A VOICE EXCLUSIVE SERIES – The Popstar Experience, Part seven

March 12, 2003

A VOICE EXCLUSIVE SERIES – The Popstar Experience, Part seven

Part 7 in a continuing series about the Canadian Television talent competition, Popstars: The One.

For part one of this series, see: http://www.ausu.org/voice/articles/articledisplay.php?ART=382

Friday morning I woke up, eager to have Amaya home and glad she would be here soon. Amaya was to be on the plane at 1 PM Toronto time (11 AM our time), so I decided to run some errands and fill my gas tank in order to be ready to head for the airport to pick her up at 3:30 PM. I had spent the previous evening cleaning and airing out her room so that her space would be fresh and welcoming, and I wanted to pick up a few of her favourite foods for supper.

My first inkling that something was amiss was when I arrived home from running my errands to discover a phone message had been left at about 10 AM (12 PM Toronto time). The associate producer of Popstars, Rachel Horvath, left a message, simply asking for Amaya to call her. I thought it rather odd, but couldn’t figure out what it meant.

I tried calling the cell phone (I had given Amaya my phone for the duration of the trip), but there was no answer. Worried, I decided to check the cell phone messages. There were several. Another message from Rachel Horvath left several hours earlier, as well as a message from Amaya’s Toronto friend left on Wednesday evening making arrangements to meet her (which is when I found out she had gone out that night). I kept trying the cell phone unsuccessfully, but received no further calls from the Popstars people, so I figured things must have been solved, whatever they were.

At about 2 PM Edmonton time, I was at my computer double-checking the flight arrival time in preparation to leave for the airport when the phone rang. It was Amaya. Hysterical and sobbing. “Where are you?” I asked, frantic.

“In Tooorooontooo!!!” she wailed. “I missed my plane!!!” She was crying so hard I could hardly make out what she was saying. I tried to calm her down, but she kept sobbing. “What am I going to do?” she cried. “I just want to come HOME!…please, Mom, please help me and get me home!”

I finally managed to drag some of the story out in between sobs. The Popstars people were apparently scheduled to come to pick her up at 12 PM from the hotel to take her to the airport. Upset at being cut, she had gone out with her friend again the night before. After returning to the hotel; emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted; she had fallen into a deep sleep. She had not heard the knock on the door, and she had not heard the phone ring. She had woken up, seen the clock reading 3:00 PM, and realized that her plane had left without her. I asked if she had called the Popstars people, but she said she didn’t know where to call, who to call. She dissolved in tears and became hysterical again as she begged me to find the number and help her come home.

I promised her that I would get her home, and told her that I would call her back in a few minutes. I finally located the original paperwork Popstars and Lone Eagle had sent her, and found a telephone number. I called Amaya back and gave her the number. I told her to call them and tell them what had happened, and ask them to get her on another flight home. I told her to call me back as soon as she had information. By now it was Friday afternoon in Toronto, past 3:30, and I was worried that she might not even get hold of anyone.

In the meantime I phoned Air Canada to find out if there was any way to change her ticket. I explained her plight to a very helpful and understanding reservation agent, but he could find no record of her reservation on the Air Canada flight I had been expecting, nor any other flight back that day. He did locate her original flight out of Edmonton, but nothing returning. He suggested it might be another airline, so I tried several others. No one had a record of Amaya’s reservation, or any information on a flight leaving Toronto at the time Amaya had been scheduled to leave. Now I was really concerned. What airline had they booked this flight on?

A few minutes later an even more hysterical Amaya called me back. The person she had spoken with at Lone Eagle had been cold and unsympathetic and told her that it was her fault she had missed the flight, and she was on her own now. I was appalled. They would actually abandon my daughter in Toronto because she had missed her flight?

I reassured Amaya that there was no way I was leaving her in Toronto, and told her I would contact the Popstars people immediately. I called the main number, and spoke with the same cold, unsympathetic receptionist. She advised that the Popstars driver had been at the hotel, had knocked at the door and since Amaya had not answered, it was her own fault that she missed the plane. They considered themselves absolved of all further responsibility. I asked if anyone had bothered to enter the room and wake her, and she stated that a knock on the door was enough. I asked why they had not called me, her mother (since she is considered a minor in Ontario). She just reiterated that they had provided the flight and a driver and that was the end of their responsibility.

By now I was seeing red. I demanded to speak to Rachel Horvath, associate producer. “Sorry, she”‘s at the bootcamp rehearsal” was the response. I asked who else I could speak with, and the answer was “they are all at bootcamp, sorry”. I was trying to stay polite, well aware that my daughter’s fate in Toronto depended on the whim of these people, and I insisted that something had to be done. I told her that I had a hysterical youngster in a hotel room, desperate to come home. I pointed out that *I* had not sent her to Toronto, Lone Eagle had. Therefore they were responsible to do everything within their power to make sure she made it back home safely. She insisted that it was Amaya’s fault for not waking up. I pointed out that the whole premise of their show was to bring young people to Toronto to crush their dreams and play with their emotions and desires for success. What did they expect after cutting them? That these kids would be happy and smile and wait for the plane to take them home? Amaya was upset, and in her emotional turmoil had overslept. So that justified Lone Eagle abandoning her to her fate in Toronto?

Finally she agreed to try to contact someone at bootcamp and said she would call back. I called Amaya, who had calmed down somewhat. I reassured her that I was doing everything I could and that there was no way she would be left in Toronto, even if she had to stay another day. At this she started crying again, pleading with me to just get her out of there… she just could not bear being there another moment. She didn’t say it but I think she was dreading when all the other contestants arrived back at the hotel from bootcamp to find her still there.

Minutes ticked by. It was getting close to 4:30 Toronto time and I had not yet heard back from Popstars. So I picked up the phone and called again. This time the receptionist advised that she had spoken with the producers and they would agree to arrange a flight for Amaya if I paid $200 for it.

At this point I had had enough. Lone Eagle Entertainment was making hundreds of thousands of dollars off the back of the young hopefuls they were exploiting as free actors on their “reality” TV show. And they were going to demand money from me to bring my daughter back home after they had “crushed her dreams”? I was doing a slow burn…really wanting to take a strip off this girl, yet trying to remain calm. My daughter was thousands of miles away, after all, and I was depending on the Popstars people to get her home. I firmly told her that I had no money, and stated in no uncertain terms, that it was Lone Eagle’s responsibility to return my daughter safely back to Edmonton. She finally said she would go and talk to the producers again.

I called Amaya back to let her know what had transpired. I asked if she was packed and ready to go and she assured me she was. I told her to just sit tight and wait, that I would make sure they sent her home that evening.

When I told others this story afterwards, they suggested that I should have threatened to involve the media. I did not think of it at the time, but certainly Lone Eagle would not have been eager to have any bad publicity – a media release that revealed their callous willingness to abandon a young girl they had cut from Popstars in Toronto would have certainly had the desired effect.

Finally, at around 5 PM Toronto time, Lone Eagle called me back. The producers had booked another flight and would pick Amaya up at the hotel and take her to the airport within the hour. I thanked them and advised that I would call Amaya and make sure she remained waiting in the lobby.

An hour later Amaya called me from the airport. Her flight was due to leave two hours later, to arrive in Edmonton shortly before midnight. However, a year earlier when coming home, Amaya had missed a plane by minutes, watching it take off from the loading gate…so I knew we were not out of the woods yet.

Next week:
Conclusion & Reflections on the Popstar Experience

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.