Last week’s Air Guitar Regional showdown was a lesson in tight strumming and far-reaching chords, demonstrating the result of blood-and-sweat jam sessions sans an actual guitar. New York’s Knitting Factory hosted contestants from across the country who competed for a spot to the US Air Guitar Finals on June 06. The winner will then be flown to Finland for the 11th World Championships in the Fall.
Upon arriving stage-side I caught a blur of hearty rocksters - some with capes, others in tights - unleashing raw finger-spelling to a mad cluster of supporters and gawkers. The contestants ranged from middle to under-age - the only female to enter was 16-year-old Octo-Girl who lashed out to the Power Rangers theme while draped in platform boots and Baskin-Robbins spoon earrings. Among others were Farley, a pudgy kid sporting rainbow-colored layers and hippie-themed shades who was complimented by a judge for the “ball stain” on his pants. Some went shirtless, while one guy rocked without pants to reveal his nude-colored spandex shorts. The crowd was wild and (for the most part) supportive towards every performer – including the girl who was pulled from the audience to give an impromptu performance for a can o’ beer.
Before long, the competition reached Round 2, the final elimination between five contestants set to a compulsory song – Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name”. Among the final contestants was a middle-aged man in a white tee tucked inside black leather pants, while another, scrawnier Potter-like guy wore a metallic spandex jumpsuit, ribbon belt and navy overcoat with matching doorman cap. Stage presence and air technique, however, were dominated by none other than Couch Potato (a pudgier Wilmer Valderrama in orange T and cowboy boots) and William Ocean (in hot pink alligator pants, wife-beater and glitter head-piece) who appropriately tied. When asked by a judge from the balcony what kind of Air guitar he played, Couch Potato mused that he had been “classically trained” in a program at the prestigious Juillard, while Ocean admitted that he played a triple-neck.
As the sudden death match approached, the host (last year’s regional winner, Dan “Bjorn Turoque” Crane) broke into his strat dance set to The Darkness’ “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, covering supreme square footage on-stage and showcasing moves to be coveted. Couch Potato was back on, followed by Ocean. The verdict was apparent and undeniable – Ocean had sealed the deal with his finale flip and smooth landing onto his shirtless back (ouch?). Once the result was official, “groupies” labeled with "W.O." shirts boarded the stage one-by-one , which eventually was filled with all participants, their groupies and judges air-mingling to “Thing Called Love”. Ocean became a bonafide rock star with the fanfare to match. For the in-the-closet air guitarist, times are a-changing. Be prepared, you may just have an audience.