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. 😉

Raiderettes Visit Troops in Iraq

Raiders.com
June 8, 2009

Last week, a group of five Raiderettes, Tiphanie, Cole, Meena, Emily and Ashlee, visited several United States military bases in Iraq. The Raiderettes spent time with U.S. servicemembers in Iraq.

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Meena sent the following on May 30th: “I am finally getting some time to sit down and send off some e-mails. We arrived at FOB Delta in Iraq this morning. It is near the city of Al Quds. For the first time in our Middle East experience we are staying in a tent! It is lined on both sides with about six or seven bunk beds down each side. The “wall” and “ceiling” are tent-like with solid metal beams as interior supporting structures. Cool air is pumped in, but it’s not doing much in this heat. It is super windy and when we lay down on our beds the “walls” actually are snapping with the wind and hitting us in the head. It’s pretty funny actually.

We’ll be performing on an outdoor stage, it is basically the bed of a flat bed truck. The crews here have placed a wood flooring on top of the rusty metal. In the background is a bombed out building, and all around the stage there are mortar bunkers. It’s quite a scene. Today while we were marking our spots and rehearsing our show a soldier approached us and asked if any of us had cheered in high school or college. I was the only one who said yes. He asked if I cheered coed, and I again said yes. Without missing a beat, he asked “Do you wanna stunt?” So after we were finished rehearsing I threw a couple of stunts with him. It was really cool. I also learned that the Raiderettes are the first cheerleaders to perform at this base, so the troops here are extremely excited.

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Our first two days included an evening performance at Camp Beuhring in Iraq after enduring a day of 130+ degrees. Unkown to us, our security detail had made a call to have medics standing by during our performance in case any of us went down. We all made it through safely, but it was good to know our security detail was looking out for us. Our second performance was at Camp Basrah in Iraq to one of the rowdiest crowds I’ve seen in awhile. We had a lot of fun with them and found some die-hard Raider fans.

It’s a little cooler today, maybe around 100 degrees…very windy, we can actually feel the dust and sand on our teeth. I don’t know how these men and women live in this day in and day out. Until you’ve been here, it is difficult to fully understand. I would compare it to standing in front of a massive blow dryer all day.

That’s it for now…we’ll touch base as soon as we get a chance again! Not sure where we are headed next, but we are ready for the adventure.”

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Cole checked in on June 1st: “We did a live appearance from here in Iraq on KRON 4 [with Vern Glenn]. We have already completed two shows. We started in Kuwait, then flew to Baghdad, and back to Kuwait, and then to Iraq. This has been such and emotional trip in many ways. We all are so humbled by what we have witnessed. Equally so proud of what our soldiers have accomplished. They truly are our country’s heroes and we are so honored to be able to thank them for all they do, and all they have sacrificed. Great stories already to tell. Funny moments, tearful moments. We met one of the generals last night, big highlight for all of us. We have collected four coins and one patch so far. We have to go get ready for our next show this evening at 1900. Our agenda is demanding. Not a lot of sleep, or downtime.”

Cole checked in again on June 2nd: “Just quick update. We met a three-star general today! We have six coins now and three patches. We played Rock band with the special forces yesterday, and had a jam session for fun. We also were present during a private promotion ceremony for the special forces. We’re about to head to our next meet and greet, and then get ready for our show here at Camp Striker. Thanks for all your support. We are in such great hands, and feel very safe. Military troops are motivated and happy we are here. Carmen our tour guide is taking such great care of us.”

