There’s nothing like being on stage. Bright lights. Loud music. Cheering fans. All eyes on me. And they love me. They really do. No matter what I do or say, they can’t get enough of me.
I started singing when I was about 10 years old. Just little church plays and school talent shows. You know the kind. Where all the kids sing off tune or dance like a decapitated chicken or do a magic trick that totally fails. And even then the parents fall all over themselves to get the moment of video. They all think their little darling is the best.
“I’ve gotta get her in singing lessons,” they tell the person next to them. “She’s a star in the making.”
But they’re always wrong. Their kid ends up thinking they’re great, a huge talent. Then the first person who tells them the truth, that they suck, well, that breaks their little tone deaf, two left-footed hearts.
I had real talent, though. When I’d sing the room had a hush about it. Not just because they were listening. No. It was because they were holding their breath. My voice was smooth, clear, ethereal. Even then I knew I was a phenomenon. Nobody had to tell me that. They did anyway.
“Oh, Fiona,” they’d say. “You just have the most natural talent. You’re gonna be a star.”
“I know that,” I’d say. I was a cheeky little brat. It didn’t matter. They still wanted to hear me sing.
My mom entered me into a bunch of talent contests. I only lost once. The winner had a blazing baton. There’s no competing with that. But my mom fought to have the rules changed. No more fire. I didn’t lose again.
My voice started bringing in some big prizes. Well, first, all I’d win were watermelons and year-long memberships to the YMCA. But after a little bit there were cash awards for the top three finishers.
When my mom started cashing those checks she really started to believe in me.
Talent scouts would show up to the contests. They offered me representation. Promised gigs. Swore they’d make me famous.
“You ain’t nothin’ but small time,” my mom said, cigarette hanging from her lips. “We’re holdin’ out for the big time. And you ain’t got it.”
She’d look at me. Right in front of them, she’d rip them apart.
“You see, Fiona, them ain’t gonna get nobody no where. Wanna know how I can tell?”
I’d smirk at them. “Yup. I want to know.”
“That jacket he got on. It don’t match the pants. Man that can’t buy a whole suit ain’t gonna get anybody anywhere. See that weddin’ ring? He ain’t got time for what you need to get big. And that wad of chewing tobacco in his lip. Well, that ain’t nothin’ but a dirty habit. Ain’t no production company gonna talk to a man spittin’ in a beer bottle during castings.”
We’d walk away. It was always important that we left them standing, feeling like fools.
“Honey, we’ll do better if we just stick with each other for now. Can’t never trust no man neither. That’s somethin’ you gotta remember every day of your life.”
We waited. Got a couple gigs singing at county fairs. She even arranged for me to sing the National Anthem before minor league baseball games.
“Just keep plucking along, Fiona. It’s gonna happen one of these days.” My mom would make sure of that.
And one day we were approached. Not by some no count talent scout with a toupee and a polyester suit. This time it was a producer in a three piece suit and shiny shoes. He wanted me to audition for a show. On television. There would be a preteen audience, plenty of chances to sing and a few skits here and there. And, by the way, could I manage to act? Of course. I was never truly me. It was all an act.
My mom got me a new dress, painted my nails, curled my hair.
“The trick is to look like the part they have in mind. That way they’ll see you as the character before any words come out of your mouth.” She handed me a bubble gum pink dress. “Now, act perky.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” I said. My attitude was always a little sullen.
“Just act like you had too much sugar or soda or something. Pretend you’re a cheerleader.”
I did what she told me. The pink dress, bobbing curly hair and spunky behavior won me the role. We packed up everything we had, which wasn’t much. Just a double-wide full of clothes and shoes. The network paid for our flight to California. When we got there they’d bought a condo for us.
“Nothing but the best for our new little star,” the producer said, pinching my cheek.
I knew, right then, that this wasn’t going to be as much fun as I’d hoped.
But my mom cashed the checks and started spending the money. She wasn’t about to let me quit.
(to be continued)