The winners of the Piedmont High School Bird Calling Contest appeared April 25 on "The Late Show With David Letterman" for the 18th and probably last time, as Letterman is retiring next year.
Seniors Jasmine Nadim, Sami Barney and Katie Cummins, the first-place winners, performed the mating call of Egretta thula, the snowy egret. Seniors Gabe Bolo, Eli Nash and James Clifford, the second-place finishers, performed Podiceps grisegena, the red-necked grebe. And the third-place finishers, juniors Elliot Gordon and Walter Le Duy, did Nymphicus ghollandicus, the cockatiel.
"Afterwards, they told me Letterman spent half an hour in the dressing room before the show practicing how to pronounce my name," says Walter.
"He nailed it, too," says Elliot.
The students arrived at JFK the day before and were greeted by a Mercedes bus, which whisked them to their hotel across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater.
The next day they walked to the theater for the show. Letterman's producer welcomed them and gave them a pep talk:
"Don't try to be funny. It never works if everyone else tries to make jokes, so let Dave do what he does best. Don't look at the monitors, and smile constantly. Remember, you're always on camera."
They were shocked by how small the set was.
"It looks big on TV, but it's really tiny," says Jasmine. "You expect it to be larger than life; instead, it's the opposite." "And nobody told us that Letterman keeps the temperature on the set low because of the heat from the lights," says Sami. "It was freezing!" "There's a mirror in the dressing room with light bulbs around the edge, and they told us that celebrities go up to it and warm their hands on the light bulbs before they go on," adds Katie.
But despite some understandable jitters, the show went off without a hitch.
"We were standing backstage, and I saw Letterman standing there, swaying in time with the music, and he turned around and saw me and waved," says Eliot. "At that moment, all my nervousness went away." After the show Letterman gave them "Late Show" T-shirts, mugs and hats as souvenirs.
And they reciprocated with a gift for him -- a list of the "Top Ten Reasons The Piedmont High Bird Callers Are Sad David Letterman Is Retiring:"
10. Colbert probably too smart to put marginally talented bird callers on TV.
9. Slight risk that our high school bird calling contest will not be cool without the trip to "The Late Show."
8. Need to find a new way to blow off three days of school with full administration support.
7. Devastating to students counting on Letterman appearance to get into college.
6. The only thing I've done since becoming a teen that my grandparents could truly enjoy.
5. May be the final blow to the underappreciated art of teen bird calling.
4. Will now have to hope Mom gets cast on "Real Housewives" for the opportunity to be embarrassed on TV.
3. No more chances to be ignored by celebrities in the green room.
2. All-expense-paid trip to Fresno Bird Sanctuary not as appealing.
1. Because he has been tremendously generous and gracious to host us on his show these past 18 years, and we are grateful.
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.