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During the Raiderettes trip to the Middle East, several soldiers sent e-mail to Raiders.com thanking Football’s Fabulous Females for visiting them. Here is a sampling…

“I am writing this e-mail for “Team C,” the Raiderettes, who appeared in FOB Delta on Saturday night in Iraq. I just wanted to thank your team for coming out here to give us a little entertainment while we are deployed. It meant a lot to us and something like that really goes a long way.” – Marc R

“I am writing this to you today from FOB Delta, Iraq. I am writing this to you today because last night myself and hundreds of other soldiers were entertained by five of your sexy and lovely and courageous Raiderettes. They are Tiphanie, Emily, Ashlee, Meena, and Cole (TEAM C). I would like to thank the Raiders for allowing them to come here to Iraq and entertain us. It was a great show. They were very enthusiastic and they tried very hard to get people up on stage. I myself was one that was up on stage during the dance off. And like it was said last night by a colonel of the base, ‘maybe we’re heroes for being here doing what we do best but just the simple fact that they came here just to try and show us a good time and help us have a good night that made them the heroes’ hero.’ Even though they were here for just one night it was the best night that I have had in a long time. We are eternally grateful for them coming. If they didn’t come I probably wouldv’e just stayed in my tent like I have so many other nights and watched a movie. But them coming here made me so happy. It just boosted my morale level so high for the next month. Them being here and giving us the best show that they could made me feel like I was sitting in the front row on the 50-yard line at a Raiders game. They did a outstanding job and I believe they should be recognized for it. In closing I would just like to say THANK YOU again for allowing them to be here last night. Thank you again and have a safe and happy 2009. From your number one Raider and Raiderettes fan…” – John G.

We’ll have more from the Raiderettes trip to the Middle East, including Vern Glenn’s satellite interview, online later in the week.

Raiderettes Abroad: Photo Gallery

Oakland Raiderettes take a spin around MND-B
By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell and Staff Sgt. James Selesnick
NewsBlaze.com
June 06,2009
Photos (click on each to view hi-res version)

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Raiderettes in Basra

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Silver and Black marches on COB Basra
By Staff Sgt. Derek Smith
The 34th Red Bull Infantry Division
June 1, 2009
Photos

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – The latest set of boots to hit the ground were a sharp contrast to the tan and green of military footwear as the stark white boots of the Oakland Raider Cheerleaders, the Raiderettes, marched through COB Basra and right into service members’ hearts May 29.

The silver and black-clad sirens performed their variety show, met with Soldiers and gave thanks for military members’ efforts in Iraq as part of their tour through the region.

“It’s been exhilarating and thrilling,” said Emily, one of “Football’s Fabulous Females”. “The experience has been nothing short of an honor since the first moment we got here.”

The Basra heat found some strong competition this night, but the Raiderettes were not to be denied their place in the hearts and minds of service members crammed up against the Morale, Welfare and Recreation stage. Camera flashes erupted like an approaching storm yet were still outshone by the smiles of the Oakland Raiders’ ambassadors.

The conditions in Iraq also allowed them to put things into perspective, the ladies said.

“We’ve experienced travelling with the Soldiers first-hand and feeling what it’s like to go through the heat out here,” explained Cole, the brunette veteran of the squad. “People explained that it was going to be hot here in Iraq, but you don’t know until you’re out here and the wind is blowing. It feels like a blow-dryer.”

“We look at (the Soldiers) and we know that we’re going through it and we’re trying to be soldiers for them and be strong for them,” she said, solemnly. “We know that they do this every day and to experience that is very humbling to us.”

Oakland Raiderettes Auditions

The Oakland Raiders are searching for enthusiastic and talented candidates for their renowned public relations and entertainment team – The Raiderettes – “Football’s Fabulous Females.” Become a part of the prestigious Oakland Raiders by auditioning for the 2009 Oakland Raiderettes Professional Cheerleading Squad.

Raiderettes Auditions

More at Raiders.com.

Los Gatos women on Raiderettes squad visit the troops in Iraq and Kuwait

By Marianne L. Hamilton
Los Gatos Weekly-Times
03/02/2009

When Meena Shams and Ariel Ogilvie make public appearances, they’re almost always in uniform. As members of the Raiderettes, cheerleading squad for the Oakland Raiders, the Los Gatos residents are typically decked out in their familiar silver and black costumes.

