My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m.
I finally dragged myself out of bed at 10 to five. I pulled a t-shirt on and my running shoes and set out to burn some nervous energy.
It was still dark out, which made me wonder if it was safer to use the hotel treadmill than venture out onto the streets of New York, but I had to see some of the city. I let the Boss loose on the iPod and ran down Broadway toward the the CNN building and carefully looked both ways-- THREE TIMES-- before crossing streets. I ended up in Central Park and for a moment I enjoyed the scenery, forgetting about what I'd be doing in about three hours.
I got back to the hotel after a 25-minute run and the butterflies were still flying. I went to the exercise room and tried to get 'em gone.
6:34 a.m. I finally jump in the shower.
I have an extra-nervous moment when I pull my dress shirt out of the bag and it's slightly more wrinkled than I'd like, but tell myself I'd be wearing a coat anyway. I never felt more pressure doing my hair than I do on this day. Why is Eminem in my head?
"...you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime..."
I wasn't sure if this was more aimed at getting my hair right or the actual show, which would be starting in less than two hours.
7:28 a.m. Julie's still getting ready, when I decide I need a warm-up act this morning. I call Banana Don and Stephanie McCoy on WITL, because if anything will get this train rolling in the right direction, it will be some funny moments on the radio.
It goes great and Julie even gets the biggest laugh with her laugh, after I started to say, "I don't like doing things about myself..."
She's still laughing. I was trying to explain why I had Julie and the girls track my 2:00 intro piece for the show. It matters not, because the mission was accomplished-- I felt better. Then I check my phone and see one of the latest of dozens of texts saying "Good luck today." This one's from my boss at WILX and as I glance at the rest of the names I get a little emotional at how many good friends I really have. then I realize that all those good friends, their friends, people that don't know me, people that don't like me, everyone I've ever known, people I will never meet-- will all be watching me on TV today.
Everything I'd done to feel better this morning has just been undone by my subconscious.
7:41 a.m. Julie and I meet Jim Orme (our friend from Boston) and Steve Coon (WILX chief photog along to film the trip) in the lobby. I get a call from an intern from the show who is here to walk us over to the ABC studios about three blocks away. Coon mics me up so he can film the walk to the studio.
7:48 a.m. It feels like the walk of death. At one point I say, "I feel like Richard Dreyfuss in 'Jaws' when he's getting into the water and he has no spit." This is easily the most nervous I've been through the whole process and I have barely eaten the last two days because of it.
7:58 a.m. We arrive at the studio. I go through the lobby of people waiting in line and see my high school teacher Robin Cade. I gave her one of my VIP tickets to the show along with my high school classmate Laura McDonough. I hadn't seen either of them in 17 years. Robin helped teach the TV Production class I had my senior year.
8:04 a.m. I am shown into my dressing room where it's hot because of the makeup lights on the mirror. I take my coat off and feel better about what's to come. With a rhythmic pace, the show's producers and segment producers make their way in to prep me on the show. Gelman stops in to ask how I'm doing in the middle of it all. He's quietly intense and a guy who seems to have complete control over everything happening around him.
8:30 a.m. The guy producing the Jeremy Piven segment is finishing up on what we could possible talk about with him and what he's been up to. The stage manager pops his head in to ask what I'd like to drink on the set. I tell him water. He looks slightly surprised when he asks if I want ice in it. I do. I was given notes on everything the night before and looked at them pretty thoroughly, plus I'm a fan of Piven's, so I was ready to roll. He makes sure I know that the whole mercury poisoning thing is not something we want to talk about. I remember thinking, this guy jumped off the top rope onto John Cena three days before-- that's what I want to talk about!
8:44 a.m. The makeup lady comes in to do me up while I'm talking with Gelman and Dave Mullen, another producer of the show. I have still not met Kelly, yet I can hear her being prepped on the Piven interview in the next room. Gelman wants to stress how the show thrives on its spontaneity, which is why the hosts don't over-prep or rehearse-- or even see each other. He tells me Regis shows up at 8:30 and does makeup about 10 minutes before the show. He and Kelly only say 'Good Morning' to each other before the show. We go over a toy segment that was added to the show and I think I put him at ease by telling him about my Toy Test days on Fox.
Everybody leaves and suddenly I'm all alone in my dressing room. I look at my phone.
In eight minutes I'm going to be on national television.
The thought is more exciting now though than nerve-wracking. I wander out into the hallway and spot Coon's familiar face. Kelly is still in her dressing room with the door open finishing up. Now, I'm feeling ready to have fun. It reminded me of my first night at the Lansing Lugnuts as the stadium emcee. I was so nervous before hopping on the dugout in front of the 7,000 fans, but with my first words, the nervousness was gone. Today was going to be the same.
"TWO-THIRTY!" yells a stage manager.
I was chit-chatting and finally decide that I'm going to talk to my co-host.
I pop my head in her dressing room and see she's gorgeous.
Me: "Wow. That's the best you've looked all week!"
Kelly Ripa: "Jason! I'm so sorry, I have this terrible head cold and I've taken all kinds of stuff this morning.
Me: So, you need me to carry the show for you today?
Kelly: (With a laugh) Jason, America is just going to eat you up!
9:00 a.m. We walk hurriedly down the hallway to the door where we walk on stage and I hear the announcer say our names and I take a quick step thinking it's our cue.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Kelly grabs my arm.
The stage guys grab the door as they say "Here we go!"
I start to walk again.
"Not yet!" Kelly pulls on me again.
"I lead you or you lead me?" I ask.
"You lead me," she giggled.
9:01 a.m. The door opened, the crowd cheered, the butterflies were long gone and I lived out one of my dreams of being on national television.