Taking the stage
I’ve always liked karaoke. It’s almost like I was destined to be a sing-along extraordinaire, only not quite.
Do you remember those Fisher Price karaoke machines with the tape player and toy microphone? One of my best Christmas presents ever. I have distinct memories of entertaining my family as a toddler singing Disney songs under the dining room table. You see, my grandparents lived in a tiny house on a hill with a tiny dining room. My grandma’s wood antique hutch was on one side of the table, and a wall and window lined the other. My parents would stick us kids against the window wall because we were tiny enough to squeeze underneath the table and crawl out to the living room. It was completely normal in our family. I would always get annoyed with this ninja warrior-like post-dinner obstacle course, so singing “Circle of Life” under the table while they enjoyed the cannolis seemed fair.
Before I graduated to the e-Kara karaoke system that plugged into our tube television in the third grade, I had the experience of a lifetime at an old dude ranch in upstate New York. I had just graduated from the first grade. My girl scout troop had planned a weekend to this dude ranch to celebrate all of the ‘badges’ we earned that year. Beth, my mom, decided to volunteer as a chaperone and take responsibility for five of the girls that weekend. Bless her. The weekend was full of me throwing side eye to the scary stuffed deer hanging in the lounge, refusing to kick my horse because I thought it was mean, and burning marshmallows on purpose because that’s how I liked them. The dude ranch life wasn’t necessarily for me. Until, we had a competition our last night at the hotel.
It was a karaoke contest. My girl scout friends were giddy with excitement and ready to sing their favorite boy band songs. Me, well, I had picked out the perfect tune - a personal favorite from the early mid-90s. When the DJ placed the sign-up list with a single pen next to his station in the smoky wood lounge, there was a stampede of little girls dressed up in their embroidered capris fighting to be first. One by one, group by group, the DJ called girls up to the stage to impress the crowd.
Today, I imagine what it would have been like to be Beth that night listening to girls screeching in their high pitched voices to Backstreet Boys songs. Ouch. No thanks.
As the DJ made his way down the list, I grew more and more nervous. Could I actually do this? I may have been a confident little first grader, but it didn’t change the fact that my stage fright made me feel like I was going to cry and throw up all at the same time. I was on edge. Would I be able to do the greatest song ever justice? A tear was definitely shed thanks to nerves, but Beth essentially grabbed my hand, walked me up to the stage and fed me to the wolves… well, more like a room full of Brownie girl scouts and dead animals hanging on walls.
The lights went dark. I gripped the mic and shifted my weight nervously from one foot to another. Based on the photos Beth has shown me years later from that weekend, I was probably wearing dorky jean shorts, a t-shirt with a cartoon animal on it and my rainbow choker necklace. I don’t know whether to flinch or laugh when I envision that.
Then… the intro started.
That night I sang the best rendition a seven-year-old had ever sang of Britney Spears song “Sometimes.” There were dance moves. There was a disco ball. There wasn’t a moment I stumbled on my words. Nailed it.
I nailed it so hard that I ended up winning the karaoke contest. The prize - a free weekend at the dude ranch I never wanted to return to ever again. My idol Britney would have been proud.
Sixteen years later, when I got booed singing Stevie Nicks song “Landslide” one drunken night with a friend as Beth and my aunt watched on, I thought back to that dude ranch weekend. After we stepped off the stage ready for our next tequila shot, my mom said she was proud of how far I’d come as a karaoke champ: from a free weekend at a dude ranch to getting booed offstage because our audience couldn’t handle the serious vibe we brought to the stage. That’s how you know you’re going somewhere in life.