Product in hair, mic in hand, Brian Dunkleman and his co-host Ryan Seacrest stand before the thousands in the audience and the millions watching on television, prepared to announce your first ever American Idol.
Dunkleman in particular is pleased about this, though no one knows it yet, because Dunkleman knows that once the winner is announced, he’s getting the hell out of here. And you can kiss his ass, because you ain’t ever gonna see the Dunk Man again.
“The judges are ready to see you now,” offers the Production Assistant, looking stressed and impatient as PAs often do. “Go get ’em, Brian.”
“Actually,” says Brian Dunkleman, his domino mask and fake mustache securely in place. “It’s ‘Bryan.’ Bryan Dunklemon, Jr.”
“Go get ’em, Mister Junior.”
Brian Dunkleman takes a deep breath and walks through the double doors that lead him into a spacious room, where the judges sit with well-positioned Coca Cola products in front of them. They sit there like demigods, well-groomed and well-fed, ready to decide over the fates of countless scrubby hopefuls. Now, they’ll be judging one scrubby hopeful who is unlike the others.
Dunkleman, contestant 183106, isn’t just ready for his shot. He’s risking it all for his revenge.
“Well,” begins Simon, the mean judge, in that characteristic English drawl. “Let’s hear what you got, dawg.”
Randy, the hip judge known for his up-to-date street slang, shoots his colleague a look: wait, wha? “Yeah, dawg,” he mutters, trying to keep his composure. “Dawg.”
Taking his cue, Dunkleman launches into his audition song. He keeps time by tapping the basic rhythm on his thigh, but as he gains confidence with each nailed note, he begins swaying his hips into a little improvised samba. He’s rocking it. The Dunk Man feels alive.
Never made it as a blind man
Everytime I look at you, I go blind
This is how you remind me
Everytime I look at you, I go blind
And when he finishes, the three judges are visibly impressed. Dunkleman can tell, just by scanning their faces, which seemed blank and indifferent before, that he did well.
Frankly, it’s not that Dunkleman is a particularly great singer. He isn’t and he knows it. Yet somehow, his performance transfixes everyone in that room, himself included. Maybe it’s his confidence, boosted by his kickass dancing moves. Maybe it’s his manliness, boosted by his artificial lip hair. Maybe it’s his song choice, an all-time classic. Whatever it is, the judges clearly are attracted to it.
Randy is the first to speak. “Thanks, man,” he says. “That was really great.”
“And what did you say your name was?” asks Paula, the polite-but-forgettable judge.
“Bryan Dunklemon,” says Brian Dunkleman. “Jr.”
“Dunkles, dawggy dawg,” says Simon, needling his fellow judge with his sarcasm. Randy feels the tension, even if Paula is oblivious. “You have a name destined for greatness. Congratulations, you’re going to Hollywood.”
Dunkleman, for the first time in a long while, is pleased. If he plays his hand right, he just might be able to reclaim what is rightfully his.
Brian Dunkleman stares at his reflection in his dressing room mirror. Outside in the hallway, a bustle of commotion as various handlers and assistants scurry to prepare tonight’s results show. The results show is always a pleasing, if stressful, experience for Dunkleman because the focus is drawn a little bit more to the hosts, as opposed to the judges. There’s only four contestants left now, and as they get closer to picking the first American Idol, the buzz around the show, along with the viewership, continues to grow.
Right now, Dunkleman is focused on making sure each individual hair is exactly where it needs to be. When he is satisfied, he holds his arms out, as if to say to himself, “eyyy!”
At that moment, Dunkleman’s co-host, Ryan Seacrest, pops his head in the door. Dunkleman tries to look past Seacrest’s moon-sized pupils and grit teeth, but Seacrest’s jittery hands and uneasiness makes it difficult. “Ready for tonight, Ryan?”
“Yeah, man,” Seacrest says, completely gone. “Just trying to relax, you know?”
“You mind if I hang out in here ’til showtime?”
“What’s wrong with your dressing room?”
