their appearances,
but Lance had more than just NSYNC to be the spokes person for. His business,
his livelihood, and his love were in the line for things like that.
"Over here," Loni said in a low rumbling growl, pulling
on his arm to get him across the flow of traffic to where they needed
to be. They looked a little out of place considering that it was a
Friday morning and most people were in business suits instead of jeans
and t-shirts. Lance loved his job that way. Dressed up for
him was just a nicer version of the one he had on now. If he was
going to a meeting like later he'd probably change into a different pair
of jeans, a newer pair of running shoes and maybe a clean shirt since he'd
slept in the shirt he had on.
Lance's eyes met Loni's when a woman tried to step between
them instead of around them. She wore glasses that were sliding
down her nose, distorting her view along with the dark hair that fell in
her eyes. She looked like a struggling artist with a heavy bag slung
over her shoulder and a guitar case in the other hand. While he had
a lot of respect for the struggling side of the industry, he was wondering
if she shouldn't already be calling herself a diva. She wore red
cowboy boots, hip hugging jeans and a red shirt that was covered by a trendy
jean jacket. He wondered for a moment if she knew that she wasn't
in Nashville or Memphis and that LA wasn't really the home of country music.
"Sorry." His lips formed the word before he could stop himself.
He hadn't done anything, but he felt like he should apologize.
She didn't take the apology. he woman gave him a dirty
look as her bag slipped from her shoulder. Her glasses slid closer
to the end of her nose threatening to fall off her face. With a quick
hand he moved a finger and pushed the glasses back up on her nose. She
was shocked to have him do it, but that wasn't fully felt until they made
eye contact a moment later. "Excuse me."
Instead of ripping into her about being rude to him, he reached and helped
her put her bag back onto her shoulder then moved along with Loni towards
where they knew the car would be waiting for them. If he'd had
more time he would have looked back to see if the woman was ok, but
since they had places to go and people to see he kept his eyes on Loni.
Their path was towards the car, towards the chair he could sit and
relax in for another half hour to forty five minutes if traffic was really
Details swam in his head. He'd looked over his itinerary for the
weekend that his mother had sent him but only remembered the high points
of the day. Roberta Blanchard, his mother's contact with the WB, was going
to meet him for breakfast at Water Bagel out in Westwood Village
after they checked into the suite at the W. Then they would be
heading over to Millennium Dance to start going over the list of candidates
that had been weeded out in the two days prior to his LA visit. He'd
be seeing the last few rounds until they picked a winner the next day.
He didn't have more than a rolling suitcase with him
that trip so they went straight from the gate to the car without
any stops along the way. The driver took his bag and Loni's tiny bag
and put them in the trunk while Lance got settled in the back of the
sedan. He stretched out sideways across the back seat, putting his feet
behind the driver's seat while he sat behind the front passenger seat.
He closed himself inside and leaned back, closing his eyes instantly
when he heard the trunk shut.
The car moved slightly when Loni eased himself into the
front seat. He heard a slight laugh and then the driver pulled away
from the curb. "You better not fall asleep on me," Loni said, "That
Roberta lady scares me. I don't want to have to talk to her for you."
"Kiss my--" The sound of his phone ringing caught his
attention. He'd programmed it to ring to the tune of Dexys Midnight
Runners' Come On Eileen. He heard the first few notes and started to
pat himself down. He'd worn a jacket with four different zipper pockets
on it and couldn't remember which one he'd shoved the phone into.
She should have been getting ready to get out to
her car, but instead she was sitting in the little cafe eating cottage cheese and
fruit and laughing at what she'd just seen. She'd found herself a quiet
corner near a glass wall and had seen everything. She wouldn't have really
thought twice about watching the group that came off the plane, but the flight
from Florida was always interesting to look at since half the people seemed to
be movie or music people and the other half were sun-burnt tourists that looked
like they were about to die.
"You know you really should think about going
to etiquette classes."
"Who is this?" His phone was fuzzy for a
moment then all the sound around him stopped. He must have reached the
"It's Colleen," she said. She tried to
stay calm. Her breathing started to speed up and she wasn't feeling hungry
any more. She found herself becoming nervous even though she shouldn't
have been. She was the one that started this conversation and she knew she
needed to finish it. "I was in the terminal and just saw you. You
and Loni should have asked that girl to a concert."
