Well, the word is out! The “Million Dollar Password” (www.cbs.com/primetime/million_dollar_password/) with me on it has FINALLY aired. Here are the stats:
7.45 million tuned in, according to Nielsen (making it a Top 15 entry). [Thanks to all my friends and family who tuned in. I could feel your prayers, hear your screams, and I’ll act like I didn’t hear the cuss outs!!!! SMILE!]
After a month’s worth of promos that showed me in varying lights – sometimes stuttering; sometimes exclaiming victorious; and other times singing ever so ‘supreme’-ly <wink, wink>, it was exciting to sit down with my Ant, my nephew Noot, and my dear friends Ern, Tata, Jules, and Kimberly to live through it one more time. I was palpitating all the way as if I wasn’t there the first time! You can check out the full episode here: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/million_dollar_password/video/video.php?cid=715207177&pid=_yG0VCBmP6Wu_X4IhThVrTWcrO6OFrLc&play=true&cc=0
What a journey to get to this moment:
How I came to be a contestant on the show? My partner Ant is my #1 cheerleader and manager of ensuring that I keep taking my talents and intellectual capital (if you will) to the next level. He understands – up close and personal (for his and my reasons) – that it’s not always easy being freelance and independent. But as you know, both he and I continue to go for our dreams and there are a number of deliverables to show for it. With that, Ant is always on varied sites forwarding on-cam/voice-work stuff my way ---work aligned with my skills set; etc. to compliment the revenue I make from existing clients and to ensure that I’m giving myself the chance to be considered for more high-profile fare i.e. host work, voice work, etc.
Well, thinking outside of the box for me (as he was surfing various job/opportunity sites), he sent one regarding “Million Dollar Password”. I was thinking it was for a host slot... but then, at closer inspection, I saw that Regis was already attached. I asked Ant what were his thoughts in sending this to me. He asked:
"Didn't you say you used to watch these game shows with your family - growing up?”
And “Couldn't $1,000,0000 or anything come in handy right now for you?” “Aren't you the pop culture guy?”
“Why don't you just reply to the ad, let them know why you would be a great contestant, and send it in?".
From there, I got over my ego and did just that. Soon thereafter, I got a call from the casting folks. I went in to New York City for the audition (Maury Povich studio to be exact. I even ran into Maury going inside). In addition to telling them about myself on-camera, I played PASSWORD with producers and other prospective contestants. And voila!!!! I got the callback, which required more rounds of play and back story until I was playing on some computers (much like those on the show) in front of the executive-and-senior-level producers. They loved me!!!! (NOTE: They are looking to cast folks who give good TV as much as they are casting folks who can play the game). And the rest is history.
One of the things they asked me in the auditions is “Which celebrity would you want to team up with?” I joked “Diana Ross because she’s just my favorite of all favorites. But knowing that maybe this would not be her kind of game and knowing she’d likely decline, I said Betty White!!!” Betty White – to me – is the greatest game show lady (as she was married to the original “Password” host, the late, great Allen Ludden, who she met as a contestant on the show, which she did 29 times: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3X3Fv3INp84). I had an inkling Betty still had it in her… and I wanted her. But I also said Rosie O’Donnell and Kelly Ripa because I felt like these ladies would do well (with me) and accept the offer to participate.
Fast forward a month or so later, it’s early March. I’m put up at a Queens-based hotel on the eve of the show’s taping. We do some pre-taped bits that didn’t make air – reinforcing why I’m a good contestant; who I want my celebrity partner to be; and other talking points like Ant’s most recent birthday gift to me in which he took me to Manila, Philippines to see Beyonce; my love of karaoke; Diana Ross; and my blog (in which execs said they’d love to see my experience chronicled… but after all has taped and aired), etc… but this time, the small talk was being recorded under nice lights and after a little glam squad work done. Ant styled me – head to toe - for the whole weekend (though he couldn’t attend as he and his “Amazing Grace” [best friend] Manivone were going up for another reality show in which they would have teamed to run a restaurant. Think “Top Chef” meets “Amazing Race” meets “The Restaurant”). There was a typo on one of the background cards that had me from “ Alabama , Georgia ”. Of course, “ Alabama ” – like “ Georgia ” – is a state (not a city). “ Alabama ” continued to pop up as my home ‘city’, even though “ Savannah ” is actually where I’m from (though I was born in Tokyo, Japan by way of my dad’s profession in the Air Force).
On the night before, the other prospective contestants and I spend the evening in the lounge (at the bar). Everyone is so nice – from a salad bar owner to a publicist for spas to a filmmaker. Some are practicing with the board game. I play a bit, but decide to turn in early (just want to hear Ant’s voice one more time before I go to sleep. I do that and then conk out).
