Game-show pro

Michael Duch

PHOTO courtesy of Michael Duch

Michael Duch may not have been selected from the hundreds of America’s Got Talent auditioners in Santa Clara earlier this month, but the longtime Butte College custodian was chosen for another impromptu role. “I wore a rather shiny shirt,” he said. “I told the producers I wanted to wear something that would reflect well on me … and they put me together with a professional stand-up comic from the Bay Area named Joe. They mic’d us up, and filmed us for a half hour. We gabbed about the other contestants, and did extemporaneous blurbs and promos for the show. Who knows? Maybe a few nanoseconds of that footage might make it onto the broadcast this summer.” Duch is a former broadcast journalist and paramedic. Fifteen years ago he appeared on the quiz show Win Ben Stein’s Money. “I tied that erudite polymath in the ‘Best of 10 Test of Knowledge,’” Duch said, “becoming a temporary local mini-celebrity.” Since then he’s appeared in numerous Chico theater productions, with such roles as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Duch described those experiences as “ranking high on his list of wonderful hours spent performing.”

Why did you decide to audition for AGT?

With the exception of occasional karaoke nights spent belting out Josh Groban tunes and Broadway songs, I haven’t been able to scratch my performance itch for the last few years, due to a shift change at my job. Since I just turned 59, I figured, “Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained,” so I signed up online, drove for four hours down to the South Bay, and joined hundreds of other hopefuls in what turned out to be a well-organized and entertaining cattle call.

What song did you sing?

I sang a rather heartfelt rendition of “Cry” by Johnnie Ray. It’s one of my British mother’s favorite tunes. She still remembers seeing him live in England in the 1950s, and fondly recalls that he gave her a rose. Alas, the producer who actually judged the set of auditions that I participated in was rather young. I don’t think old crooner tunes were in her wheelhouse, as I didn’t advance beyond the first round.

What was the experience like?

I had a blast. It was so fun seeing the multiplicity of talent in the room—everything from Polynesian dancers to a guy in a Don Quixote outfit who thought he was the next Pavarotti, but actually sounded more like a moose giving birth to a hedgehog. And yes, I’m going back to AGT next year. I want to sing in front of Howard Stern.

How does it compare to being on Win Ben Stein’s Money?

Much less pressure, for one thing. I was as cool as the far side of the pillow for AGT, as I’d tried out for many shows in the past. But Win Ben Stein’s Money was in real-time, and I had to use every erg of cognitive acumen that I had to beat the other contestants, and take on that perspicacious Pepperdine pedagogue in the end. Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t walk down Main Street for a month after that show aired without being recognized. It was a heady experience for a little ol’ custodian from Butte College.