NEW YORK – An adolescence spent leaping around the bedroom pretending to play guitar to Van Halen (search) will finally pay off for one wannabe rock star.
The first annual U.S. Air Guitar Championships (search) in Los Angeles will pit the best of the West against the air beast of the East on June 28. On the line is a trip to Finland to compete in the World Air Guitar Championships (search) Aug. 29.
Taking unplugged to a whole other level, air guitarists strum imaginary instruments with gusto, pounding around the stage and flinging sweat into the crowd.
“I’ve been practicing my whole life,” said David Jung (aka "C-Diddy"), from Brooklyn, N.Y., backstage before the East Coast Championship. “This is where people begin in rock. It all starts with air.”
Hundreds of spectators came out to the Pussycat Lounge in Manhattan for the East Coast show earlier this month. The contest consisted of two parts: In the first round contestants "played" the song of their choice and in the second round finalists cranked out a surprise song chosen by organizers.
To make it to the finals, song choice is crucial. One contestant who chose pop tart Avril Lavigne's (search) "Sk8ter Boi" was booed off stage, while classic anthems by AC/DC and the Clash were met with head-banging approval.
Lucy Alibar, 21, from Monticello, Fla., chose “Rock Star” by Hole, reasoning, “It makes me jump around." Wearing knee-high argyle socks, a shredded T-shirt and pigtails, she eyed one competitor before the show. “I’m a little worried about C-Diddy,” she said.
“This is not a contest, it’s a demonstration of my air supremacy,” C-Diddy said backstage.
Alibar’s performance was high-spirited, but her fears proved weighty when C-Diddy took the stage.
Donning a Samurai headscarf and red kimono — under which a Hello Kitty breastplate smiled — he leapt on stage and whipped up the crowd with his self-described “Asian fury” in a performance he called an homage to “Eddie Van Halen, Mozart and a little bit of Jimi.”
Jung’s facial expressions, unparalleled energy and ensemble made him a crowd favorite and he was crowned winner, moving on to the nationals.
While contestants like Jung put effort into their look — teasing up hair into a Poison-esque poof, or bringing props like an empty guitar case — one former World Air Guitar Championship contestant said purists rule.
“I've always been a little skeptical of those who put together a whole stage persona,” said Liam Denning, of London, in an e-mail interview. "The thing any performer needs is a real sense of the ridiculousness of the whole thing. ... It isn't the technique or the packaging that does it for me, it's the sense of humor that you can convey to the audience.”
Denning, 28, and some friends competed in the Finnish festival twice, playing as an “air band.”
“We were all attracted by the sheer idiocy of the thing,” he said. “Air guitar is the classic pursuit for the average 25-year-old who doesn't really know what he's doing with his life but feels there has to be more to life than the office.”
Air Guitar World Championships is part of the Oulu Music Video Festival (search) in Finland, where national champions from Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Austria, The Netherlands and America compete. Ironically, the winner is awarded an electric guitar.
“Last year, we had 3,500 people in the audience when [British contestant] Zac Monro won for the second time in a row,” Hanna Jakku, a producer of the Oulu Music Video Festival, said in an e-mail.
If he wins nationals in Los Angeles, C-Diddy will again be performing his signature move, which he called “the arpeggio hammer-sweep: a combination of rapid finger movements going up and down my arm like playing scales," in hopes of taking the world title.
But Denning said taking air too seriously goes against the spirit of the competition.
“Other contestants might tell you that you need a certain flair and physical dexterity to compete, but that's all bollocks,” he said. “The key is a supreme sense of just how absurd life can get and drinking all the contents of the mini-bar 20 minutes before you go on stage.”