Weeks before the American Idol audition took place, every friend that I have told me—sort of excitedly yelled to me—that American Idol was coming to Savannah for the very last season.
They warned that if I didn’t try out there would be serious repercussions (anywhere from petty crimes like spilling rice on my kitchen floor “on accident” to major offenses like confiscating and holding one of my favorite books hostage).
I remember when Kelly Clarkson won. I remember watching her sing A Moment Like This in a blue sparkly dress and fighting back tears. I wanted to be her. I watched Carrie Underwood rise to fame on that show. I was heart broken when my favorites didn’t win.
Until, suddenly, I was a teenager. I didn’t care anymore.
I started playing my own music, singing my own songs and collaborating with other artists, but I still remember hiding under my bed belting A Moment Like This perfecting the voice and vocal runs just like Kelly and I will never forget how it made me feel.
Performing still makes me feel this way—like my chest is open wide, the air is easier to breathe and I have paranoia that I am being too loud—that someone around me is going to get annoyed.
The first reality show I auditioned for was The Voice in New York City. I made a plan to stay in my friend’s N.Y.U. dorm and to wait in the freezing cold for hours just to stand in a small room in front of a lady behind a desk with eight other people. We all had our chance to sing.
I was terrible.
I knew it would be bad from the moment I stepped off the bus and coughed up the first loogie of a cold that lasted until spring.
I persevered and went anyway, proving two facts that now shape my character and performance style, whether they’re good or bad.
1. I will always try my best follow through, even if I know that I am incapable of doing so .
2. I can sing decently when I’m sick, but not when I’m nervous.
This experience was discouraging.
But American Idol came right to my doorstep.
I didn’t tell any of my friends when I decided to go. It took about a week before the audition for me to tell my roommate, who assured me that the game was rigged and they were going to want to peg me into an archetype that is, in his opinion, impossible for them to do to me.
“You could make it on your own, you don’t need reality T.V.—but best of luck.”
I told my close friends—three crazy gals— four days before the audition. They were beyond excited. The day came, the 22nd of July, and the plan was to wake up early, grab my guitar and some tea, then head down to the convention center. I could walk there. How much more could the universe give me?
However, when 8 a.m. rolled around, I rolled back over. I didn’t want to go anymore. What was the point? I gave myself stupid excuses—my finger has a bandaid on it, I won’t be able to play the guitar. It’s “a rigged game anyway.” They won’t like my voice—Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin wouldn’t have made the cut, it’s just not what they’re looking for. I went back to sleep feeling defeated.
A few hours later I got out of bed and heard something that sounded like a coin hit the floor. I wear hair wraps in my hair, little dread like creatures that attach to my head with tightly bound string for those of you who are unfamiliar.
They’re adorned with far too many charms, beads and blessing rings that help me meditate and hang from my head several inches down the side of my body attached to my hair. The longest one reaches all the way down to my hip bone. They are extremely heavy. The little coin sound was a hair wrap falling out, as they do after a few months. The wrap that fell out had the blessing ring that said “dream” on one side and “anything is possible” on the other. To top it off, the other ring on the wrap simply said “integrity.”
I got out some string, as well as two other wraps that were ready to come out and redid all of them. This time, the very last wrap, I paired “dream” with “destiny: create, explore, believe.”
I walked to my landlord’s office to pay my rent (late) and instead of walking home, I walked to the convention center.
Section 21, seat 13. I was ready to be auditioning in tent seven, for crying out loud. “What are you trying to tell me universe?” My friend—for whom I am forever grateful—brought me my guitar, the tuner and a mug of tea (not a travel mug, a mug mug.
To a convention center. These things can’t be made up.
I practiced in the hallway and held a baby while a seven-year-old played my guitar for a while. What was I supposed to do, say no? She was curious, and the baby had a tutu on. In retrospect, why this seven-year-old was carrying a three-month-old baby I will never know.
It was finally my group’s turn—a cute guy with tattoos from a shop I know, a 15-year-old girl with a James Brown sized ego and a tall, thin dude who didn’t say much at all, but called his mom so she could hear him audition.
I was third in line.
My guitar doesn’t have a strap, so I asked if I could sit on the floor, but the judge was happy to offer me his chair because they’d been sitting down all day. I set my guitar on my lap, and the judge smiled and said to me “cool, you’re a left paw” referencing that I was playing a righty guitar upside down. I smiled, sang the song the best I could, just like I practiced and the same judge said to me when I was done “what a great song.” I responded with “I love Bob Dylan.”
They put their papers in front of their faces and made their deliberation. I knew that I had one judge on my side, but when it came down to it none of us were what they were looking for.
I didn’t feel relieved. I didn’t even feel that nervous to begin with. I didn’t even know that I would end up there. Several thoughts were going through my head—this was so important to me as a kid, why not now? There are girls crying outside, why is my dream not crushed?
I learned that dreams change.
I realized that the dream blessing ring may have purposefully fallen out, I may have been assigned to seat 13 in section 21 for a reason and I may very well have auditioned in tent 7. All of these things happening for me were not telling me that I would be the next and last American Idol.
They were telling me that I can not sit around and dream my whole life away.
Sometimes I’ve got to round up the chutzpa to actually pursue one.
A quote comes to mind when I look back on the feeling I had when I walked home from the convention center, my guitar sans the case in one hand and my coffee mug in the other.
“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if not, I hope you have the strength to start over.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
This experience taught me courage. I find strength in myself that surprises me every day.
Yesterday I realized, while teaching a friend how to whistle, that I can whistle on an almost proficient level. That doesn’t mean that one day I will be America’s “best” singer. I will never be America’s “best” writer, I am confident in assuming that I will never be America’s “best” whistler, but these are far from failures.
Though I should never say never.
One day, when the time is right, a dream will become a reality. With or without signs to point me there, maybe even with out warning and I will finally have my “moment like this.”
Author: Jazz Unruh
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: flickr, courtesy of author