Recently, though, the pair found themselves attired in bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets. But to the soldiers they were visiting at military bases in Iraq and Kuwait, it was just business as usual.

On Jan. 28, Shams and Ogilvie — accompanied by fellow cheerleader Jovann Canada from Pleasanton — boarded a plane for Kuwait. The three were chosen to represent the squad by Raiderettes director Karen Kovac, who felt the trio brought a unique set of talents and life experiences to the task.

“Going on these trips is a huge honor, and the slots are highly coveted,” Kovac says. “Meena and Jovann are line captains, and have been with us for several seasons. They have plenty of experience with being in charge, being dropped into different situations at various events, and having to figure it out. They’re both very adaptable and knowledgeable.”

Ogilvie’s impending marriage to Marine 1st Lt. Mike Lamb also carried weight in the decision-making process, Kovac adds. “Having gone through tours to Bosnia and Kosovo myself, I knew that these types of trips really open your eyes in wonderful ways. I imagined this shared experience would help tie Ariel and Mike together. Also, being able to tell the soldiers in Iraq that her fiancÂŽ was in the Marines would be a nice connection.”

The Raiders organization has had a lengthy history of supporting the military. Kovac often sends members of the cheerleading team to disabled veterans’ events and to VA hospitals throughout the state, and the football team regularly hosts active and retired military on the sidelines at games. Just prior to the Iraq trip, Shams joined four other Raiderettes at Camp Pendleton, where they performed for 1,000 soldiers about to be deployed to the Middle East.

“We all get hooked on these events,” Kovac says. “Once you do something with the service personnel, you just want to do more.”

This year’s Iraq tour was orchestrated by the marketing firm Pro Sports MVP, which stages promotional programs and events featuring entertainment and sports celebrities. Along with the Raiderettes, members of several NFL teams made the journey to Iraq. For nine days, the players and cheerleaders toured bases and points of interest in the Middle Eastern war zone, doing a number of meet-and-greets and participating in several special events. Shams says their reception was enthusiastic, from the highest-ranking brass on down.

“We met with Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, who’s in charge of the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad; he reports directly to Gen. Petraeus, and was appointed by the President. He took the time to thank us for coming,” Shams notes.

Odierno also presented each visitor with a special commemorative coin, a fact that Shams says will come in handy should she ever happen to share an adult beverage with a member of the military. “The custom is that if someone pulls out a coin and challenges you, and you don’t have a coin or theirs outranks yours, you have to buy everyone a round,” explains Shams. “But if yours outranks theirs, they have to buy a round. I think each of us now has a coin that outranks 99 percent of all coins.”

Shams adds that it was a heady experience to leaf through the guest book the cheerleaders were asked to sign in Basra. Following tea with Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, commander of British forces in the city, she and Ogilvie inscribed their signatures in the book. “Then we turned the page back and saw that [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown had just signed. That was definitely one of the highlights of the tour,” says Shams.

The Los Gatans’ arrival “in-country” coincided with Iraq’s recent elections. Though the event went off peacefully, the Raiderettes’ military escort opted to keep them out of the way of any potential unrest.

“After we landed in Kuwait, we stayed at Camp Arifjan for three days during the election,” Shams says. “From then on, our itinerary was sort of decided upon on a daily basis.”

That schedule included daily meals and many hours spent chatting with the troops about their experiences. Shams and Ogilvie also took part in a re-enlistment ceremony, holding the American flag while military personnel signed on for additional tours of duty. Traveling between bases, their modes of transportation included Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, as well as a C-130 transport plane. They also went for a spin in an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection) vehicle, which is designed to survive roadside bombs.

