Five seconds of fame
“This is the most conservative I’ve looked for a while,” James Mohr said apologetically at the start of this interview. He’d been job hunting, and his trademark mohawk was shorn to a respectable buzz. Fortunately, the large silver ring in his nose helped maintain his image. A recent graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Mohr is probably best known as Genetic James of the musical duo Life is Bonkers—a band that’s part punk, part new wave and part “What the heck are those boys doing up there?” Once a prominent local act, the band has been oddly quiet these days. Well, unless you count the fact that Mohr was seen singing a Bonkers song on American Idol a few weeks ago. Read on to find out how Simon Cowell reacted to Sacramento’s own Genetic James.
What happened at the American Idol audition?
The entire process took four days. I arrived at the Cow Palace at 4 a.m. on the morning of the sign-ups, and there were already thousands of people there. That was really intimidating. I didn’t really know what was happening at first. I had my mohawk up, and I was waiting in line, and I got pulled out by two people with a video camera. There were lots of news reporters there. They asked me about my mohawk and if I could see myself on stage with Kelly Clarkson. I gave them the answers they wanted to hear: “Yeah, I totally want to be the next American Idol!”
Are you a fan of the show?
No. I’d never seen it before. After the interview, I said, “Who are you guys with?” They said, “We’re with Idol.” So, I thought, “Something might happen here.” At the first audition, thousands of people got rejected.
Were you in front of the celebrities at that time?
No. In the middle of the Cow Palace there’s a bunch of tables, and people line up four at a time. The judges just point to them and go, “Sing! Sing! Sing! Sing!” I’d say about all but 5 percent get rejected at that time. I was really lucky. They’re looking for the very best people—because there are hundreds of people there who can sing fantastically and still get rejected—or for people who are weird and will make good TV. I was in that group.
How many auditions are there?
After the audition where all but 5 percent get rejected, there’s another where maybe half of those get rejected. On the fourth day, maybe only a couple of hundred get to see the celebrity judges.
What did you sing?
I did the Boy George song “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” in the first auditions, but I got a vibe that I’d have a better chance of being on TV if I did something outrageous in front of the celebrities. So, I walked in, and I had my mohawk up and these motorcycle pants I’d bought. They’re just crazy-looking.
Were you nervous in front of the celebrity judges?
I promised myself I would strut in and not be intimidated. [Seated] left to right, it was Randy Jackson, Brandy, Paula Abdul and Simon. So, it was surreal, but I just strutted in and said, “How y’all doin'?” And right away Randy’s like, “Whoa! He’s got a look!”
Brandy says, “We hear you go by an alias.” And I said, “Yeah, Genetic James.” So, I tell them that story, and then I sing. I’m doing a punk song by my band a cappella. I actually get through a couple of verses and choruses, and then Simon puts up his hand to stop.
Simon says, “You don’t seem to take this competition very seriously.” And I said, “Yeah, I do. I want to be the first punk-rock American Idol.” Then Paula says, “You seem angry about something.” And I said, “Not at you guys.”
So, then I sang “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” Then they all have to say yes or no to you. So, Paula says no, and then Simon says, “I think he’s going to be an accountant in four years.” He rejected me, but he wasn’t as harsh on me as he is on some of the others. I think he knew I just thought this was a joke.
Then Randy said, “I’m kind of on the fence about this guy, but no.” He said he liked my look and I should go into fashion. Then Brandy said, “James, this is the first time today I don’t feel bad about saying this. No.” Then it was over.
Did you know you would be on TV?
No. Months later, I watched it with my parents and my brother. I didn’t want to get my friends together in case I wasn’t on and it was a big disappointing party. It was just five seconds of me going "Rah! Rah! Rah!" [pumps fist in the air]. They edited the judges’ reactions to make it look like they were more offended by me than they were, but I didn’t care. I was on TV, and it was funny. And I might be on later in the season on the reject show. You never know.