ABC's American Inventor
David Mumpower auditioned for American Inventor. Here is his story:
Did you miss the opportunity to audition for ABC’s new show, American Inventor? Have no fear, here’s the low-down, its trials and tribulations.
Having found out that Chicago would hold auditions for the show, I made the 5-hour trek north believing I had the next great invention. Oh, if I only knew what awaited me! In addition to running into a “snow storm” driving into Chicago, (all hotels downtown were full), so I found myself 30 miles out of downtown Chicago. Auditions were to be held at the Navy Pier the following day 8am sharp. So, up and out by 6am, scraping the snow off the ‘ol car, I’m off to the Navy Pier.
Reality #1. When they say be there by 8am, that means come hours earlier then everybody else! I found myself towards the back of the line of the estimated +500 inventors already there for hours. (if ever there was a case for “the early bird catches the worm”…. this was it!)
Nearly 12 hours later, I’m very close now to having my 2 minutes of fame before the judges. Being tired, hungry and exhausted aren’t the qualities to have before your “big moment”…but this was a competition.
So in addition to possessing the next great invention, as each of us believed, you also needed stamina, strength, and fortitude to preserve for your big 2-minute moment. (each inventor being given 2 minutes before the judges filmed) Luckily for me, my invention wasn’t portable to Chicago, so my invention was presented via videotape and hopefully my magnetic personality would win the day. Must have worked, because many weeks later I was notified that I was selected as a “semi-finalist” to come out to LA and make another presentation.
Oh the joy! Oh the excitement! I’m in the running for the 1 million dollars advance to be given to the inventor who America chooses at the final show. The tendency to jump ahead and imagine how you will look on TV before millions…. presenting your invention…thanking your mother and father…giving the academy awards of acceptance speeches…what’s the saying?…..”don’t count your chickens before they hatch”?….
Forward to LA. Land of Hollywood. 250 “semi-finalist” from 7 cities have been flown in. I’m there for the 3 days with the “Chicago group”. How many were there from St. Louis? I met just one other.
Now your thinking that if ABC took the time to fly us out there, put us up in a nice hotel and provided us a meal per-deim, certainly, after that expense, we would be given more then 2 minutes to present our inventions, correct? You would be wrong. Instructions of our time before the judges were clear. Two minutes tops.
After being shuttled to a “secret location”, I would experience dejavu all over again. Hours and hours would pass before my time before the judges. In the meantime, camera crews would film nearly our every move. Some inventions/inventors would be spotlighted. Some were funny, some were good, and some were strange, like some of the inventors themselves. This was a gathering of the weird, the wacky, and the wonderful inventive creative juices of America. Any attempt to make sense of this consortium would just lead into further madness.
As some of the inventors who had made their presentations came back, it became apparent that this may not be the proper framework for presenting inventions I was hoping for. I witnessed grown men crying, hysterics and angry rebuttals to their inventions being given a “no”. Understandable, as inventors have serious emotional and financial ties to their inventions. Much like parent-child relationships, and what parent wants to be told that junior isn’t quite making the grade?
I think it helps to understand what American Inventor was going after here. Easily instant “marketable and show stopping clever items” that would not only show the genius of invention, but also lets sprinkle in an “intriguing inventor” with “TV presence” for added measure. You can never have enough TV show ratings. “Can we get a 30 share rating, showing the odd, the funny, and the strange?” “Yes?” “Let’s go for it!”
The answer lies in the enormous popularity of American Idol “outtake auditions”. We enjoy seeing the weird, the wacky, the drama, the crying, of rejected contestants. Yes, we root for the truly talented to advance, but oh how we love seeing the dejected and the rejected. Makes the journey to the final outcome seem more fun along the way. As the show’s Executive Producer is Simon Cowell of American Idol fame, that should have been our first clue. Why tamper with proven success?