The next morning, I get up. I am excited and nervous and anxious for a long day of briefing, tech rehearsals on the state-of-the-art set (in Astoria, Queens where “The Cosby Show” used to tape and where there’s a building named for “Diana Ross” in 1985 (for her contribution to NYC’s film economy), seven years after she shot much of “The Wiz” on this same campus of sets.
There are rumblings that “Betty White” is in the house, which excites me (but also the many others who too said their ‘dreamgirl’ for “Million Dollar Password” play would be her too!). Then, we are being sequestered for many hours as shows are taping (By the way, we are alerted that everyone won’t get to play. So, there is a possibility that I may not actually even go out to play anyone).
Also, as pairs of contestants are being pulled out, deduction has me thinking that I’m going to be competing against a young lady named Keri. Very nice, but in the 24 hours that we have all spent, she’s been deemed “the librarian” with a “password memory of steel”. She’s the one to beat. Not the one I want to play against. She’s practicing when no one else is. She’s fierce!
But then, my luck (I think to myself), Keri and I are called (as a pair) to go through make-up, briefing, and then to the studio. <can you hear the suspenseful game show music?> My heart is beating. We are escorted backstage. Someone places our microphones on us. We see Betty White playing with one of our fast friends from last night/this morning Linda. She walks with $100,000. I’m excited because we are next and Betty is right there (on a monitor). And we are moments away from my dream request coming true. The casting director even looks at me and says “You asked… and here she is…” Then, the boss of the boss of the boss of the casting director (there’s quite the hierarchy in television, which I know all too well) comes to the back and says “Take their mics off these two [meaning Keri and me] and take them back to holding!” The casting director comes back and – almost teary-eyed – alerts us that this show with Betty is about to wrap (and Betty will be done for the day). She says they are going to stop down production for one hour. Then, they are going to bring us back to tape our “game” with two “new” celebrities. I am devastated internally but at least I am going to get to play.
Here, back in holding (with our other contestants who are now curious as to why we are back), we cannot say anything about what we just saw nor what happened nor why we are back. Interestingly, I begin to sing as a way to break the tension and entertain the troops. Ironically, I am singing lots of Diana Ross.
One hour passes and we are led through the same drill, but this time, it is SHOWTIME! We discover our celebrities: Damien Fahey (MTV TRL host or VJ) of whom I was not so familiar and Monique Coleman (“High School Musical 1,2,3”/”Dancing With The Stars”) of whom I was more familiar as she attended the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas last year. But I don’t know her at all. Well, it wasn’t gonna be Betty White… but it is who we have. Onward…
The show begins. Damien introduces me to Regis (I’m prepared to talk all about Savannah , Georgia as the prepping producer tells me that will be a focus. I’m just happy Regis won’t be saying I’m from “Alabama, Georgia” but also, I am prepared – in my head – to go on and on about the beauty of Savannah and how I studied the history of Savannah and its squares and architecture as a child – even writing and publishing a book (with my 6th grade class): “A Child’s View of Savannah Squares”. But Regis gets through that talking point quickly and seques into my profession as a “freelance journalist”. I tell him about my blog “A Day In The Life of Riley: Pop Culture & Possibilities” and how it chronicles my celebrity sightings and things in pop culture that turn me on. He asks who I’ve written about lately. I say “I ran into you like two months ago at an art opening. Ernie Barnes.” Regis remembers the moment (not the meeting nor our photo op) but I offer that perhaps that event may have been a premonition of my participation on his show. He likes that thought. I’m pleased.
My first round: Damien gives and I guess. I’m nervous. Damien’s not Betty White but we get 3. Regis seems sympathetic to my plight – pointing out how fast time goes by, but how – his words – ‘you’re gonna have a lot to blog about before you’re through here’. Then, Keri’s up. Monique gives the clues. They get 3. Then, I give. Quite the stuttering round (but also the beginning of my receivers passing for me when only the “clue-giver” is to pass. That begins to worry my rhythm with both celebrity guests but – in this moment - two more points. We’ll take it. Then, Keri gives to Monique and they get 3, besting me by 1 point.
Then, we switch celebs. And Monique and I are now partners. We get 4 more – totaling 9 now. Damien now gives to Keri and they get two more – totaling 8. Then, Keri goes again because she’s trailing. They get 3 more – now totaling 11.
And finally, Monique and I go – me giving the clues. I need 3 to win. And within a second (after Monique passed on my behalf a time or two), I get what is necessary to WIN… and go on to the MONEY round!!!!! But I mean… in a second she gets my clue, which was “SKY”!!!! And that’s where I am looking to THANK THE LORD for this moment in which I now get to go for the MILLIONS. Moreover, I beat Keri, who I just knew was going to shut me down.
