Pro Cheer Field Trip: 2009 Oakland Raiderette Final Auditions

It has come to my attention that this post disappeared into the ether at some point during the transition, so I’m reposting it. For those who have seen this already, bear with me.

As always, you can view tons of photos in my Flickr gallery. Click here to go there now.


Last month, I had the awesome opportunity to cover Raiderette finals for the blog. This was a big huge deal for me, and a major privilege.

Raiderette auditions happen every year over two Sundays in the spring. The first Sunday is the open call, where judges are looking for that Raiderette look and sparkle. Veterans get to skip that round. The final auditions take place on the subsequent Sunday. In between the two weekends, the aspiring Raiderettes and (hopefully) returning veterans attend a session to learn the choreography for finals. For finals, the ladies arrive in cocktail wear for the interview round of competition. After interviews, the dancers change outfits for the dance audition. And finally, after all of the dancing and interviewing is over, the new team is announced.

It was a lot to do in one day, so they had to get things started bright and early in the morning. When I say early, I do mean early. Like, 7:30 am early.

I don’t think I have to tell you that 7:30 am on a Sunday feels like 5:30 am on a Monday.

I’m a morning person, so I have no problem being up and about at that time of day. However, it’s one thing to be conscious and moving around that early in the morning. It is quite another to be wide awake, primped, polished, hair, face and outfit perfect, and ready to face a panel of judges. Those poor girls. I couldn’t do it. I’d wind up falling over in my four inch heels and glueing the false eyelashes to my forehead.

This year’s auditions took place at Club One in downtown Oakland . They usually have Raiderette auditions at the Oakland Airport Hilton, but this year there was a scheduling conflict. So instead of the hotel ballroom, they set up camp at the health club.

I’d arrived in Oakland the night before and was staying in a hotel about 10 blocks from Club One. It was a bit chilly outside the next morning, so it was a brisk walk to auditions. When I got there, I spotted two girls waiting out front, freezing their buns off in wool coats and strappy heels. I really felt for them – but not badly enough to pause as I breezed past them and into the club. Hey, I was cold too okay?

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Inside, I spotted a group of former Raiderettes who had volunteered to help out for the day. With slightly over 100 women to shuffle from room to room, Raiderette Director Karen Kovac would definitely need the help!

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Speaking of which…I found Karen, Karen’s assistant Nora, Laura the Assistant Choreographer, and a few more retired Raiderettes reviewing the plan of attack for the day.

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Nora, Karen, and Laura

They were the first in a series of cool chicks I met that day. (The Raiders security guy – whose name escapes me just now – was a really great guy, but being a guy, he was disqualified from the Cool Chick List. (I am working on a Cool Dude List, but I need to come up with a better name for it.)

Everyone was really friendly and welcoming. I have heard the organization referred to as “the Raiders Family” and that’s exactly what it seems to be. The vibe I got was that of a group of people who had worked together for quite a while, and enjoyed razzing each other like siblings do.

Four areas on the upper level of the club were designated for the audition process. Two of the rooms were mirrored exercise studios – one room for interviews and the other for last-minute rehearsal. The third spot was an open area where the women would have their photo taken and also where they would wait for their turn for interviews and auditions. The fourth area was the club’s basketball court, where they would do the dance audition. It was a full-sized court, but they would only use half of it. There were a few cardio machines to one side of the court, and there was an indoor track one level above. Those areas would not be closed off for auditions, so anyone running, walking, or elliptical-ing would have the opportunity to watch the tryouts.

Raiderette finals are usually closed, so this was a new twist. I wondered if the women auditioning knew they’d have an audience. That’s when I started to get a little jittery. I can’t imagine why. All I had to do was stand around and point my camera at people. That didn’t stop me from getting nervous for the girls. (Even though I didn’t know any of them. Go figure.)

While the final preparations were going on upstairs, I went back downstairs to see what was going on in the lobby. I was a little concerned, because it was almost time to start interviews and it didn’t look to me like there were a hundred women waiting to go upstairs. Maybe like…40 or so. (I found out later that the girls had been scheduled to arrive in shifts.)

Even so, 40 was plenty. This was a situation that took some getting used to. It is quite something to see that many women out of doors in the bright sunshine, all done up in full-on disco diva gear at that time of day. I took one look at all those girls, immediately turned on my heel and went back inside like “you have got to be kidding me.”

You know how when you’re in a dark room and somebody turns the lights on all of a sudden and your eyeballs are like “whoa, I was not prepared for that.”

It was kind of like that.

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I remember thinking that it looked like the prom issue of Seventeen Magazine had exploded in the middle of the courtyard.

Once I had adjusted, I went back outside to see what all the girls were up to. Besides shivering, I mean. One girl was wrapped in a blanket like a mummy. Hey, when you’re cold, you do what you have to do.

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I took a bunch of photos, and before I knew it, they were calling the first group upstairs for their interviews.

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Prior to interviews, the women were led up the stairs in groups of 25 and seated in the open area outside of the interview room.

