I have a confession to make. I really enjoy The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search. Not ironically, mind you (that’s a whole other post). I really enjoy it.
My accidental enjoyment of this show began when I was flipping channels at my lady’s house, and curiosity got the better of me. “How would one go about a search for a singing, dancing, hot-pantsed, bartender?” After a few minutes, my lady sat right down next to me and proceeded to engage in a spirited discussion of the cultural impact of gender roles in television, which means we pretty much made fun of the whole thing.
In any case, it was one night out of my life, and I didn’t think it was something I’d ever revisit, much like the night I got loaded on Tequila Sunrises. But last week, I was sitting in one of my favorite bars, and the show was on the television, which is kind of funny because it’s not like doctors sit around watching ER. The sound was off but the jukebox was playing Aerosmith and Motorhead, so I barely noticed.
I realized my involvement with the show passed from ironic detachment to actual enjoyment when Sandra was chosen for the show during the Memphis audition and I suddenly yelled out “Oh come the fuck on, she was the worst one!” (Incidentally, I’m pretty sure this was some sort of affirmative action hire meant to heighten the “drama”, since Sandra is Latina and her partner on the show is Bri, an African-American, thereby setting up a “women of color” team to compete against all the other white girls, who dominate this show the way white guys dominate professional hockey).
Two things are immediately apparent: First, The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search is probably the most honest reality show on the air. First, the show’s website calls each girl a “character,” as if to openly acknowledge that what is going on here is so far from the real world that it might as well be on Venus.
Also, it’s refreshing that the show doesn’t bother with any lame catchphrase when it dismisses its “characters.” When someone’s asked to leave, they’re merely told “I’m letting you go” or “I’m cutting you.” I don’t even know what catchphrase would work in this situation. “Your shift is over?” “You’ve poured your last shot?” Or perhaps in keeping with the show’s titular conceit: “You’ve slept on my arm long enough. It’s time for me to gnaw it off.”
And I know this might make me sound naive, but there are no archetypes here. I think this is because the show only features women (with an occasional bar cameo by Drunk Dude Saying “Woo” While Pumping His Fist In The Air, who – again, just like in real life – is played by a different person each time). I went to a co-ed Catholic school, but the women I knew who went to all-girls schools would tell me that the girls there wouldn’t get (as your grandfather might say) “dolled up” and seemed less likely to fall into the prescribed societal roles. In the same way, there’s no “Bitch” or “Virgin” or “Femme Fatale” on the show. And again, this is a pretty homogeneous group so there’s only The Dark-Haired, Tall Bartender With Small Boobs, The Dark-Haired Short Bartender With Big Boobs, The Blond Bartender, The Bartender Who Wears the Hat, and so on.
Second, everyone takes what’s happening very seriously. No kidding, less effort went into picking our last Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The women making the decisions over who stays and who goes are Coyote Ugly franchise owner Lil Lovell and a choreographer (whose name escapes me at the moment). As my lady pointed out, it’s amazing to watch these two act and speak with such authority, as if they have introduced an entirely new paradigm into their chosen fields when their success is actually attributed to Jerry Bruckheimer picking his face up out of a mountain of coke and bellowing “Say, let’s make a movie about those broads from the bar last night who got me shit-faced on Wild Turkey.” *
Also, the approach Lil has vis a vis the show seems to suggest a highly-developed skillset. At least three times a show, she’ll say “What I’m really looking for is…” and you’re expecting some kind of nuanced explanation as to why only .001 percent of people are good enough for this gig, when inevitably she finishes the sentence with “…a good dancer, great bartending skills and a decent singer.” (Although apparently even all this isn’t crucial since Lil describes Sally from Nashville – someone who already works for a Coyote Ugly Saloon – as a bad dancer, and a bad bartender, but notes that she succeeds because she’s really nice).
With so little expected of these women, it’s a little off-putting at first to hear phrases from the prospective bartenders like “this has been my dream” or “I’ve looked forward to this my whole life.” Those words must sound particularly chilling to those with, say, ambition. But keep in mind these are mostly 22 year-old women, and what were your goals at 22? Not feeling so judgmental now, huh? These women are the children of a twisted sort of New Feminism, where shaking your ass on the top of a bar is considered empowerment (damn you, Spice Girls) even if it’s at a bar named after a description of women so ugly that their temporary romantic partner regrets sleeping with them.
But the most telling example of the papal-conclave-level of consideration given to this whole process comes during the auditions. Inevitably, the auditioner (current employees who, in the show’s parlance, are referred to by Lil as her “best Coyotes”) will say to an auditionee that she just don’t reach the “ultimate” level. So apparently there’s some Coyote Ugly triple-A league where one trains before getting the call-up. I am pretty sure I was at a bar like this in Kiel, Wisconsin once.
And the women nod, smile politely and then leave. But honestly, how soul-killing does that have to be?
“Sorry, you’re not good enough to dance on a bar, sing off-key renditions of jukebox classics and pour watered-down drinks in tourist traps. Guess you’re going to have to settle for that career in pharmaceutical sales.”
The thing of it is, being a good bartender is actually really hard. While I still think the show is “real,” the irony is that the audition process strips away the ones who would actually bartend at bars you’d want to patronize. From there, the women (though Lil is steadfast in calling them “girls”) are further sculpted until they fit a particular mold. I’ve been to a few chain bars in my life, and Fado is the only one that seems to get it right. Whereas Coyote Ugly Saloons are scripted movies, Fado bars are more like a Christopher Guest film, where the basic structure is there, then filled in with improv.
In any case, I’m hooked on this show and pulling for Bri’s team, despite my reservations above. Further bulletins as events warrant.
* OK, this probably didn’t happen. But it feels like it could have, right?