During a break, it is decided that Monique and I generated the most points – so she is my partner for the money round. Regis reinforces that I am a journalist saying "This will be something to write about, won't it?". I tell him "I'm taking notes on everything you're doing". He and Monique laugh. He then asks me about my pass-time of karaoke-ing. I alert him that I love all songs by Diana Ross. He asks me for a little. Though not planned, here was a DREAM COME TRUE all its own as I begin to sing --- in a falsetto --- Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (the crowd roars, Monique dances along, and Regis seems quite pleased with the musical interlude)! WHAT A RUSH as my arms are outstretched and the audience continues to celebrate the moment with applause!!! Now, for perspective, I sing more of a 2nd tenor/baritone [ http://126.96.36.199/rileyshowforkodjoe.wmv ](but do have a strong falsetto that I often play with in karaoke). On a stage in front of hundreds (and the knowledge that someday soon millions would see it), I'm not quite sure why I jumped into my Diana-esque homage (in the falsetto). But the spirit of Miss Ross took over and I went for it... and worked the crowd to boot. QUITE A MOMENT!!!!! (And the feedback has been generous… so, “eat your heart out Miss Ross…” or better yet, call me for a duet? Background vocals? Lunch?... smile!)
Now, it is on to business. We have to get five right each time from a descending pool of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, and 5 passwords. This, while the stakes increase from $10,000 to $25,000 to $50,000 to $100,000 to $250,000 to $500,000 to $1,000,000. I get really excited as Regis goes over the rules. Caveat: Once you reach $25,000, you go home with no less than $25,000. In this moment, I’m thinking I want no less than $100,000 because I saw Betty White make that happen with one of the guests (and find out that her fellow celebrity ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman helped her person get $100,000).
But $25,000 is my pointed destiny (as the game goes). We were en route to $50,000 when the clock struck :00.
Now, keep in mind, that is $25,000 more than I had when I got there four hours prior. And during this quiet, challenging summer (where the checks aren’t quite coming quickly enough), it is a welcome prize and huge uplift to my current financial woes.
Of course, my plan – with six figures or the million – was to:
* further support my nephew Noot (who is staying with me for the summer as he interns at HBO) with his college tuition at my alma mater Morehouse College where he is a junior (so – unlike me – he could be 37 and not still paying student loans, which I too would have paid off).
* Additionally, I wanted to give my sister something to absolve any challenges she may be having financially.
* Also, I would want to do something nice for my father (including pay him back for a recent loan that helped me get through June).
* And I would – of course – make sure my Ant gets something to support his art (exhibit, school, etc.). After all, he is responsible for how this moment came to be (as I’m certain I wouldn’t have pursued it without his nudging. I can be resistant that way).
* And to all my friends – like Ern (who actually came to support me in studio); Tata; Jules; Nichole; Michael; Elise; Lisa; Nat; D; and on and on, I could go (not a comprehensive list): there would have been some kind of trip or party or something to celebrate this moment.
* And WHAT ABOUT ME???? Yes! I would have begun to independently back the upgrade of my website to include production of a full-fledged show that would reflect my interests in pop culture and possibility (kind of a talk show meets variety show meets magazine show… but me, me, and more me… with guests of course! SMILE!).
Still, we will celebrate as we are not looking ANY gift horses in the mouth.
There are many things inside of my winnings that I will be able to create valuably towards my future, if not checking off the aforementioned comprehensively.
But I will take my late great mother’s only sister/sibling Mary Lee’s advice – relayed via her new favorite pass-time (at 70-something): texting – “Don’t make or offer no loans!!! That’s your blessing! Tithes paying pays off!” (as she knows I’m a tithes payer and that this is reward via our faith’s belief system). So, you heard it here folks… and it comes from the family matriarch!!!!! SMILE! No handouts!!!! It’s not enough for that, wouldn’t you agree?
And inside of this awesome possibility, I will continue to aim higher. Maybe my millions or billions will show up in another way that’s not directly linked to the prize… but to the blessed moment that seems to have turned much of those in my world (and beyond) on with a smile! So many letters and notes from people I know, but many, many more from people who I don’t know (or hadn’t seen in forever). They looked my blog and me up via the world wide web… and reached out with lovely feedback – like “You should have your own show!” Someone wrote: “Loved that you shined, looked so fine, represented black men well AND represented Savannah !!!”. So, there’s surely a lot of buzz about my appearance, including word from the casting folks (for the game show) that they will be reaching out to me NOT for more contestant-work, but for host-work. That’s lovely feedback. Also, my hometown’s local affiliate WTOC reached out to do a story and I got a call from the producers at “The Gayle King Show” (on XM Satellite Radio) that they’d like me to come in and be a guest on the show next week and talk about this momentous experience.
And there were many whose protection and observation I appreciate, but I say Monique was a good partner for me. She was there to win it with me. And I thank her for helping me bring home this ‘gold’. But given I came so close to competing with Betty White, I can’t help but wonder how much further I might have gotten had I played with her.
So close yet so far away… and onward…