Monday, July 28, 2008

The Star-Mangled Banner

I joked the other night with my girlfriend about solving her recent troubles getting to sleep by singing her a lullaby over the phone. I was totally kidding. I can't sing a lick. I can't imagine a scenario in which I would volunteer to sing anything in public, although I do have "Perform 'Hotel California' At A Karaoke Bar" on my lists of things to do before I die. But there were some occasions where I decided to open my yap and try to belt out a tune or two as a kid.

A couple of them involved tryouts for musicals. In 8th grade at Ogden Elementary in downtown Chicago, there was an audition for "Annie Get Your Gun," a play about Annie Oakley. Now, a couple of factors affected my, ahem, performance during this tryout. First, the rules for the tryouts were that a trio of people would perform a part out of the play to assess our acting skills, then one by one each member of the trio would sing a short piece of their own choosing. So I'm nervously watching trio after trio go through their auditions in the auditorium, letting the tension build, fretting about my acting more than my singing because I didn't care about the singing part. I knew I was a bad singer, so I thought I would just sing whatever song came into my head and get it over with. The acting, that part I really wanted to get right because I like acting. Now, while this was going on, my eye was never far from my junior high crush, whose real name I will use because she may read this and want to contact me, and I would love to see how she turned out as an adult. Her name is Tamara Todd; her friends called her Tammi. She had me lovestruck from the moment I saw her, and for those two years at Ogden I couldn't take my eyes off her whenever we were in the same room. She was tall, black, light-skinned, straight light brown hair, juicy lips, huge brown eyes that seemed to light up when she smiled, and a soft honey voice. I was told that she had a speech impediment, but the only thing that sounded strange when she spoke was that her enunciation was a little forced, making her sound British. Hell, that made her even sexier to me. (I'll have to recap those two years at a later date, because they were crazy.) Anyway, she was very shy, even more than me, so when it was her time to audition, I watched raptly. Her acting was nonexistent; she was way too quiet to make an impact there. But then she opened her mouth and sang a soft version of "The Greatest Love Of All" by Whitney Houston that left my hands shaking. She wasn't a powerhouse singer, don't get me wrong, but rather a delicate, dainty little crooner whose voice just made you want to run up to her and cover her with a blanket and carry her offstage to shelter. Okay, made me want to do that. What this did was ramp up the anticipation for my audition, because everyone knew how I felt about Tammi, and when she was done, my friends all looked at me as if to say, "Okay big boy, top that!" So my group finally gets around to hitting the stage, and my acting was okay, and then I decided to be the last of my trio to sing because I was legitimately scared. I didn't know what I was going to sing, I didn't know how I was going to sound, and I couldn't help but spot Tammi still sitting in the auditorium even though we waited until we were one of the last groups. And Mrs. Oberhardt, the hot blonde French teacher running the auditions, signals me to go, and I open my mouth and try to crank out The Star-Spangled Banner, but I started that first note way too high, and the subsequent higher notes in those first two stanzas were hit by me not with force and confidence, but with a quivering, wobbly voice that went up and down in the middle of a note. I could hear the giggling and see the smirks, but I was no longer in my own body, and I just kept going. Oberhardt saw the train wreck coming as I approached "And the rocket's red glare," and she said "Thank you Andre!" very loudly and clapped. The whole auditorium erupted in shouting and applause, and I knew without a doubt that it was because I had just embarrassed myself in front of the whole 7th and 8th-grade classes, and they were giving me the standing "O" for providing hilarious entertainment. Even shy little Tammi was laughing. Folks, it was so bad, if you YouTube Carl Lewis's rendition, that was Marvin Gaye compared to my version. (Not learning my lesson, I attempted to tackle The Star-Spangled Banner again during my tryout for "Les Miserables" in high school. About the same lack of success, but a lot less people in the audience, and Tammi was nowhere to be found.)

My duet at a summer camp called Project '91 should have been much more successful. I took a music class as one of my activities at this camp, and the class was infamous for putting on a concert of sorts at the end of the camp. Of course, with the large amount of students in this class, I didn't have any designs on being out in front during this concert--I joined to be in the background because it looked like fun. Well, I struck up a friendship with a sweet girl named Amanda during this class, and she was the opposite of me, white, slim, attractive, so the teacher got the idea for us to perform Paula Abdul's smash hit "Opposites Attract" as part of the show. The reason this should have been successful is because the role of the male singer in this song (a cartoon cat, if I remember the video correctly) is not difficult at all, not that ANY song featuring Paula Abdul is going to have difficult vocals. It was more of a rap than singing. I learned the lyrics easily and practiced with Amanda every day, and it seemed like we were going to be a hit. (The teacher even changed a lyric to make it kid-friendly; in the song Paula says "I don't like cigarettes," and the cat says, "I like to smoke," and the teacher brilliantly changed it to Amanda singing, "I like my Pepsi," and me responding, "For me, Classic Coke!") Well, a couple of things screwed up that night for me. First, the performance had me make one tiny error, where I started to sing one of Amanda's lines by mistake, and it didn't fuck up the song or anything, it's just that I hate making errors of any kind. I mean, what's the point of practicing if I'm just going to flub it anyway? Then the big screw-up was when I decided not to tell my folks that I need black shorts for the performance because the "uniform" was going to be black shorts and white t-shirt. I don't know why I waited forever to mention this; must have just slipped my mind. So the night before, we bought some black shorts, and they were WAY too small for me, but it's all we could find. It was bad enough for me, being grossly overweight, to wear shorts and a t-shirt for any reason, but during this performance, at one point we all were supposed to do this twirl move during someone else's song and drop to the floor on our knees with our backs to the stage and hold it for a while. I had to be in the front row of the backup singers because I had a feature song myself, and those who were singing solos or duets were placed in the front row. Small shorts and t-shirt + front row on stage + dropping to the floor with our backs turned in a bent position = you guessed it, the whole place got to see the crack of my fat ass. I could tell not just because my poor, embarrassed family told me so later, but because I could instantly hear the giggles the moment I dropped down, and I'm not dumb; I could feel the breeze where my Fruit-Of-The-Looms should have been. A bunch of white families have this lovely event videotaped for prosperity because they were capturing their kids' shining moment. Those families also wound up with my shining hiney on their tapes as well, and thankfully, I've never seen any of the tapes, nor will I ever.

Of course, my lack of singing skills is all someone else's fault. The teacher in charge of the winter assembly at Skinner Classical School had given me the spot to sing "Silver & Gold" in 1st grade, but one day I was running around chasing my friends right before practice, and when it came time for me to sing, my voice was all shaky and nervous-sounding. The teacher on the spot decided to give my part to someone else! I tried to explain that I was out of breath from running and that's why my voice sounded like that, but she was having none of it. If she would have kept me in my rightful place, perhaps I would have had the confidence to get better and better at singing, and it could have been me sweating on stage in front of 40 million TV viewers instead of Ruben Studdard. I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

1 comment:

GrizzBabe said...

My hand bell teacher will tell you that the ability to make a mistake and recover is almost as important a skill as the ability to nail your performance. It sounds like you recovered quickly in your "Opposite's Attract" duet.

Would love to have been there for "The Star Spangled Banner". I would have been laughing with you.