"Colleen." He let out a sigh and she could
hear him move the phone away and swear a few times. "Listen...about the
concert and all--"
"Look. It's no trouble." She
sighed. "I'm not trying to--I was just
wondering how long you're going to be in Los Angeles. I thought maybe we
could have lunch or something." She should have smacked herself in the
head for this one, but she wanted to see him again, just to make sure that her
first impressions of him weren't true. It had only been two days, but she
felt like it had been lifetime since she'd been with him.
"You want to have lunch?"
"Well maybe dinner if you're just going to be
here today. I've just gotten back from another set of flights from New
York that I hadn't expected to be on. I
thought that maybe if you were around tonight I could show you around my city
since you seemed to have let me see most of--" She coughed stuffing back a
laugh of what she could say about what he'd showed her. "--most of New
"I'm actually working," he said, "I've got
auditions for a contest today."
"I'm putting together a girl group," he said.
"If we were going to sing John Mayer songs I'd ask you do join, but we're doing
more Pop sounding songs."
"That's ok," she said, "I'll keep my day job for
"What time is your last flight tonight?" he
"I should be back at LAX around eight," she
"How about I meet up with you at my hotel here
at about nine?" he asked. "It'll be late, but we could get dinner or maybe
hit some clubs. John isn't in town, but we might be able to find something
Colleen shook her head and smiled. She
didn't have a clue what she was doing, but she liked hanging out with him and
understood that this probably wasn't going to lead anywhere, but how many women
could say that they had an almost fairy tale romance with a rock star.
"Make it nine thirty so I can get some stuff done around the house."
"You've got it," he said. "I need to run
right now, but call me when you get back in town and I'll make sure I'm at the
hotel on time. It's gonna be a long day and I'm not sure where I'll be
around that time."
"If it's not a good day just say so."
"It's not that," he said, "I just know that I'm
going through an audition process of a thousand people and it's going to take
more than a few hours."
"I get it," she said. She looked at her
watch. "I've gotta run too, but I'll see you tonight."
"It's a date."
"There's a seat in
The patio at Water Bagel
was the place to be in Westwood that afternoon and probably every other
afternoon around lunchtime. The tiny deli faced across the street towards
a huge suburban shopping center, leaving it in prime position for one to see
and be seen. Most suburbs would present their own cast of characters, but
in the Los Angeles area there was always the added bonus that someone might see
an extremely famous person chasing their kids in the parking lot or reading a
newspaper and having a Danish.
Trying to act as normal as possible, Lance sat down at a table with four chairs
in the shade of the building facing outwards with his back up against the wall
of the building between two windows. There were probably a dozen tables
lined along the building and most of them were occupied. For once he felt
relaxed as Loni took the seat across from him.
In this part of LA he
didn't worry about being seen. He knew that they were close to Beverly
Hills to think that HE might be who people were looking for here. There
were too many movie people and music people in town to think that people would,
first, be expecting to see him there and, second, care that he was there in the
first place when Tom Cruise or Natalie Portman were probably shopping across
the street. It was kind of nice to sit back and act semi-normal for a
while. He only had a normal life in between tours and this time it had
been weeks since he'd been able to sit one place for more than a few minutes
before he'd have to get up and move again.
Rachel Yorn was a woman in her twenties, but she bounced up to him as if she
was a three year old. Dark hair fell over her shoulders in an up-to-date
style and the cat eyed shaped glasses that she wore were perched perfectly on
her nose, looking to be more for style than for necessity. She carried a
small leather backpack that she flung into the extra seat on the far side of
the table from him and she took the remaining seat so that she was in between
Loni and him. He had worried a little that they would get along, but she
seemed to make herself at home before he could even reach over to shake her
"How was your flight?"
