On the 52nd floor of the tallest building in Tokyo Isabella holds her face in her hands in desperation. She tells me that my choice of vocabulary is “brutto” and that I’m speaking Italian like a butcher. I refute her criticism saying that I’m speaking not like a butcher but a New Yorker. She rolls her eyes and adds that this is the first time she has met someone who not only manages to butcher the Italian language but also speak it with the accent of the Spanish ambassador’s wife. I tell her that in that case, I shouldn’t have hired a Sicilian snob for a teacher. This is just another Italian lesson with my teacher Isabella, and a daily occurrence in my life at the moment as I endeavor to learn Italian in two months. Starting in October I will be putting my new language skills to the test on live television as a judge on Italian X Factor. If that isn’t motivation enough to learn a language then fuck it, nothing is.
After performing on X Factor for the third time last December, I was asked backstage by a very excited producer if I would ever consider judging on the show. I laughed and thought she was joking, or completely crazy, I wasn’t sure. As it turned out, she was serious and at the beginning of the year, to the astonishment of my management I accepted her offer. My managers could not believe that I was going to judge on a talent show (a position that I had recently turned down in other countries) and that I was going to do it in Italian! My reasons were simple. Over the past few years I have become closer to Italy in my work and have spent much of my time off there. Italian X Factor, felt more un-hinged and less controlled than any other show of its type. In my opinion it fits into the tradition of talent and songwriting competitions that have been part of Italian popular culture since the late 40s. Also I would get to learn Italian, with a deadline. For those reasons I have thrown myself into this crazy challenge and this is why my 24 year old teacher is traveling with me as I continue to tour around the world.
How will this all turn out? I have no idea, but I do know that I intend to enjoy it as much as possible. It’s a bit like a roller coaster ride. At the moment I’m on that really boring bit where you are being pulled up to the top of the ride and are terrified of what’s to come but you still want to keep going. The endless vocabulary and grammar lessons leave my head feeling like its been squeezed between the legs of a sumo wrestler and I have started to hate the one person most important to this challenge, Isabella. Last night, in a moment of jet-lagged terror, I had a nightmare. I dreamt of the hotel lobby we had been in the day before in Jakarta. There were a group of noisy Indonesian children running around. The nanny started to scream at them in German and they froze as did I when she turned around only to be Simona Ventura. She made the most glamorous nanny I have ever seen, with perfect hair, Prada from head to toe and diamonds on her neck and ears. She spoke to me in German and I kept telling her in Spanish that I couldn’t understand. I think I’m loosing my mind. And of all people, Simona was the nicest to me on set and the one judge that I spoke the most with.
I don’t want to speak Italian like a brute. I hope to speak it well. Isabella assures me that I have a chance of succeeding without sounding like the Spanish ambassador’s wife, whatever that means.