Arvada’s Rachel Sinclair is the mom of two young boys who works part-time at Bruz Beers in Denver and describes herself as “a laid-back human being.”

Sinclair’s alter ego, Hott Mess, on the other hand, is “kind of a roller coaster,” she says. And her concerts are one hell of a ride: In July, Sinclair—performing as Hott Mess—won the U.S. Air Guitar Championship in Portland, Oregon, earning a spot in this past month’s world championship in Finland.

Although the term “air guitar” might conjure images of road-trip weary dads belting out Boston (“More Than A Feeling” somehow ranks only sixth on Guitar World’s list of top 10 air guitar jams), the world of competitive air guitar demands a creative mind, electric choreography, and, perhaps more than anything, showmanship. “One of the criteria you’re judged on is ‘airness,’” Sinclair says, “which is the je ne sais quoi of air guitar.” Competitors dream up their own characters, who then have a minute to perform routines set to their own playlists, called “edits.” There’s strumming involved, yes, but also dancing, lip-syncing, and, in Hott Mess’ case, vomiting. Here, it’s easier to digest if you see it for yourself.

The niche pastime received a certain level of acclaim in 2007, with the release of Air Guitar Nation. The documentary, which has an 85 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, inspired Sinclair’s husband, who in turn encouraged his wife to pick up the (figurative) instrument. “It’s so mesmerizing,” Sinclair says. “It’s just weirdly entertaining. I think it’s because it’s part comedy show, part performance, and part sport.”

Sinclair dubbed her first character “Scott Baculum”—the first name a nod to her childhood crush on Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula, the surname a skewering of male air guitarists’ penchant for taking sobriquets that reference their “junk,” Sinclair says. (A baculum is a penis bone found in some animals.) Despite the clever conceit, however, Baculum bombed. Air guitar is an art that rewards extravagance, yet Baculum barely moved. (It’s much harder than it looks. Just ask Russell Wilson.) “Now when we practice—my husband and I will practice together and critique each other—a lot of times we’ll film each other because when you watch it on camera, you’re, like, I didn’t even see it.”

There was little chance of audiences missing her next character. “So Agnes Young is a decrepit old lady who likes her brooches and likes her stories,” Sinclair says. “And basically, out of nowhere, she can just get completely possessed and go bananas on stage.” Not only did Agnes rock, but she also won, claiming the Denver regional air guitar title three years in a row. Although she never took home the American championship, Agnes did compete in the world tournament in 2018.

Before the 2022 air guitar season, Sinclair, busy raising a now two-and-a-half-year-old and an 18-month-old, simply didn’t have the time she needed to prepare an Agnes routine. The new character of Hott Mess, with her seemingly slapped-together edit and general air of chaos, gave Sinclair permission to have fun and not worry about the results of the competition. “I’ll just be silly, and I’m not going to win,” Sinclair recalls thinking. “And then I did.”

She actually finished second in the Denver regional, which allowed her to qualify for nationals, where she beat 19 others to claim the crown. “It was kind of surreal,” Sinclair says. “It was unexpected. But I felt like I had the most fun onstage and felt the least stressed that I have in past times. So maybe there’s something to that.”

The Air Guitar World Championships were held on August 26 in Oulu, Finland, where between 3,500 and 4,000 turned out to watch the performances. Hott Mess finished seventh; Kirill “Guitarantula” Blumenkrants of France took the top prize. But for Sinclair, the best part of the trip was connecting with the global air guitar community. “We have a group chat for the world air guitar group,” Sinclair says. “We have a Secret Santa every year with our U.S. air guitar group, so people just mail stuff across the country. I’m actually looking right now at a wedding invitation that I have. They’re both air guitarists.”

And what do air guitarists do when they get together? They jam, of course. “A good way to describe it is it’s like summer camp,” Sinclair says, “where you don’t see these people all the time. But when you do, it’s super exciting.”