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One by one, they went inside to perch on a stool in front of the judges.

Now, sitting on a stool is one of those things you don’t think about much – until you have to do it in front of a panel of judges. It’s not easy to gracefully hitch yourself up on a stool when you’re wearing 4inch heels and a dress that doesn’t have much give. Plus, a stool doesn’t have arms or a back to help you balance. Meanwhile, you’ve only got one free hand because the other one is clutching your audition number. You’re nervous as hell, your hands are sweaty, the stool seems ridiculously tall, and you just have to go in there and hope for the best.

That, and ignore all of us staring at you through the glass wall. No pressure!

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The girls came out of the interview with an interesting variety of expressions, ranging from “I’m cool. I’m confident. No problem” to “I can’t remember one single thing just I said to those people.”

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It seemed to me like each interview lasted a good 15 minutes. In reality, they were probably just a few minutes each – although they did go by a lot quicker toward the end when the judges started to run short on time.

After each girl’s turn with the judges, she returned to her seat in the holding area. When the last girl had finished, all 25 women went back into the interview room and lined up with their numbers for a final photo. And then – finally – they could get the heck out of there and relax for a few minutes.

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But first, they had to go downstairs, which meant passing the cheesy guys standing in the hall, pretending to keep score. One guy pointed at every woman who passed by “I’d vote for you! No-wait, I’d vote for you! Wait a second, I’d definitely vote for you!” A second guy stood there muttering to himself“…number five has it going ON.” A couple other guys just hung around, trying to look casual, like they just happened to be standing there at that moment. One of the guys turned up again during the dance audition. If you look at the photos from the afternoon, you will see a certain gentleman standing there for a good portion of the activity. By that time, he wasn’t even pretending to be casual about it. He was openly staring.

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After all of the interviews were completed, there was a short mid-day break. Everyone had a bit to eat, and then it was time to get ready for the second half of the day. While the crew moved the judging table and sound system over to the basketball court, I moseyed over to the room where the girls were rehearsing the dance. All of the girls had changed into their two piece dance outfits.

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Some girls went for the full-on, custom-made bling. Others were a little more subdued. One girl auditioned in long pants, which I didn’t really understand. They knew they’re supposed to wear briefs or hot pants. I dunno. Maybe the dog ate her outfit.

This was the first time I got to see the choreography, and it was freakin’ cool. The music was “Jai Ho” from Slum Dog Millionaire – the Pussycat Dolls version. (Click here to watch the PCD video.)

I really liked the dance, although I didn’t get to see them perform it full out since it was a small room. It really was too small for me to be in there with a camera and a flash.

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I hung out in there for maybe 15 minutes, and then scurried out of the way.

The former Raiderettes were huddled outside the room, peering in through the glass wall while the girls rehearsed. I’m sure this was just one more nerve-wracking element in a day destined to rub the aspiring Raiderettes’ nerves completely raw. The former Raiderettes were dressed all in black, and even though they were all very warm and friendly, their mere presence was intimidating.

The Raiderettes were talking in low voices and subtly pointing to this girl or that girl. I sidled over to them and eavesdropped shamelessly. (I really wanted to hear what they were saying, ok?) I didn’t hear what I expected to hear, however. I expected them to be at least a little critical. Ok, fine, I’ll be honest. I’m a cynic. I expected some snark. Maybe not outright snickering, but at least a raised eyebrow or two over a bad pirouette or a tragic audition costume.

Instead, the conversation centered around the girls they were particularly rooting for. The girl in the pink top had the IT factor. The girl in the turquoise two-piece was an incredible dancer. The girl in yellow was cut last year but came back strong this year. The girl stretching in the corner was Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.

I don’t actually remember who exactly they were talking about and what colors they were wearing, but that was pretty much the gist of the conversation. Well, that and crossing their fingers that all of the veterans would make it back on the team.

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Back on the basketball court, they were just about ready to get started again. Before bringing the first group of girls in, choreographers Shawna and Laura did the choreography once through for the judges. Meanwhile, in the other room, the Raiderette helpers got all of the girls sorted out.

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The dancers queued up in groups, just as they had done in the morning. Each group filed in, and sat in a row of folding chairs along the side of the room. Once everyone was seated, Karen explained the process, said a few words of encouragement, and then it was the dancers’ turn to strut their stuff. One by one, they walked to the center of the space, performed the dance once through, and then returned to their seats.

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The girls had gathered during the week to learn the dance ahead of time. Since they’d had a good amount of time to rehearse, most of the girls had the steps down cold and were able to emphasize their showmanship. Most of the girls did really really well.

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See what I mean about the staring?

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A few girls started off too early and finished several counts before the music. Those auditions were hard to watch. “In my head, I was thinking slow down. PLEASE slow down” but they didn’t and you could see it in their faces, the moment they realized they were off count. I wanted to jump up and yell “Do Over! Do Over!” But of course there was no opportunity for that.

A couple of girls blanked out in the middle of the routine. Those were gut-wrenching for the dancer and for those of us watching. You want so much to help, but there’s nothing you can do about it. I was happy to see though, that all of them were able to pick up the choreography and finish the dance.

