After yesterday's cardboard boat races ended, I was one of a small crowd of people gathered in front of the main stage awaiting the announcement of the winners. Suddenly, a pretty young woman was on stage. Emcee Anthony Coates introduced her as Amy and announced she was going to be on American Idol. But when he asked her to sing, she said we'd have to watch the show.
"Call in and vote as much as you can," she said, smiling to the applause and cheers of the crowd.
A contestant in American Idol from Riverhead? This was obviously big news. I made my way to the front of the stage to speak to her. I introduced myself and asked for an interview.
She shot a look at the man standing next to her. She looked scared.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "Where are you from?" He looked to be in his mid-60s, on the heavier side, with blue eyes and a white beard. I wondered if he was her father.
"I just wanted to get an interview for our local news website, RiverheadLOCAL.com," I replied. "A hometown girl on American Idol - people will want to support her."
He looked around, then agreed. "We need to do it where there won't be any distractions, though. And I need to be present to hear what she says."
We walked over to the grounds of the East End Arts Council, away from the blaring loudspeakers near the stage. I overheard him saying quietly to her, "This is the first step on your way to stardom. You need to make a positive impression for the press. You need to think and act like a star. Just do what I say." Red flag number one went up.
The man and I sat down on a bench. Amy stood in front of us, looking very nervous.
"This is her first interview," he explained. "She's very nervous. We're trying to see how she is in front of people — that's why I brought her here today."
"Right," I said, and turned to Amy. It made sense to me - maybe she was just coming to grips with being on national television. I asked for their names. Amy turned out to be Amy Wesolowski, a 2005 graduate of Riverhead High School, she said. The man who said he was her agent refused to identify himself. Red flag number two.
"If I tell you who I am, there will be droves of people asking for my autograph," he said quietly, looking me in the eye as he spoke. "Let's just say you'd know who I am if I told you. This story is about Amy, not about me." I thought this was odd, but pressed on.
|This picture, submitted to RiverheadLOCAL by Teresa Divan, is a photo of the man that Amy and I spoke to Sunday who claimed to be Mike Love. This man presented himself to Divan as a member of the Beach Boys as well.|
As I conducted my interview with Amy, asking her about her past performing experience - which turned out to be limited to dancing school recitals - the man kept gesturing for me to turn off my voice recorder so he could tell her what to say. Red flag number three.
He refused to speak on the recorder, insisting that people would recognize his voice, even though I assured him that we never publish recordings and use them only for reference.
"You can't tell anyone I'm here," he kept saying. Though he wouldn't provide his name, he kept dropping hints at what a big star he was, at one point even telling me he was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He dropped a lot of celebrity names, and made reference to his $15 million divorce.
When I started to ask questions about the American Idol audition process itself, knowing people would be interested in what the actual experience was like, he gestured once more for me to turn off my recorder.
His demeanor changed and he stared at me. "I'm going to tell you this because you keep asking questions about it, but I'll sue you if you print any of it," he said. Red flag number four.
"American Idol is fake," the man said. "None of the public get into the auditions. You need to know someone - someone like me - to get you in to see the producers.
"They pick the winner right away," he explained. "You only need to make it to the Top 40, and everyone in it wins $1 million. They only want people that will get them views - pretty people, attractive people - and then they'll make their voices sound good to fit the show.
"So don't ask about the audition process," he told me. "She got right in. The producers took one look at her - and I mean, look at her, she's beautiful, she's not overweight, she's got a pretty smile - and they let her right in."
He kept talking about Amy's good looks, in a way that creeped me out. Several times, for instance, he made mention of how he would never demand sexual favors in exchange for his professional assistance, the way many agents do.
He hardly let Amy speak at all, except for when he suddenly demanded that she sing something for us.
"I don't know," she said nervously. "What do you want me to sing?"
"Anything," he said, "anything you want."
She eked out a few notes of "Amazing Grace." She had no voice. It was shaky and small, and certainly not American Idol material. She couldn't even hit all the notes.
"It's fine, it's fine," the man said. "They'll make your voice sound good on TV. You're so pretty; you won't have a problem."