Super Bowl Sunday found the Raiderettes watching the game with the men and women in uniform in Kuwait. Given the time difference, the game’s live telecast presented some logistical challenges. “We slept until 10 p.m., then got dressed and went out to the base,” says Shams. “The game started at 2 a.m. Kuwait time; it was over about 6:30, then we had breakfast and caught a helicopter for Camp Bucca in Iraq … and we were up until 10 p.m. that night. We were pretty exhausted. But the excitement of being on the trip, and knowing we were there to increase the soldiers’ morale, really kept us going.”

Once at Camp Bucca, where the cheerleaders were outfitted with the protective vests and helmets, Ogilvie says she was surprised at the friendliness of the environment. Located on the Iraq-Kuwait border, the facility serves as a prison for some 18,000 military detainees.

“It’s a very simple setting, but it’s very intimate,” says Ogilvie. “The group that took us around was very close-knit; we could tell by how they interacted with each other. We got a great feeling from them and really bonded with them. I actually cried when we flew away.”

Out of respect for the conventions of Middle Eastern culture, Shams and her colleagues left their regular cheerleading costumes at home. “We dressed very conservatively the whole time we were there, mostly in jeans,” Ogilvie says. “We also wore long-sleeved under-armor shirts, and T-shirts provided by Pro MVP.”

Despite the presence of uniformed troops — both American and Iraqi — carrying weapons of various descriptions, neither Ogilvie nor Shams say they felt afraid. Both were happy to entrust their safety to their escorts, and report that they were protected quite rigorously. Still, there were a few instances that reminded the pair that they weren’t exactly in Kansas anymore.

“At one point I felt a little jittery: We were out on the Green Zone, in an area that’s run by the Iraqi military, and we were swarmed by their troops,” Ogilvie says. “Another time we were staying in a hotel in Baghdad, right across from Saddam Hussein’s Al Faw Palace. I sat in a chair that was given to him by [late Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat. I definitely got a creepy feeling, being around things that used to belong to Hussein. But our escorts knew the best ways to keep us safe, and we basically did what they told us to do and we were fine.”

What led the Los Gatans to trade comfort zone for war zone? Says Ogilvie, a Los Gatos native and graduate of Los Gatos High School: “We’re in this beautiful`bubble’ in this town. I wanted to have a more authentic idea of what the world is like. When we got there, the military really took the time to educate us about their mission, they gave us the history of the bases, and helped us to understand why they’re there. I feel like I have a much clearer idea of what’s going on now.”

Adds Shams, “The soldiers were so appreciative of us taking the time to visit them. A lot of the time they think that no one remembers they’re there.”

Given their cover-girl looks and figures (not to mention the outfits they wear on game day), it would be far too simple to dismiss “Football’s Fabulous Females” as stereotypically vapid vessels. Not so fast: Shams, a graduate of Murray State University in her home state of Kentucky, is a sales and marketing executive for a line of skin-care products and antioxidant supplements, is a former member of the Northern California Women’s Hockey League and is active in several organizations dedicated to fighting breast cancer. Her personal life is active as well, as wife to Saratoga native and Sereno Group sales executive Ryan Iwanaga and stepmom to Iwanaga’s 11-year-daughter.

Ogilvie, a graduate of UC-Santa Barbara, where she was on the dean’s list, is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Argosy University in San Francisco. After earning her Ph.D., Ogilvie hopes to work with underserved children in the Bay Area. For the near term she’ll be enjoying some welcome time with her future husband: After 12 years with the Marines and several tours of duty throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Kosovo, Lamb will receive a medical discharge next month.

The cheerleaders’ achievements come as little surprise to Kovac, who herself holds a master’s degree in international business. As the Raiderettes’ chief choreographer for the past 13 years, and having served as the squad’s director since 2004, Kovac is never satisfied with merely adding another pretty face to the lineup.

“When a young woman auditions, which everyone has to do every year — even those who are currently on the squad — I look carefully at every application,” says Kovac. “I insist that a Raiderette must either be in school full time or hold down a full-time job. A few are moms, and if they’re doing that, more power to them. I want everyone to be fully engaged in some way, because they have to be strong role models for youths.

