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Whether he's talking to reporters or supermodel Heidi Klum, Tim "Two Guns" Cord shoots from the hip.
In a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune from New York on Monday, the American Hitmen lead vocalist was candid about coercive "producer speak" behind the scenes of "America's Got Talent," as well as his designs on Klum: "If we get kicked out of the competition, I'll go find her number."
On Tuesday at 8 p.m., the Salt Lake City-based Hitmen will appear live from Radio City Music Hall on NBC, bidding to make the semifinals and get one step closer to winning the $1 million top prize or even better, missing out on the top prize (and the restrictive contract that comes with it) and securing a deal from another label. After all, $1 million, after taxes and split four ways, isn't a fortune.
"You probably wouldn't want to win this competition," Cord said. "You'd want to make the finals and have somebody else notice you and pick you up."
But he'd settle for a million big ones, provided the Hitmen can beat out a cornucopia of random talents that includes fellow Salt Lake City man-slapping act Tummy Talk and is judged by a similarly diverse panel of celebrities: comedian Howie Mandel, former Spice Girl Melanie Brown, radio DJ Howard Stern and the aforementioned Klum.
A Google search suggests that Klum has a boyfriend, but while riding the high of the audience's response to their Chicago audition, Cord made his move on the former Sports Illustrated cover girl. Klum had started to say she enjoyed the performance and Cord's confidence when he cut her off. "I was confident until you started talking and looking directly at me, and now I'm not. You're beautiful in person, by the way."
"Don't forget about me when I come [to see your shows], I want to be in the front row," she replied.
"Heidi, I will never forget about you," Cord pledged.
Cord's group includes three former Marines Tim Cord, his brother Dan "The Hitman" Cord and Daniel "Jay" Jarmon as well as civilian drummer Phil Snyder. The band's military service has been the focus of their portrayal on the show, so Snyder hasn't gotten much facetime. But he deserves it, Cord says.
"He's a human metronome, the most technically proficient drummer that I've ever met," Cord said, adding that Snyder is low-maintenance and has been more than happy to sidestep the limelight.
The Hitmen covered Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" in their Chicago audition and then "The House of the Rising Sun" in Las Vegas. They are not a cover band in fact, more than two-thirds of their three-hour live shows generally involve original material, Cord says but they were strongly advised by producers to stick to cover songs for the competition.
"The producers basically tell you, 'Listen, you have 90 seconds to win over the hearts of America,'" Cord says. "You really want people recognizing the jam. You've got to look at the attention span of the American audience. It's got to be sensational."
Much of the show is designed not shockingly to maximize the drama. The Hitmen received a mixed review in Las Vegas, with former Spice Girl Melanie Brown faulting them for taking too long to hit their stride. "We were like, 'What the hell?' because we went out there and rocked it; we killed it."
But soon the Hitmen realized that judges were highly critical of every act including children, who would return backstage in tears.
"They had all these pre-scripted responses to all the acts to make them feel bad about themselves," he said. "It's more to try to see how you'll do under pressure. They basically told every single act that played that they did a bad job. Such is reality TV, right?"
Producers also have tried to get the Hitmen to say negative things about other acts, Cord says, but his group decided before the competition started that they wouldn't buy in. Asked what they thought about another performer, they'd default to saying they were "phenomenal" and Cord says he really is amazed by the abilities of his competitors. The band got a chuckle when a pop act mused that the Hitmen would be too old to enjoy the riches.
But the judges whose opinions actually matter have responded positively to the Hitmen, especially Howard Stern, who said they were the band he'd been seeking for two seasons and called them "true contenders."
"He was really the judge we were looking for validation from," Cord said, citing Stern's background and contacts within the industry. Manufactured drama aside, Cord is thrilled for the opportunity to appear in front of a nationwide audience and to play on the historic Radio City Music Hall stage. He said he doesn't have any big surprises planned; the Hitmen only know how to do one thing.
"We've been in a band for so long, we don't have a cool stage setup, or any tricks up our sleeve, we just show up and rock out."