After all of the girls in each group had danced, they lined up in front of the Raiders backdrop again, just as they had in the morning.

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Then they were escorted out and it was the next group’s turn to perform.

(I wish they’d made all 25 girls in each group perform together at least once. Or maybe in groups of 5 or 10. Yes I know it’s an audition, not a recital for my personal entertainment, but still. It would’ve been fun to watch.)

After all of the dancing was done, the judges disappeared into a room to deliberate. The girls changed back into their cocktail dresses and gathered in the lobby to wait for the news.

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I have no idea how long we all waited. The girls were nervous and fidgety – more and more so as the minutes passed. There was a weird tense-yet-expectant, panicky-yet-excited feeling in the air. I hung around down there for a while, but eventually fled back upstairs. I couldn’t take the nerves.

Mine, not theirs.

(Some people call this “self absorbed.” I prefer the term “self aware.” Ahem.)

By the time the judges came out of the meeting room, I was almost as tense as the girls. I about jumped out of my skin when I saw them, then ran down the stairs to announce that the judges were coming, any minute now. The crowd in the lobby started stirring.

But the judges didn’t come.

I scooted upstairs and a minute later was back down again – this time, the judges were coming for real!

But the judges still didn’t come.

I went back upstairs again – a little slower this time. The Paul Revere act was getting old and I was starting to feel like a jackass. Nobody had asked me to make the announcement, I just wanted to be involved, so I took it upon myself to open my big mouth.

When the judges looked like they were moving toward the head of the stairs, I dashed downstairs again. This time I kept my mouth shut, and they eventually made their way to the lobby.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was nervous as hell. I wasn’t auditioning. I didn’t have anything at stake. Yet I was the one practically on the verge of a meltdown. I imagined what it would be like to be in their shoes and the more I thought about it the more I felt like I was about to jump out of my skin. Gah! Just tell us who made the team already!!!

A girl next to me looked over at me with concern and said I looked even more nervous than she did. If anyone had the right to white knuckles and a pounding heart, it was her, not me. Yet she was the one telling me everything was going to be ok. That was Anna, bless her.

(Note to self: get over yourself.)

Finally, the judges were there, and the girls gathered around. Karen thanked everyone for coming. Then she explained that each year, she picks an audition song that has some special meaning to it. This year’s song “Jai Ho” means “may victory be yours” and she wished everyone victory throughout their lives – whether or not they made the team.

It was a strangely inspirational moment, right on the cusp of changing some girls lives forever…and others not at all.

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Then Karen read the numbers.

(In order, thankfully)

There was a second or two of silence after she finished. This was truly the oddest part of the day. Everyone had the exact same expression on their face. Whether they’d been chosen or not, they all looked completely shocked. And then the crying started.
Tears because they made it.
Tears because they didn’t make it.
Tears because they’d worked so hard.
Tears because veterans were cut.
Tears because rookies who never expected to be chosen, had been.
Tears because they finally made it after 2, 3, 4 years of auditioning.
Tears because the day was FINALLY over.

I booked it upstairs to look at my notes and figure out exactly who had made the team and who hadn’t.

Eventually, the 2009-10 Raiderettes made their way back upstairs to the basketball court for their very first team photo. They were all smiling enough to make my face hurt.

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Here’s an interesting factoid – Karen puts the new girls in the front rows. It may seem like a little thing, but I bet it meant a lot to them. They weren’t pushed to the back like they were of lesser importance than the veterans. I don’t know Karen well, but she seems like a person who puts a whole lot of thought behind every decision she makes. This particular decision – as small a thing as it might seem – was very very cool. If Karen wasn’t already on the Cool Chick list, this would’ve put her there.

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After the photos, Karen got right down to business. Karen handed out information sheets, and explained the details around Raiderette orientation and the upcoming trip to Hawaii (for the team calendar shoot). Then she pointed the rookies over the corner to try on the white Raiderette boots. The boots are from Carlos by Carlos Santana. They are specially made for each Raiderette, so if they wanted those boots made in time for their uniform shots, they had to get the size information down to the factory in Brazil ASAP.

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Some of the rookies looked like they didn’t know what hit them. They’d barely processed the idea that they’d been chosen for the team. The boots. The orientation. The trip to Hawaii – all of that was extra information.

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I packed up my stuff and prepared to go. But before I did, I had to take care of two things. First – a high five to Anna, who made the team and is officially on my Nice Girl list. Woo! Second, I had to track down Cole, who had bolted when I tried to take her photo earlier. Partly because she was wearing Uggs with her cocktail dress (fpxy!), and partly because she was worried that she might not make the team and would feel awful if she got cut and then and to face her photo splashed all over the internet. Ok, I could understand that. But once they called her number, she owed me one.)

Congratulations Anna 🙂
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Congratulations Cole 🙂
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Congratulations 2009-10 Oakland Raiderettes!
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Don’t forget to check out the photos on Flickr. Click here. 😉

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