“Anyone can put on makeup and do their hair. What’s important is what’s on the inside.”

While they consider where their travels will lead them next, Shams and Ogilvie will both be taking part in the Raiderettes’ April 19 tryouts. Shams says the process is stressful for Iwanaga each season.

“He’ll call me on the day we’re supposed to hear whether we made it or not, and tell me that he’s pacing up and down and can’t focus,” Shams laughs. “He’s a huge football fan, and he also knows how hard I’ve worked to get here. I didn’t make it onto the team until my third try.”

Ogilvie, who says she rarely feels fear, admits that the process of auditioning is always daunting. But if she were asked to retire her pom-poms after this season, it appears that the Sunday afternoon lineup wouldn’t be the biggest thing she’d miss.

“It’s definitely cool being a cheerleader, because you have opportunities to travel and do things you’d never do otherwise,” she says. “But having the chance to support our troops was really an incredible experience.”

Raiderette auditions will be held April 19 at Club One in Oakland. Interested candidates can visit www.raiders.com/Raiderettes.

Raiderette Travel Diary: Japan

Raiderette Cole’s Visit to Japan
February 24, 2009
Raiders.com

* Video interview with Raiderette Cole *

Recently, veteran Raiderette Cole had the opportunity, along with seven other NFL cheerleaders, to visit Japan and work with NFL Japan on several initiatives and awareness campaigns with regard to NFL football. Cole took time out to chronicle her experiences. Also, Raiders.com’s Jeanette Thompson had a chance to sit down with Cole for a one-on-one video interview upon Cole’s return from Japan.

By Raiderette Cole

This is my very first time traveling to Japan, and I am so honored to be representing the NFL, and the Oakland Raiders on this tour. Thank you for inviting me to share my experience with the Raider Nation.

I met with all the team representatives that will be participating in the tour, and Maria Giannini, the director of E2k entertainment production company, at San Francisco International Airport. The ladies I went on tour with included Lauren – San Francisco 49ers; Lindsay – New England Patriots; Melanie – Seattle Seahawks; Fabiola – Miami Dolphins; Kazuyo – NY Jets; Marisa – San Diego Chargers; and Lauren – Philadelphia Eagles. Lauren, from the Eagles however, arrived later than the rest of us due to the playoffs.

I was very fortunate to sit next to such a great couple on my flight over to Japan. Americans Mary and Mark have lived in Japan for over 25 years. They were so generous to share details about the Japanese culture. They explained the currency, or the “yen” rather. I’ve never seen such a more beautiful currency than the Yen.

The 13-hour flight flew by because I was in such great company. We deplaned, hopped on a charter bus and headed to our hotel, The New Otani, which is gorgeous! We checked into our rooms and walked to a nearby local restaurant to eat our first Japanese-style meal. We had to take off our shoes to enter, and they gave us lockers to store our things. Kazuio, with the Jets, is originally from Tokyo, Japan. So she is very familiar with the area and more importantly she was able to communicate for all of us because she speaks fluent Japanese. We are all so grateful she is here because she is teaching us so much. We couldn’t have asked for better hands-on education. We have such a busy agenda coming up, so we went back to our rooms to get some sleep.

Day 1:
We all met at the top of The New Otani Tower for breakfast, and a kick off meeting with the team from NFL Japan. We learned, in more detail, about what is to be expected of us on this trip and the messages they really want us to communicate to gain a larger fan base here in Japan. Basically our mission was to communicate in our interviews key points about NFL football as if we were explaining the sport to someone for the very first time. We are introducing the sport and motivating them to tune in [to NFL football].

