Brian Kidd is more or less your average Portlander. He has a day job at a data company, and in his free time he rides around on a unicycle, dressd as Darth Vader, playing fire-breathing bagpipes. As you do. Tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 16) you can catch our very own PDX piper auditioning for judges Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howard Stern to get on the show America's Got Talent for their "Extreme Acts" edition. We caught up with him before his TV turn to talk about Portland, piping, perserverance and how a fortuitous dumpster dive led to his NBC debut.
Congratulations on making it to an America's Got Talent episode. How many times have you tried out for the show?
I think this was my third time. I just kind of saw it as a personal goal! I knew there was this show out there that was all about highlighting and showing new and different acts, and I thought that what I did was right up their alley. I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be on there!
Did this time round feel any different than the previous two attempts?
It did not! I went in and it was pretty much the same as the other times. When I did hear that I was going to get to go back and perform in front of the celebrity judges it was a welcome surprise.
How has your experience been thus far?
It’s been a lot of fun. Actually going to LA and getting to be surrounded by all these other amazing acts and talents was a neat experience in and of itself. In talking to other people who have similar ambitions, I made a lot of friends. The whole experience of being there, the build-up, and then actually performing on the show—it definitely lived up to my expectations!
How did you feel performing before judges Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum and Howard Stern?
At the time of the performance, I was so concentrated on my act and getting everything right that I really wasn't thinking about the judges. Beforehand though, I was definitely most nervous about performing in front of Howard, because given his background I feel like he's probably seen the most wacky and crazy acts and I knew it was going to take a lot more to surprise him.
Are you excited to see yourself on the screen tomorrow?
Absolutely. I know how things go in my head, but I have a very skewed perception, and it’s all based on memory when my adrenaline was pumping! To be able to see it from a viewer's perspective, it’s going to be a completely new experience. I'm definitely nervous.
Where did the whole bagpiper-player-on-a-one-wheeled-bike thing come from?
While I was learning to pay the bagpipes [at school in Virginia] I found a unicycle in a dumpster that someone was throwing away. So I taught myself to ride the unicycle. And it still wasn’t for another year or so that I got good enough on the unicycle that I decided to try these two skills together. As soon as I realized it worked, better than I expected, I started doing it [in front of audiences]. People responded very positively, and from there I played for larger and larger crowds. Eventually I learned how to play Star Wars on the bacgpipes and decided to add the Darth Vader costume. People were asking me “What else can you possibly add to your act?” And I had an idea of fire coming out the bagpipes, and with my friend we found a set-up that could do that.
Has Portland played any part in your success?
Absolutely. I would not have nearly the level of fame and local celebrity status that I do anywhere else. Quickly people in Portland saw the unipiper and they kind of unofficially made me the mascot of the city, with the whole "keep Portland weird" thing—I kind of became the poster child for keep Portland weird. Now I feel a certain level of responsibility to do my part to keep on keeping Portland weird!
Where can people find you?
You never know exactly where I’ll be – I like to keep it a surprise and show up randomly. But for people that do want to track me down, I’m performing on a regular schedule in front of Powell’s of Burnisde every Friday during the summer at 5.45 pm. Also, in addition to my regular website, unipiper.com, I’ve got whereistheuniper.com where I try and list all of my upcoming appearances, and I also have a live GPS tracking map so you can see me in real time.
Failing that, you can catch him tomorrow night in a filmed audition for America's Got Talent, screening on NBC at 8pm.