Cole Manson is so serious about air guitar, he was willing to bleed for the national title. But even a self-inflicted head wound wasn’t enough for Whistler’s reigning air guitar champ to win Canada’s first national competition in Toronto on Friday night.
Manson (aka Johny Utah) lost by just .1 — a margin as thin as an air guitar string — to Toronto hometown favourite, Tim Evans (a.k.a. Glenn Airy Glen Ross).
Despite the score, Manson believes he should be the one wearing Canada’s air crown.
“The crowd kept telling me that I was robbed, that I should have won. And I was getting sick of hearing it. If I had a dollar from everyone who told me that… even the winner came up to me and said he was surprised.”
Manson said two of the three judges also told him he deserved the national title.
One of the judges, Cam Carpenter, admitted he thought Manson was the best. “The scores are the scores… He got my only perfect score of the night.”
Three regional finalists from Quebec and Ontario joined Manson, B.C.’s representative, to compete in front of a packed Toronto club for the chance to represent Canada at the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland in September.
A Dark Horse round before the finalists competed allowed random air shredders to vie for a spot in the competition. As in other competitions, contestants must mime guitar playing to two songs, one they choose, the other chosen by organizers. The compulsory song is the same for all competitors. Judges rate them on originality, technique, stage charisma and “airness.”
Blood started oozing early on. Linda Morgan (aka Dame Air Guitar Goddess) took a nose dive off the stage — landing on her face and breaking her nose.
“I wanted an amazing finishing move… but I expected to fall on my feet,” said a stunned Morgan.
The move prompted chants of “break your nose” from the crowd and provided inspiration for Manson.
Technical difficulties plagued the competition, with an incompetent DJ miscuing at least three of the competitors, frustrating them and prompting heckles from the host. Manson’s first song was played incorrectly three times before he walked off the stage in a huff to speak with the DJ.
Despite using the same winning routine, to Metallica’s Damage Inc., Manson lacked the focus he showed in B.C., and his scores reflected it.
Manson blamed the DJ, but took some responsibility. “In the first round, I held back. I could have given some sweet moves.”
Still, heading in to the compulsory round, Manson was neck-and-neck with Toronto’s hometown favourite. Air guitar aficionados say this round is what separates the amateurs from the professionals. Competitors got one listen of the mystery song and just six minutes to prepare a routine to a piece no competitor expected: Michael Jackson’s Beat It.
Toronto’s Evans, draped in several of his notorious ties, had the crowd eating out of his hand, with his hot air roadie fiancée. His stage dive into a sea of supporters was thrilling and impressed the judges.
Manson was the final performer and before he went on stage boasted to fellow competitor, Paul Kingston, “I’m going to show you some new shit that you’ve never seen any competitor do.”
Manson had canvassed several young women to act as air groupies and started his act signing air autographs for them. Dressed in a fringed white leather jacket, over his standard jeans and black T-shirt, Manson wowed the crowd by running up the side of a stage wall Spider-Man style. He thrashed around, showcasing his athletic strength, his fingers in sync with the music. But when he smashed a beer bottle over his head into pieces, near pandemonium broke out. Blood dripped down his head, neck and jacket.
Why the beer bottle? “That chick took a nose dive and broke her nose. If the crowd wants blood, I’ll give them blood,” said Manson.
But blood wasn’t enough for air guitar glory.
“Utah's compulsory song performance was spectacular,” said Evans, the surprised winner. “He's a fantastic talent. The beer bottle was particularly nuts and awesome.”
Manson believes the hometown influenced the scores. “The winner didn’t move his left hand. His technical air guitaring was inferior. That’s what the judges were telling me. He had his friends. But they’re not going to be there in Finland.”
“He’ll go to Finland and make a mess. That’s why I’ll go and show them how it’s done.”
Manson and third-place finisher Kingston are planning to head to Finland anyway — to enter the Dark Horse round at the world competition.
Without sponsorship, Manson is counting on flight credits and Whistler to get him across the Atlantic.
“I’ll throw a party when I get home as a fundraiser. Whistler will represent.”
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