After our meeting we went straight to the studio and got to work. I led the team through a group stretch and then we practiced three sideline routines together. We had already learned the material via DVD prior to our departure. So when we got together it was basically cleaning the routines, formations, and just learning to dance together, as we all come from different teams, with different styles. Everyone was so professional, and prepared that practice went by quickly. We broke for lunch and then traveled by subway into the city where we were able to explore and sightsee a bit. When we returned to the hotel Lauren from the Eagles had arrived. She was my roommate for the remainder of the trip. We all went to Trader Vics for dinner, and quickly got ready for our first performance together. “Sporto” is the highest rated sports program on Fuji TV. It was a LIVE appearance, and it airs at midnight, which seems late for the most popular sports show, and is really late for us because we are still adjusting to the time difference, and have jet lag. However we managed to put on a great show, which consisted of one dance performance to Christina Aguilera’s “Keeps getting Better,” and an interview session with us as a group. We got back to the hotel around 1:00 a.m. to get some sleep.

Day 2:
Up at 6:30 a.m., and at 8 a.m. we had a quick group breakfast at the hotel then we got on our official NFL Japan Tour bus. We headed to the “Star Maker Studios” in Shiba, for a photo shoot. This was an extra special shoot because we were all posing in our team identified uniforms together for our “Team Photo Card.” This photo card will be used to sign autographs, and is given to the fans at our appearances.

Immediately after the shoot we went back to the hotel to practice. From practice we went to the Yokota Air Base. At this appearance we had to perform our solo introduction, all three sideline dance routines, and a trivia session with the audience. Each cheerleader made up two questions to ask the audience, one question was to be a difficult question, and the second to be easy. My difficult trivia question was a historical one, what is the name of the first Raider player ever to be inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame? Answer, my favorite, Jim Otto. My easy trivia question was who is the owner of The Oakland Raiders? Answer, Al Davis, of course (too easy). We then followed up this event with an autograph session and photo session. Then we went back to the hotel to change and we went to Zen in Roppongi for an amazing sushi dinner.

Day 3:
022409 Cole performs with NFL cheerleadersUp at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. group breakfast at the New Otani, immediately followed by a dance rehearsal for about an hour. Then we loaded up our tour bus and headed to Venus Fort, Odaiba for the event I have been looking forward to most, The NFL Cheer Challenge 2009. This event was such a special event because the Japanese dance teams were to compete, and we were to judge the competition. Over 200 fans showed up for this event. The competition consisted of teams with ages that range from 4 to 19. The performances were amazing, high energy, and great choreography, and technique. I especially enjoyed the younger girls, they were so cute, and we all were so impressed with how they managed to retain all the material for their dance routines. There were two awards given out, and the competition was fierce. We then performed with Q and A session and interview to follow.

Then we walked back to Fuji TV for “Mezamashi,” another TV appearance, this a morning show. We were all interviewed regarding our experience in Japan, our experience as NFL cheerleaders, and of course the Super Bowl. From there we went NTV which stands for Nittelle Television. NTV is the #1 watch network in Japan. The program we were on is “Urugusa” which is the #1 sports program in Japan, and we performed again LIVE at midnight. On this show we performed “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga, followed by an interview. This was a long, fun and productive day.

Day 4:
022409 Cole performs on Japanese TVOur first event was a viewing party at a western-style restaurant, where we mingled with the 100 plus fans that showed, signed autographs on our photo cards, and met with the executives for Coors Light Japan. This event ended with follow up interview for a behind-the-scenes segment they will be using for NFL Japan.com.

After this event we freshened up and went to Dentsu, Japan’s #1 Advertising Agency. This was not on our original Itinerary, this was an added special meeting because of all our exposure, the Dentsu executives invited us for a round-table meeting, Very intense. We introduced ourselves, answered questions regarding our respective teams, the Super Bowl, and our experience in Japan. This was a very exciting meeting, intense, but exciting because Dentsu is a very powerful company and can give NFL Japan top exposure.