Seacrest says nothing. He moves the clutter of hairdryers and discarded neckties off of the couch and lies down.
“Ryan,” Dunkleman asks again, slowly. “What’s wrong with your dressing room?”
Suddenly, Seacrest is sobbing. “Brian, we’re friends, right?” Dunkleman isn’t sure what to say. His co-host’s behavior has always been a bit erratic, even from the beginning. Dunkleman didn’t mind, and neither did the network when they made their choice to hire both; in fact, they were picked in large part because of how well their personalities complemented each other. Seacrest’s nervy excitability seemed balanced by Dunkleman’s steadiness. It also helped that both men had backgrounds in hosting, Top 40 radio shows in LA for Seacrest and obscure cable game shows for Dunkleman, but their key difference lied in objective: to Dunkleman, hosting was a means to an end. He didn’t see himself doing this forever. He felt like his true talents lied in performing, not in being the guy introducing the performer. On the other hand, Seacrest was living the dream. He had wanted to be a television host for as long as he remembered, even back to when 6-year-old Ryan Seacrest would often act as master of ceremonies at family functions. Now that he has hit the big time — a network show in a prime-time spot that has been steadily gaining momentum — Seacrest has had difficulty keeping his life balanced. “I mean, you’d call me your friend, right?”
“Sure, Ryan, of course,” Dunkleman said, sitting on the arm of the couch and tapping his co-host’s leg. “I’d call you my friend.”
Seacrest, face full of tears running his stage makeup, looks directly at Dunkleman. “I killed again.”
“The loser from this week. The cast-off. She’s dead.”
The Dunk Man has survived all the way to the final two contestants. Improbably, he has made it to one of the biggest stages, in terms of viewership, in the world. He’s survived some bizarre theme nights, including a particularly challenging Yo-Yo Ma theme night. In fact, he’s done more than simply made it through; he’s flourished.
Throughout it all, Dunkleman has retained his simple domino mask and fake mustache, not only for his anonymity, but also for the charisma it seems to have. Even from early in the elimination process, fans have been quick to attach themselves to Bryan Dunklemon, Jr., supposedly from East Anchorage, and he’s been something of a sensation on the internet as well.
His placement is particularly unlikely because of the consistent reminder, week in and week out, that Dunkleman is simply an average singer, at best. Yet his placement in the top two is not a surge of ironic votes, nor is it a result of cheating from the show’s producers to get such an odd figure into a bigger spotlight. It has been Dunkleman’s unusual presence that has carried him, a certain unidentifiable star quality that seems to have come through.
Dunkleman would like to feel proud of this accomplishment, but, of course, it isn’t him that’s accomplishing anything. It is his disguise, his alter-ego, that people are celebrating. People are loving Bryan Dunklemon, Jr., the hot megastar with the Hall & Oates ‘stache and the Shakira shakes, not lowly Brian Dunkleman. But The Dunkaroo knows that when the moment of truth comes, and it’s approaching, the world had better be set for a cold dose of reality and to be reintroduced to the real Brian Dunkleman.
That moment is set for tonight. The results show.
It’s a few hours before the show is set to tape, and Dunkleman is cooling his heels on the set. Aside from a the crew preparing and setting up lights and equipment, the set is relatively quiet.
Then Seacrest struts through. “Bryan,” he exclaims. “There you are! I have been looking all over for you.” Seacrest looks like he owns the place with the way he carries himself. And in fact, in the years since Dunkleman has been gone, Seacrest pretty much has owned the place.
Throughout the process, Dunkleman has been careful to maintain his distance from Seacrest. Dunkleman’s plan may be relatively simple, but it’s also precise and for it to succeed, he cannot tip his hand to Seacrest before the right moment. And that moment is tonight.
Still, seeing him here on the stage, on the night of the results show, Dunkleman has a hard time keeping himself away.
“You know, buddy,” Seacrest begins, nestling down on the edge of the stage where Dunkleman sits. “I really think you’ve got it in the bag. I think you’re going to win.”
