Singer Calls Out ‘America’s Got Talent’ Over ‘School Yard Bullying’, Releases Diss Track (AUDIO)
Kayvon Zand was one of the performers who appeared on last week’s “Judge Cuts” episode of America’s Got Talent, and for home audiences, this was the first look at Kayvon, since his original audition was never shown on TV. In the segment, he gets into an argument with Mel B after an iffy performance of “You Spin Me Round”, declaring that the former Spice Girl is no Whitney Houston in the vocal department. Subsequently, guest judge Piers Morgan called Kayvon an “obnoxious little brat”, prompting a hashtag to appear onscreen encouraging others to get the phrase trending on Twitter.
Seems like a cut-and-dry case of a singer with an ego getting brought back down to Earth, right?
But, as it turns out, that might not actually be the case. In a blog written for The Huffington Post, titled “Being a Freak on ‘America’s Got Talent'”, Kayvon calls out America’s Got Talent over its “school yard bulling” and manipulation, as the show took someone who was hesitant to even be on the program, and essentially tricked them into a setup that was never intended to end any other way for Kayvon than how it did.
I had been asked to be on the show a year earlier by a former producer, but graciously declined; I had fears because a couple artists from my community, Narcisister and Leonid The Magnificent, had been on the show and were not treated so nicely. This time around I decided to speak up to the producer about my concern. I thought someone finding me through a series about queer nightlife definitely had to be somewhat open minded to the issues. I had a great conversation with the producer who assured me the show was not about bullying any longer and that was not what America wanted to see. I felt good and decided to be a contestant on “America’s Got Talent.”
For the next year, I had great emails with this very polite producer and was asked to film for the show’s intros as well as the producer auditions, which are a preliminary round of auditions to decide which acts will go before the judges. Everyone was being super cool and I was feeling really good about this move.
The day came for my audition on the first televised round in front of a live audience and the judges in all their glory. My mom and sister flew in, and my fiancee coordinated the dancers and joined me on stage. It was a chance to share my artistry with the world and prove to my loved ones that I could take my art to the next level, even if I didn’t pass this round.
In full, amazing looking and amazingly uncomfortable stage look, I waited through 10 hours on set. During interviews, I was really excited to share my story and struggles with growing up and self acceptance but the producer wouldn’t let me be serious. When she said to keep it fun, I felt for the first time that this could be a trap.
Although Kayvon’s first audition went well enough, and he received three yeses to advance, he was ultimately cut prior to Judge Cuts, as is customary for the series (not everyone who gets the required amount of yeses automatically moves on to the next round. The producers whittle the worthy acts down to a select few who get to perform for the judges again, which is why you might be wondering what happened to some early favorites from this year like Heavenly Joy Jerkins). However, Kayvon received a late email offering him a spot in the Judge Cuts. He jumped at the opportunity, not realizing that this wasn’t going to be the experience he thought it’d be.
We were full on and I gave it my all! At the end of the performance I noticed three X’s which I did not hear during my performance. At the first audition I was X-ed, it was so loud I could hear it, but with the live band and not having proper monitor placement, levels and sounds were all over the place. I could barely hear myself let alone the three buzzers. I had a feeling at this point it was going to take a turn for the worst as the surprise guest judge for the night was Piers Morgan.
The judges critiqued and they were definitely out for blood. I knew this was a part of the competition and the producer with whom I’d been working told me before I went on to defend myself to the judges and fight to go to lives no matter what happened. When Howie told me I was a horrible pianist, I did this very thing and played. I knew my piano skills were something I could prove, as vocal timbre, genre and performance style are all subjective. Although the audience loved it, Howie insisted I was merely a comedy act and smashed the fourth buzzer, ending the competition for me.
After mean and petty banter I thanked the judges and decided to walk off and Howard asked me to come back. Howard told me he thought I was like Alice Cooper or Marilyn Manson, although he thinks they’re talented and I am not. The conversation shifted to Howie again insisting I can’t possibly take myself seriously. I referenced artists including Madonna and Lady Gaga, whom I believe are talented artists who don’t take themselves too seriously, and said I am similar in that regard. Anything I had said at this point would have been booed, it was clear. The audience is taught ahead of time to cheer or boo.
But it didn’t end there. Kayvon found himself not only on the bad side of the judging panel, he found himself unable to speak up in his own defense, despite the producers specifically telling him to defend himself.
At this point, Piers called me a little brat. It all felt like school yard bullying. I realized everything the producers promised me in the beginning wasn’t a reality. My mic was cut off so I couldn’t defend myself any more, and I just walked off the stage with my head still high. As soon as I got off the stage a woman approached me saying she was the in house psychiatrist and she is worried about me. I’m not sure why, but this hit me so hard. Was it exhaustion? Was it that I had been ganged up on by a live studio audience whose behavior was instructed by judges and producers? I started crying like I hadn’t in years except when I lost my dog. I felt so used and manipulated. I tried so hard to be respectful yet everything coming out of my mouth was treated like I had no right to speak. Cameras are still rolling although I asked them kindly to let me be as I was hurting. This is actually normal of reality television; I have seen many shows were cameras just won’t leave unless you are heading for the rest room. After about an hour with the psychiatrist and with the producer I realize it is time to put on my big boy underwear and just head home and thank my team for standing with me.
In the aftermath of his humiliation, Kayvon reached out to the producers to let them know how much the experience hurt him, and how manipulated he felt. In the process, he makes the salient observation that The Voice generates good TV without ever having to make people feel lousy about themselves. His emails were ignored, however, leaving Kayvon little recourse in the midst of all the hatemail he was getting. The singer went to Huffington Post to tell his story…and released a diss track that’s less of a “diss” and more of a self-empowerment anthem.
“U Ain’t Better Than Whitney” is far catchier than it probably has any right to be, but beyond its use as a response to the America’s Got Talent hatchet-job, it also works as an anthem that uses a pounding dance beat to give us the thesis of Kayvon’s entire blog post: “I would rather stand as a freak than be a heartless celebrity judge or producer on a “game show” called “America’s Got Talent.”
Ultimately, I suppose you could make the argument that Kayvon should have known what he was signing up for when he agreed to be on the show, and that this is simply how show business works. But this was a situation that felt designed to prevent Kayvon from succeeding. I’ve always felt that seeing someone genuinely succeed or fail makes for far more compelling television than when a contestant’s success or demise is orchestrated to be that way. Granted, we don’t know both sides of this story just yet, so I don’t know if I can side with Kayvon either, particularly since there were elements of his segment that can’t be chalked up to bad editing (calling out Mel B, for example). Still, I have a lot more sympathy for Kayvon’s situation now than when his audition aired last week. On the one hand, it’s not really a surprise to discover that a reality show is manipulative and doesn’t present things on television exactly the way they happened in real life. On the other hand, this feels far more cruel than your usual bit of reality TV railroading. Hell, I was one of the people saying Kayvon got what was coming to him, but if even half of what he suggests in this blog post is true, America’s Got Talent has a lot to answer for.
Anyway, the quotes above don’t even scratch the surface, so check out the full blog post by clicking here: “Being A Freak On ‘America’s Got Talent'” by Kayvon Zand
And for more on Kayvon’s performance, check out our recap and review of last week’s America’s Got Talent with videos!