Air Guitar 2017: The ProfessAIR Does Some Schooling Then Gets Schooled

Here’s the scene: I’m backstage in the green room at the Hard Rock cafe, with a wall of graffiti behind me. Names of artists who performed on at Hard Rock are scrawled all over the walls. I’m alone in the room, and I can hear the muffled sounds of people performing on stage. The room is gross. Fake blood on the floor mixed in with glitter and orange face paint. The debris from costumes of other competitors littered the room. I am the last to perform my routine, and I am extremely nervous. I finish my cup of coffee and take a sip of beer. I forgot my headphones, so I am holding my phone to my ear and practicing my air guitar routine with my other hand. I’m visualizing the moves, pacing the room, and fixing my wig in the mirror. As ludicrous as an air guitar competition may be, nearly everyone had nerves backstage. White faces. Dry mouths. Jitters. I realize my time is coming, so I step closer to the entryway to the stage. I hear judges delivering scores to the performer right before me: 5.9, 6.0, 6.0. These are by far the best scores of the night, and I have to follow that. And I’m last.

As always, we ended the competition with everyone onstage air guitaring to “Freebird.”

Earlier that night, the Hard Rock Cafe filled up with probably 40 to 60 spectators. The Host, Captain Airhab, gathered us backstage to pick numbers determining the order of our performances. I got 9–the last to perform. 1 is certainly a curse, since it’s hard to start things off, but 9 is also pretty challenging. People are tired and you have to follow a bunch of incredible performances.

During the night before I went on stage, I spent equal amounts of time watching performers and getting in the right headspace for my performance. I didn’t want to practice too much, out of fear of exacerbating my arm/vein issues. But I did a kind of soft run, where I mimed the moves in a much more subdued fashion. I figured I could save my body for one big performance on stage. I

About 20 minutes before my performance, I disappeared backstage and practiced alone. People would occasionally enter the room to grab a beer or prepare for their costumes, but, for the most part, I was isolated and getting in the zone. The time finally came. I heard Captain Airhab call my name, and I walked onto the stage.

My routine was nearly flawless. I hit every note. I felt a burst of energy onstage. My mashup edit sounded perfect on those nice speakers. The crowd loved the first portion, when I refused to turn around, and the part where I suddenly turn around and begin maniacally airing jolted people in a great way. The only notes that I missed were the second series of shreds in which I moved too quickly down the neck of the guitar. My hand reached my waist too soon–I still had more notes to play but no more guitar neck to move down. Other than that, though, I felt really pleased with the performance.

The judges gave me a 5.9, 5.9, and 6.0. These were the second best scores of all the performers for the first round.

The top five competitors advanced to the second round, where we played a weird edit of “Heartbreaker.” They played 90 seconds of an edit of the song, and we had to come out one by one and improvise a routine to it. The song was a mashup of parts of the original song–a song that I know but who really knows all the guitar parts to “Heartbreaker.” Knowing the lyrics or chord progression of a song and being able to air guitar to all the notes of the solo and pre-chorus riffs and all of that are entirely different things.  I totally botched most of this performance. It didn’t help that I again followed a stellar performance by Filthy Fingers who hung from the pipes on the ceiling and came crashing down to the stage during his performance. He got straight 6s. I decided to avoid gimmicks during the second round. Rather than spending time running into the audience or doing some sort of gymnastics, I thought I could capitalize on my ability to deliver a technically proficient performance–nailing all the weird time changes, bends, and hammer-ons. However, I felt pretty winded halfway through the ninety seconds and totally lost my place in the song. The second round totally rewards veterans of air guitar competitions–there’s no way to rehearse a second-round performance, you’ve got to have a lot of facility with air guitar choreography. A lot of tricks up your sleeve and a lot of spare air moves to use.

I ended up third in the competition, coming in behind Filthy Fingers and BreezeWrench. I think this means I qualify for the Brooklyn regional competition. I suppose the ProfessAIR will have a longer tenure in the competition that I once thought.