Dunkleman snorts. Of course I’m going to win, he thinks. I’m going to win because I need to take you down. “Thanks, that means a lot,” he says. “I think tonight you might also be getting a blast from the past.”
“What do you mean?” wonders Seacrest, genuinely curious.
“Let’s just say, I think there’s going to be some real fireworks at tonight’s show,” smirks Dunkleman, trying hard to be cryptic. “And I think those fireworks might come from someone you used to know.”
“I have no idea what you mean, Bryan Dunklemon, Jr,” says Seacrest. “But I’m wishing you the best!”
“I’ll never forget you, Brian Dunkleman,” says Ryan Seacrest, standing over a freshly-dug mass grave in the middle of the woods. “I’m eternally in your debt for this favor.”
Over the past month, Ryan Seacrest’s thirst for blood hasn’t shown any sign of stopping. Like clockwork, after every results show, each eliminated singer is invited into Seacrest’s dressing room for career advice. They never come out. Not alive, they don’t.
For Dunkleman, he initially had no interest in helping at all. Raised as a responsible young man by responsible parents, he had the same reaction as any reasonable person: no, of course I will not help with this. Dunkleman’s intention, he stated clearly, was to turn in his co-host to the proper authorities. After all, the morals in this are clear. Ryan Seacrest is a murderer and a menace to society. But because of his desire to succeed in show business, coupled with Seacrest’s ability to talk and mess with Dunkleman’s mind, Dunkleman hasn’t snitched. “Listen, Brian,” Seacrest would say. “You know what would happen if the network found out about this? They wouldn’t just fire me, Brian. They would fire us both. They brought us both on together, remember? We’re a package deal.” And Dunkleman, despite his best efforts, would concede to that logic. For now at least, Dunkleman needed this job and he would do anything it took to keep it. At least until he could find something better than hosting.
So now, because Brian Dunkleman couldn’t say no, he is helping to dig a wide dirt pit for the remains of voted-off American Idol hopefuls.
“Tonight, we make an oath,” says Seacrest. He’s standing over the edge of the grave pit, shirtless and dirty, staring at his handiwork at the bottom. “An oath of silence. No one can know what happened tonight. No one can know what has happened over the past month, Brian Dunkleman. No one but us.” He takes a pocket knife and he cuts along the lifeline on his palm. Blood pours. “We’re brothers now.”
Seacrest hands the pocket knife to Dunkleman, who can’t help but hesitate for a moment. Can he really make a promise to never speak of this again in good faith?
Seacrest notices his co-host’s hesitation. “Listen, Brian,” he says, growing irritated as his palm bleeds all over the place. “You’re a fucking accomplice here. You don’t have a choice, man. We’re in this together or we ain’t in this at all.”
Dunkleman grimaces, but he knows he’s caught in a moral checkmate. “You’re right,” Dunkleman sighs, slicing his palm open. “No one can ever know about this.”
The co-hosts push their bleeding palms together. They allow the blood, dirt and oil to all mix together until its just a mess of liquidy substance coating both of their hands, oozing out from between them and making a puddle on the ground.
Seacrest can’t help but weep softly. “I’ll never forget this, Brian Dunkleman.”
The next day, the day of the final episode of season one, the day in which the results will come in and be final, Dunkleman and Seacrest return to work, prepared to announce the first ever American Idol as though nothing has happened. As though the eliminated contestants from previous rounds hadn’t been eliminated from this world.
Yet Dunkleman can feel it. Something is different. People seem to be eyeing him differently and he knows it isn’t his hair; he’s checked.
Must just be a guilty conscience, Dunkleman tells himself. But the mood does seem to change dramatically anytime he walks into a room. He can hear the whispers from the PAs, as they stare at him from across the room. He can hear the quiet accusations as he walks the halls.
How could they know? They couldn’t. There’s no way. Seacrest assures him over and over again. There’s no way anyone could know. We were careful, he says, we covered our tracks, we eliminated the evidence. We made a pact. Nobody knows but us. Don’t worry about it.
And for a little bit, Dunkleman feels better.
