When the first promos aired on WWE television, the countdown began. How long until Johnny Curtis would be back on the bench, waiting for yet another shot at the pro wrestling big time? After all, Fandango had bust written all over him.
A ballroom dancer gimmick? In 2013, almost eight years after Dancing with the Stars debuted on American television?
It was the kind of WWE cheese that seemed likely to be forgotten within weeks, then cast off to the island of misfit wrestlers, home to failed gimmicks like the Ding Dongs, the Gobbledly Gooker and the infamous Red Rooster.
Chris Jericho, with sheer power of will, saved the gimmick from an early demise. With the force of his mocking laughter and a surprisingly heated mini-feud, Jericho almost single-handedly rescued Fandango from the scrap heap of history. He made us pay attention. He made the ridiculous seem, dare I say it, a little dangerous.
By the time WrestleMania 29 rolled around, fans were actually excited to see Fandango finally step into the ring for his first match. By the time the two finished a bout that looked surprisingly like a 1998 WCW Thunder cruiserweight scrap, the idea of Fandango actually making something of himself suddenly didn't seem so far fetched. The WWE had given Jericho and Curtis a load of excrement to work with in "Fandango." But against all odds they were making it work.
Fans, it seemed, were on board. The next night on Raw they hummed along to Fandango's admittedly catchy theme music. Yes, it was a mocking sort of fun. But fun can go a long way in the WWE world.
An underground sensation was brewing. A quick search of YouTube yielded dozens of homemade remixes, people all over the world singing the man's song. The Houston Texans cheerleaders got involved, as did the crowd at SmackDown.
And then it went commercial. According to Crunch Sports, not only did the Fandango phenomenon pop up in social media, but his theme song also exploded in the United Kingdom, going as high as No. 11 on the iTunes charts.
What would the WWE do? How would it respond to this overnight emergence of Fandango-mania? The wrestling world waited with baited breath. Being cynics, many of us wondered how in the world it would manage to screw this up—and how quickly it would happen.
The answers? With pure incompetence and amazing speed, respectively.
Fandango came out for his second appearance on Raw after his WrestleMania triumph and the flop sweat appeared almost immediately. I guess all of the best scripted lines were saved for John Cena this week, because Fandango had nothing of substance prepared.
The truth is, WWE is notorious for not getting on board with a phenomenon like this, preferring to focus on the writers' own pet projects. When they do embrace a crowd-driven gimmick, they often go in too hard and too fast. Instead of letting the crowd continue to carry the gimmick forward, they forced the issue, hyping the segment multiple times during the show. Fans had invented Fandango-mania, but WWE refused to let them perpetuate it, to let it build slowly and organically.
The crowd in Greenville, South Carolina, sensing manipulation, refused to play along with his act, refused to let the WWE force their hand. They left him hanging as he tried to introduce a crowd participation segment reminiscent of the Rock or the NWO's Scott Hall at his most over. Fandango just wanted the crowd to say his name. Once a stickler, by the end of his bit he would have been happy with even a butchered pronunciation.
Will Fandango make it long-term in the WWE?
Greenville fans weren't buying it. If Fandango was a star, no one had alerted them. Maybe folks down there don't have the Internet yet? It's not fair, however, to blame this dud entirely on the crowd. Fandango was off his game, assuming of course that he has game. At this point he's mostly just said his own name over and over again. It's possible that's the extent of his act.
As he left the ring, Curtis looked deflated. Is Fandango Mania over? Can one dead crowd and a bad performance really kill off a hot gimmick?
Things aren't looking good. If Fandango is going to have legs, he's going to have to bring more than a catchy theme song to the table. Wit, charm and craft are a must.
In the age of the Internet, fame can be fleeting. Last week it was Fandango-ing. This week a cute kitten meme will emerge. Fame is temporary in the world of YouTube and BuzzFeed. It takes effort and craft to sustain success in the wrestling business—and Fandango may not have what it takes to be more than just a flash in the pan.