After our meeting we walked to NTV studios for another LIVE performance on “Real Time.” Then we went to the TV shooting of “NFL Club.” We filmed this segment on location at “Ukaitei” restaurant. The setting was a traditional Japanese-style dinning and featured real authentic Japanese cuisine. We were to eat and enjoy the meal that is prepared for us, as we are being interviewed as guests on the show. Rather unusual setting, however delicious and fun. Nachi Abe joined us as a surprise guest. He is an ex-NFL football player with experience with NFL Europa and is now in broadcasting in Japan.

Then we went back to NTV studios for our usual midnight LIVE appearance but this time on “News Zero.” Were we a featured on the sports corner of the program. We performed our solo routines, followed by interviews. Then we went right back to the hotel to rest a bit before our next appearance.

Day 5:
022409 Cole and cheerleaders gets ready for video shootUp at 4:00 a.m., call time 5 a.m. We headed back to NTV studios for an early morning show called “Zoom-In Super.” This show is equal to “Good Morning America” in the United States.

IT WAS FREEZING! They had us perform outside. They gave us huge down jackets and coffee to stay warm. We took our coats off literally seconds before our performance. Immediately after our performances the hosts of the show interviewed us as we shivered in our uniforms. At least I have sleeves, if you watch the clip Fabiola from Miami is shivering uncontrollably. We then wrapped up the show, joining the hosts say their famous catch phrase, “Zoom-In”

We went back to the hotel to rest for a bit, because we only had three hours sleep the night before. After resting we jumped on our tour bus, with our NFL entourage and went to Asakusa, Harajuku for some sightseeing and shopping on the Takeshita Dori street. This is where we were able to get our friends, family, and teammates souvenir gifts. We visited the Temple, and were blessed by the smoke with health, wealth and happiness.

Later that day we arrived in Shibuya for a quick dance rehearsal, and changed for our next performance, which was actually my favorite performance of our tour. This event was called “The NFL Night Special.” This was a talk show/ performance/ Super Bowl trivia/ Live event. The venue had a nightclub feel with great lighting, and was sold out with a capacity of 200. We performed all three dance routines. We had a Q and A segment. Then the award-winning dancers form the Cheer Challenge performed. We did a raffle drawing for prizes (team autographed footballs and t-shirts). Then we had our challenge, The Super Bowl Trivia Challenge. Audience members were selected at random to form a team and they were to compete with us! It was a close match. However they won by only one point, they were very knowledgeable. We ended this event with a photo session. After the event we shot a quick commercial teaser for “Sporto Ladies Day.” Then we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo, for well-deserved American-style burgers!

Day 6:
022409 Cole in JapanUp at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. group breakfast. It was starting to sink in that our trip was coming to an end. We all started to get a little sad because this was our final day, and final performance. We got on our tour bus and went to J-POP cafe in Shibuya. The TV shooting for NHK’s “Best Sports” show. We performed one final dance routine, to “Keeps Getting Better,” which was so fitting because we had all gotten better, and each of us had grown so much from this experience. From traveling to Japan, to celebrating our NFL, to sharing what we are a part of in our individual organizations, and celebrating our communities. It made me feel so proud to be an NFL cheerleader, and justified my role as a role model within our community and as an ambassador for our organization.

That evening we had a farewell dinner at the famous restaurant Nobo. NFL Japan presented us with a very special necklace which I found to be so generous and thoughtful. If there is one thing I could expose to you all about the Japanese culture, it is that the people are so polite, kind, and generous. We went out that evening and explored the night club scene in Tokyo. Interestingly enough, they all play American music!

Day 7:
We said our goodbye’s to the NFL Japan crew, which took such great care of us. We exchanged email addresses and contact information with all the members of the tour, and I slept the entire plane ride home.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Oakland Raiders, Karen Kovac, Maria Giannini, E2k entertainment, Jiro San, NFL Japan, and the NFL for this opportunity. I feel so blessed to be able to live out my dream of being an NFL cheerleader. This is an experience I will cherish because it validated my purpose in this great sport we are all so passionate about, and my contribution as an ambassador for our organization.

Many Cheers!
Cole