Finally, it gets to showtime. The last show of the season. Time to announce the winner.
The show begins without a hitch. The final two contestants, one male and one female, have great chemistry together: a couple made for the silver screen, practically. They sing, they dance. The audience loves it.
From a hosting perspective, Brian and Ryan are flawless. Their patter is amusing and brief. They offer interesting anecdotes when necessary, they don’t flub the cue cards, they don’t meander off script.
It’s going perfectly until Dunkleman’s eye begins to wander during one of the contestant’s songs. Until Dunkleman starts scanning the crowd. Until Dunkleman realizes, holy shit, this place is full of fucking cops. This cannot be a coincidence.
It’s the third commercial break into the two-hour event, and Dunkleman pulls his co-host aside. “Ryan, I think the police are here.”
“No, man,” Seacrest says. “Can’t be.”
“No, really, I’m serious,” Dunkleman continues, panic in his voice. “Look at them. I think they know, Ryan. I could feel it all day. I think they’re here for you.”
Seacrest holds his position for a moment, a strange look in his eye. An odd expression on his face. He bites his lip and grabs Dunkleman’s shoulder, making a pained expression that looks almost sincere. “Actually,” whispers Seacrest. “They’re here for you. I’m sorry, Brian.”
Dunkleman is dumbstruck. “What?”
“I turned you in. They know everything.”
Dunkleman can’t believe what he’s hearing. His head feels light, blood is ringing in his ears. “But what about our oath? What about never forgetting? You said we were a package deal!”
Seacrest shrugs and looks away. “I’m sorry,” he says. “One of us has to go, and it’s you.”
Suddenly, from across the stage, the floor director yells to them: “We’re back in five!”
“I can’t believe this,” Dunkleman sputters.
“I’m going to tell them the truth,” he says. “I’m going to tell them that you did it, you know. They’re going to find out.”
“No,” says Seacrest flatly, making direct eye contact with his co-host. “They won’t, Brian. The network has already decided, already intervened. They made a decision.”
“Wait, what?” pleads Dunkleman. “What do you mean?”
And… bam! They’re back. Without missing a beat, Ryan Seacrest is already knee-deep in his introduction of the next act, teasing again that the results are coming up in just a little bit.
Dunkleman, though, is awash in his own thoughts. He tries figuring out a way around his situation. The police would need to just believe the truth, right? There must be some way for Dunkleman to be proven right and Seacrest shown to be the lying killer that he is. But then, Dunkleman can feel no satisfaction with this idea. What did Ryan mean when he was talking about the network? Did they lie for him? Why?
He makes a decision. Ain’t no way I’m taking the fall for this, he thinks. His passport is in his wallet back in the dressing room. There’s disguises in the make-up room. No, he thinks, I’m definitely not going to jail. Not for something I didn’t do. I’m going to get the hell out of dodge right after this is over. I’m going to disappear.
Dunkleman smiles. It’s his turn to smile, and his turn to read off the cue card. But he’s smiling a little extra, because once that winner is announced, the Dunker is going to slip away into the night, never to be heard from again. It’s the only way.
“Last night, you proved why you’ve made it this far, Dr. Dawggyson-Dunkles,” says Simon, half to the contestant addressed and half to the millions of viewers as a recap. “You gave an amazing performance and I think America will probably tell us when we see the votes, just how amazing it was, dawggo.”
Across the other end of the judges’ table, Randy shakes his head in disagreement. Dressed in one of the tightest black t-shirts ever created, Randy looks just this side of ridiculous. This past season, Randy and Simon, and the show in general, have gotten a lot of mileage out of this supposed feud between the two judges. In fact, the so-called feud was farcical. Supposedly, Simon has begun co-opting some of Randy’s catch phrases, and in revenge, Randy has stolen some of Simon’s signature bits. The truth of the matter is, while the season did begin with Randy and Simon sniping at each other off-camera regarding a completely separate matter (which, though neither will admit to it, began over a conversation on the normalcy of peeing in the shower), their feud was a calculated effort from all involved as a way of keeping their on-camera interactions fresh.