"Long," he sighed and rubbed his face. He knew he should smile
and play the part of the happy little pop star, but he was tired and needed a
nap, not another few hours of work. Without the watchful eye of a manager
or his assistant who was home sick that week he could act however he wanted and
only maybe get a look or two from Loni about it. "Night flights
aren't that bad, but touring is getting harder and harder." He'd
forgotten his sunglasses and was now squinting across the table at her due to
the fact that someone had parked at just the right angle to send a beam of
sunlight at him that of course only hit him when he sat back in a comfortable
position in his chair. "How have the auditions been so far?"
She looked shocked at his comment. She pointed at him and nodded with a
smile. "A man that doesn't beat around the bush. I knew I'd
like you," she said. She stood up again to grab for her bag, but
Loni sensed that she'd need it and lifted the bag for her, making sure not to
hit the cups of coffee that they'd brought to the table with them while they
waited for Lance's breakfast bagel and Loni's breakfast burrito.
"Your mother said that you were a fairly determined man to work
with, but I didn't think that we'd completely skip the small talk like you
Finally papers were placed on the table in front of him. "These are
the best twenty we have so far." She moved her finger down the list.
"Most of the sing well, but the ones with the stars may need some
work. They all have the look we're going for so I think it'll be up to
you to be making the final decision of who you want to send to New York."
Her eyes went over the page and she looked up at him. "It's
pretty standard to have this kind of a turn out. With the success of the
Pop Stars series we've been overly blessed with some talented people, but since
the network says that we have to be fair about the audition process we have to
see almost everyone, even if it only is for thirty seconds."
His fingers filed through the through the pages of headshots and from the look
of them, Rachel was right. They all had the look, but that didn't really
say much for the talent end of things. While he was in LA this weekend
the people in Chicago were being seen so that by the time he got around to
seeing them, they'd already have the groups weeded out. He'd be in New
York, Chicago, Orlando, and Los Angeles for the auditions. It seemed
crazy to have a nation wide search when he himself knew of people he already
would want in the group, but when the WB said that they would flip for the bill
if they did it their way, he couldn't say no. All his travel and the
travel for the contestants for the final show were being paid by them so he
figured it was worth it. He could afford to pay for it all, but every little
penny helped. He had enough expenses as it was and FreeLance wasn't as
popular as he had thought it would be so all the publicity was again going to
push his name and the company name to the top.
"We were thinking that there would be five finalists from each group.
That would give us twenty at the final tryout, but that's up to you.
We have the budget to get them out there, but I'm not sure that we should
leave it that open." She pulled out a piece of paper and read over
"Leo--" She made eye contact with Lance probably to make sure
that he knew who she was talking about. "--was thinking that we'd do
three finalists from each, like a first, second, and third place kind of a deal
so that we can at least have a way of tracking who we liked the best in each
Leo Thornton was the executive producer of the show and it was his job to add
the extra element of drama to the making of this group. He'd suggested
doing this over a whole month so that the contestants would be able to have
some kind of drama waiting for the final pick. The idea was that they
would do back stories on all of them and then grab up the last few contestants
to do mini stories on them before the show aired on television in the fall line
Rachel cleared her throat. "I know that the less time we debate who
is who and how good they are, the better we'll be. I want this group to
be good, but at the same time I think we shouldn't spend too much time
dickering about the little things."
"I agree," she said, "WB is leaving the choice up to you, but we
definitely think that there should be some decision made about this before we
see anyone this afternoon. We have to be justified in the way we pick the
finalists. Someone from Legal is going to be hanging around so that we make
sure that we're being fair. If there is a certain number that we are
going to take to New York then we should have that number before you see any of
Lance sighed and sipped his coffee. He hadn't put enough sugar in it so
he put the paper down on the table and grabbed out a packet of sugar and dumped
it in the coffee. "I thought all these details were in place.
I didn't think that I'd be coming in and having to make up the rules as I
went along." His back began to hurt and the ache in his shoulder and
chest that he'd had a few months before seemed to start to act up.
"It's up to you. Pick a number between one and five," she said.
"Make it five," he said, "Might as well." He shrugged
and let his mind drift for a moment. He could see the car from where they
were and wanted to run over and jump in and drive away. He hated making
business decisions like that. Carrah always teased him about being too
nice. He didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but a contest was a contest
and there could only be so many winners. "We may not find what we're
looking for anywhere else. I want this to be good and we need the best
candidates for the job."