Having received my “almost obligatory no” from the panel of judges, I at least preserved my dignity by not crying or delving into hysterics before the camera. They weren’t going to get the “high drama” display of emotions from me, no sir! I would maintain my cool and collective exterior. Surprisingly, they liked my demure. Matt Gallant, the show’s host, responded during my exit interview from the judges, “I like this guy”! Asked if I was “over it” by Matt, I responded, “I’m over it already”.
Did I feel disappointment that my invention wasn’t selected? That I would fly back to St. Louis with that “resounding no” still ringing in my ears? That my shot at a million dollars just slipped through my fingers? Sure, but the adventure of auditioning in Chicago and flying out to LA, partaking in all this craziness, was fun and enlightening. I personally can’t wait to watch the show’s premier on March 16 on ABC 8-10pm ET. I just might see myself get rejected and I’ll be watching and laughing.
Invention City Founder Mike Marks shares his thoughts on the first episode:
When I first heard about American Inventor I thought it would traffic in humiliation and go out of its way to emphasize wackiness.
I am pleased to have been mostly wrong on those counts. At the same time I was angered by something I didn't foresee but should have. The show presented a somewhat positively biased cross-section of what a visitor to an invention trade show would see. At a real invention show there are actually more toilet related inventions than were shown on TV and far fewer inventions that have real commercial potential. The slight positive bias was a good thing for inventors. The truth is a little worse than what was shown. Inventors can be aggravatingly immune to reality, pigheaded is one word for it, and heartbreakingly, both emotionally and economically, committed to ideas that are destined to fail. It's hard to tell someone who has spent five to ten years and mortgaged his or her house and borrowed from family and friends that their idea of a lifetime is lame. But it's also annoying as hell to have someone waste even minutes of time presenting an undeveloped idea that is clearly worthless. Yes, there was some humiliation, and a little extra emphasis on wackiness (unfortunately not all that much extra) but, on balance, the judges did a good job of responding to the inventors with appropriate empathy and frustration.
Just to be clear on where I stand, I've actually met guys like Space Beetleman and enjoy and respect them. Space Beetle Utopia is a nutty idea that won't sell at Wal-Mart or anywhere else I can think of... BUT it was well executed and his presentation was outstanding. I won't say he's a credit to inventors but his creativity, energy, drive and focus are things that successful inventors should embrace... albeit with better ideas.
Now for what really truly deeply angered me. There was an inventor named Evan Lowenstein who is one half of the singing duo Evan & Jaron. Mr. Lowenstein's invention, a new-fangled covered ash tray for nuts isn't a terrible idea, it's simply not a terribly good one. I am certain that if Mr. Lowenstein had been an average looking unknown inventor with no singing talent that his invention would have been turned down. Judge Doug Hall, the one judge with a meaningful background in the field of inventing, had the integrity to vote against Mr. Lowenstein's invention. The other three fawned over Mr. Lowenstein as if they were teenage boys meeting the Playmate of the Month. It was disgusting and unfair. What really galls me is that someone with a better invention lost the opportunity in favor of someone who doesn't deserve it or need it.
The other unfortunate thing about the contest is that some of the inventions have real merit, but they do not have merit for the consumer market which is the focus of the contest. For example, the sandbag scoop offers a meaningful improvement over current technology. If appropriate attention is given to this invention I am sure it will find its way to success (assuming prior art doesn't knock out any patent potential). It's probably the most worthwhile invention I saw in Episode One but since it's not a consumer product it's unlikely to be the ultimate winner. Still, the publicity from the show should be a big help in securing a decent licensing deal for the inventor. I hope so. He deserves it.
I guess the bottom line is that the show is a great showcase. $50,000 for development is a lot for a garage inventor but low for true professionals $200,000 would be a more accurate cost for fully developing a new product from a relatively simple crude prototype (engineering for production, industrial design, packaging, patents). The $1,000,000 is probably pretty fair for selling out the rights to a consumer product invention that has great potential (one where royalties over the lifespan could be $10 million or more). Keep in mind that cash today carries no risk... so $1 million instead of royalties doesn't sound bad at all.
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