“Actually, bloke,” says Randy, with laughter emanating from the audience at his intentionally poor English accent. “I thought it was bloody awful, and I think you’ve probably lost it.”
Brian Dunkleman nods and takes his sugar with his lumps on an even keel. Words from the judges mean very little right now, at the moment of truth. Dunkleman holds hands with his female competitor, the other potential American Idol-to-be, as they both stare at the screen projecting their names and will soon also display the tallied votes. For Dunkleman, actually winning the competition had been somewhat of an afterthought – his real goal was merely to get to this stage, on this night, at this moment. But now that it’s arrived, he can’t help but be a little curious as to what the results are.
“Well, we’ve seen and heard everything that we’ve needed to, I think,” says Seacrest, summing up the night’s events in a way only he can. “The only thing left is to show what America has decided.”
The stage lights flash and dim to enhance the tense mood, while at the same time the fog machine kicks into overdrive.
Seacrest makes a large sweeping gesture toward the screen. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he exclaims. “Your next American Idol is…!”
With that cue, the screen shows the numbers calculating furiously below each contestant’s name, accompanied by a drum roll. Though the numbers are not clear what the final will be, both have vote counts comfortably in the millions.
But this is the moment. This is it.
All this work, all this planning, all this time. It was for this.
For years, Dunkleman has anticipated a moment like this. He’s practiced for it. He’s recited it thousands of times over, played it front and back in his mind, in every conceivable scenario.
“WAIT,” shouts Dunkleman, stepping forward in front of the screen and marching toward Seacrest and the crew. “I HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT!”
Dunkleman stands at the center of the stage, plainly in front of the cameras and elbow-to-elbow with his old co-host. First, he removes his domino mask. Then, slowly, and a bit painfully, he tears off his fake mustache.
Audible, horrified gasps from the audience turn into screams as one of the contestants seemingly just mutilated himself. “He’s insane!” they shout. “A monster!”
“It’s fake!” Dunkleman shouts to the audience, holding up his discarded disguise. “It’s a Halloween costume! My name is Brian Dunkleman!”
Blank stares. Completely blank stares from the audience. Even the judges seem baffled. A few people boo.
That’s fine, Dunkleman admits, though in the more favorable scenarios he imagined, more people in the audience remembered him. The real person he wants here, the only person he wants, is Seacrest. Dunkleman turns to face him.
“You ruined my life,” he tells his ex-co-host, a fact he’s been wanting to share for years. “You killed those people and I took the blame for it!”
“When?” asks Seacrest, without missing a beat.
The question throws Dunkleman. When? What kind of question is ‘when’? How often are you killing that you need to ask ‘when’?
“2002, Ryan. The first season. I was your co-host,” says Dunkleman, the pace of his speech increasing as he feels himself losing control. “Remember?”
“I’m sorry, no,” says Seacrest, the very picture of genuine concern. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Dunkleman looks around him, at his surroundings. Thousands of people staring at him, with pained expressions, confused expressions, and blank stares. He feels like an old man with Alzheimer’s all of a sudden. How has this happened? Doesn’t anyone remember? Doesn’t anyone care?
Dunkleman turns to the crowd and the cameras, shouting at the top of his lungs. “I AM BRIAN DUNKLEMAN, GOD DAMMIT!! DOESN’T ANYONE REMEMBER ME?!”
By now, studio guards have surrounded Dunkleman. In a matter of seconds, they have him on the ground, lying on his stomach and restrained. “I’m Brian Dunkleman,” he pleads. “I should be hosting this!”
As the studio guards haul Dunkleman away, he doesn’t get to see the screen’s final projection, revealing that Bryan Dunklemon, Jr., ended up losing by a mere four thousand votes. Dunkleman will get to see Seacrest’s dressing room, though, where he will be placed until the proper authorities arrive, the guards assure him.
“So who’s Bryan Dunklemon, Jr.?” wonders Ryan Seacrest, asking the female contestant. She shrugs.
The entire incident would be edited out before broadcast.