"Fine," she pulled out a palm pilot and wrote a little note to
herself then whipped out her phone and dialed. Lance watched in awe as
this Hollywood we'll-do-lunch-style business was being done in front of him.
"Hello Zachary. I'm here with Lance and we're going to go with
five finalists this afternoon. Warn the girls of this and make sure that
everyone else knows about it. I'll call Ilene to set up the flights and
hotel later, but we need to make sure that all these girls understand that they
will basically be on call to us once they become finalists."
Lance tuned out her voice and sipped at his coffee again. His bagel soon
arrived and he dug into it like he'd been starving himself over the last few
weeks. He'd eaten the night before and had gotten some orange juice
before he'd gotten off the plane, but it was almost eleven-thirty and he was
just now eating his first meal of the day.
When he looked up again he chewed fiercely and licked the cream cheese off the
top of his mouth before Rachel was off the phone.
She smiled at him across the table and handed him a napkin from the tiny
dispenser that was between them. "All of that is set."
Lance held his bagel in one hand and reached for the packet of headshots and
resumes with the other after wiping his mouth. He put the pile next to
his plate and stared down at the headshot in front of him of a pretty girl and
then took another smaller bite. He saw Loni eyeing the picture and moved
the pile more into the middle of the table so that Loni could see the girls
too. Loni normally kept to himself on trips like this, but he seemed to
be bored that morning so he figured he'd give him a little insight to how they
were planning to spend the rest of the afternoon.
When he was looking at about the tenth picture he noticed that his coffee was
gone and that his bagel plate had been taken away. He was basically up to
his elbows in work, but it didn't stop him from seeing something out of the
corner of his eye.
"What?" Loni asked when his expression changed.
"Nothing." Lance's eyes scanned the paper again.
"This says that her name is Wendy and that she's from
Prather--Pranther? Where the hell is Pranther?"
"It's north of here more near Fresno then LA--" Rachel picked
up a sugar packet and shook it a little before setting it back into the little
cup on the table that held the rest of the sugar. She looked at her
watch. "It's almost one and we should get going."
"Are you riding with us?" Loni asked as they moved to pay the bill
and slide out of their table.
"Yes," Rachel said, "My roommate was working from home today and
dropped me off. I should be able to call her later on and have her get me
from the studio if I can catch a ride with you. I thought of meeting you
all up here since being inside the studio can get a little boring. I knew
you'd want to get something to eat and to rest a little before you got
bombarded with people all afternoon."
"Thanks for that," Lance said as they walked back through the deli
out to the street where the driver was sitting in the car. When he saw
them coming he got out and opened the door for Rachel. She settled herself
on the side of the car behind where Loni would be sitting in the front seat.
Lance just nodded at the driver as he moved around to the other side of the car
without the driver to open his door for him while Loni got into the front
Once inside the car again Lance put the folder on his lap. If he was
going to be spending the afternoon with them he didn't really need to stare at
their stats all day long too. The girls all seemed to be what they were
looking for, but a few of them already stood out. It was looking good so
far and he was glad that this trip was going as well as he had planned.
To make himself look busy, Lance opened the folder and began to look at the
pictures. He really wasn't paying attention, but his eyes took in the top
picture as the car got back onto the freeway and they drove away from Water
Bagel towards the dance studio where they were expected to be that afternoon.
Millennium Dance Studio was surrounded by girls. For a three block radius around
the hotel it seemed that everything else had stopped in the city and everyone
there was paying attention to the studio, the contest and as he stepped out of
the car to go inside, all the attention was turned to him. They'd been stuck two streets away due to
the contestants lining the streets and the media attention that had suddenly
focused on the contest. There were local news vans and radio stations
there as well as a crew from MTV. It had caused them to everyone a little more
cranky then usual when they finally got to the front door of the studio.
He wasn't usually that nervous when out in public, but that day he felt almost
shaky as they made their way through the studio. The first group of twenty
girls were already across the large studio space learning their lines to the
song as he sat down at the small judges table.
"Water in every direction as far as the eye can see and not a drop to drink."
Rachel took her seat next to him.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," he sighed, "Let's get this thing going."
• Back • Up • Next •