At the end of the interview, he identified himself as "the lead singer of the Beach Boys." He said he had to get going because he was performing at Jones Beach that evening. He made me promise once more not to tell anyone that he was in the area.
I mentioned that we would have the story up by the next day and gave them both my card. "I know what RiverheadLOCAL is," the man said, smiling. "I check it every day. It's how I find out what's going on in the area."
The lead singer of the Beach Boys checking RiverheadLOCAL every day? Red flag number — I've lost count. I asked for their phone numbers in case I had any follow-up questions. Amy gave me hers, and, after waving his hand at my recorder until I turned it off again, he gave me his. It had a 631 area code. OK, something was definitely fishy.
After returning home, I called Amy in the hopes of talking to her about her American Idol audition without her "agent" telling her what to say. But he was still with her; I heard him in the background, telling her how to respond.
An hour later, I noticed several missed calls from Amy's number on my phone. I called her back.
"You can't print that story," she said when she answered the phone. She sounded very distraught — close to tears, even. "I'm not going to American Idol. I've never sang in my life. I don't even know who that guy is - I just met him today. He was a total creep."
As she calmed down, she told me about how she had been at the Cardboard Boat Race helping her friend sell raffle tickets for a rowing club. She saw the man speaking to her friend and her friend's mother, who told Amy he was Mike Love.
The man immediately took a liking to her, she said. He told her she had a pretty smile and he could make her famous. He told her American Idol was staged, and if she had a pretty face they could enhance her voice on television. She was excited and flattered, she said, and she believed him.
"I thought he could really get me on the show," she told me, her voice shaking. "He says, 'OK, are you good in front of people?' I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' He was like, 'This is your first test then. You're going to tell all these people that you got into American Idol.'
"And then before I knew what was happening, he was talking to the emcee and I was up on stage and they were telling everyone I had gotten in," she explained. She sounded very upset. "What was I supposed to do?"
She said she felt intimidated by the man, both before she found herself thrust onto the stage and afterward, during our interview. She said she was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the lies the man was telling me, but she didn't know what to do.
"He told me he was Mike Love," she said, "but none of it's true." When she got home and told her parents what had happened, they "started freaking out."
She went online and searched for pictures of Mike Love. "He doesn't look like that guy at all," she said, begging me not to publish a story about her.
While my editor/mother and I were still discussing how to handle this story, the weekly newspaper posted a story on its website, complete with a video snippet: "Riverhead woman announces she'll be on American Idol."
Amy called me again, this time in tears. She said she had asked the paper to take the story down. I put my mom on the phone. She explained to Amy that the paper had the right to report what she'd said in a public forum. Amy was still asking us not to write a story about what had happened, though. We told her we intended to investigate it further before writing anything.
[Editor's note: An attorney for Mike Love told RiverheadLOCAL Monday while he did not know for sure, "it is highly unlikely that Mr. Love was at the event or had any involvement in this incident." The attorney said he forwarded our inquiry on to an agent for the performer.]
It seems pretty clear the man on the riverfront was a scam artist, telling tall tales to a pretty young woman — but for what purpose? That's the creepy part.
I could see how Amy might have believed him at first. Call me a gullible young girl, but I could see myself being taken in by him and, after having my name announced by the emcee, maybe going along with it too.
I could also see how she was intimidated by him. I found him intimidating too. He was simultaneously charismatic and threatening. If he was who he said he was, then I was speaking to a superstar. And if he wasn't — like the little voice in my head kept telling me — well, that was even scarier to think about.
We decided the "back story" of this episode was just as interesting and important as the straight news story of a young woman who falsely announces at a town event she's going to be on American Idol next season, which understandably gives rise to speculation about why she did it. I thought by writing this blog I could shed some light on what happened by telling what I witnessed yesterday. (Amy has consented to my publishing it.)
Who was that man and what did he want? We may never know — unless he makes good on his promise to sue us if I published what he said. [Editor's note: Bring it on, buster.]
Katie Blasl is a journalism student at Stony Brook University (Class of 2014) and a reporter/web designer/video editor/all-around lackey at RiverheadLOCAL.com. She is the daughter of RiverheadLOCAL publishers Denise Civiletti and Peter Blasl, and a 2010 graduate of Riverhead High School.