My mind has been thinking about Whitney Houston and her daughter all month. It reminded me of a moment in time when one of Whitney Houston’s songs taught me an important life lesson. I decided to share it here. My thoughts continue to be with her family.
When I was twelve, my friends and I got together and decided we were going to perform as a group in the school talent show. After much deliberation, it was decided that we would sing “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles. We practiced at every snack and lunch break.
Now, here is where I need to insert information about my singing voice. All of us girls were in the school choir. It was offered during lunch break on select days. This was before the time when schools actually had to give kids time to eat. The choir was run by this horrible old woman, whose name has long since escaped me. She would walk down the aisles while we were singing and pick on girls. “You,” she would screech, “you’re out!”
The girl would run away in tears never to be seen again.
She was Simon Cowell, before Simon Cowell was Simon Cowell.
One day we were practicing a song for a performance that never did take place. I truly believe she just pretended there would be a recital just to torment us. I noticed she was coming down my row. My stomach churned.
“Who is making that racket?”, she cackled.
Oh, I knew in my heart it was me. I could just tell. My heart started pounding and my hands became sweaty. So, naturally, I stopped singing and began lip syncing. I thought if I stopped, she would just keep going down the aisle. But she didn’t. She had all ready announced that someone was singing poorly. She had to save face. Or maybe she was just itching to ruin a young girl’s day.
She stopped short of me and said to the girl on my left, whose name was Lisa (name changed) and she happened to have a beautiful voice, “It was you! Get out!”.
Poor Lisa. She had thick gorgeous hair down to her waist. She was a nice girl and I have always felt guilty for not being the one kicked out of choir. Don’t feel too sorry for Lisa, though. She later went on to marry the most beautiful boy in high school.
All right, so us girls were breaking out on our own. We were going to sing a song the old woman hadn’t picked. So, we practiced for two weeks. And the day before the big talent show the principal informed us that he would not approve our song. Apparently, because the lyrics said “I watch you when you are sleeping,” it was too much of a sexual risk for the school. So, what were us girls going to do? Well, the teacher happened to have a Whitney Houston tape and thought it would be a fantastic idea for us to sing, “The Greatest Love of All.” Whitney Houston was really big at the time and being out of ideas, we all agreed.
No, wait, that is not what happened.
My friends, being the socially smart kids that they were, backed out. They decided it was way too risky (as in social suicide) to get in front of an auditorium of not only our peers, but EIGHTH GRADERS, and sing a song we had not practiced. Not me, though, I was in it to win it. I had committed to doing the talent show and I was going to do it. I stayed up an extra two hours that night memorizing the lyrics.
talented girl that I am, I can still recite to you every word of that song to this day. Maybe, because I am smart, but probably because the terror ingrained itself into my head.
My mother took me shopping for a new outfit. It was so pretty. It was a kelly green striped shirt with a matching poofy kelly green skirt. I would probably wear the same outfit today, which probably does not bode well for my fashion sense.
I was ready. My hair was sprayed into a glorious fan shape on top of my head. My imitation Keds were gleaming white. All set!
I remember stepping in front of the whole school and the sound of Whitney Houston’s voice blasting out of the speakers. They had handed me a microphone, but all you could hear was Whitney. So there I was. The eighth graders were the kids closest to the front, because they got prime billing. And I could see their pores. And I could see them snickering. I just sang away and no one could hear me. Which would have gone swimmingly, had the teacher not decided it was too much Whitney Houston, and not enough Jenni. And she turned the sound down. My voice screeched across the auditorium, I could hear it ringing back to me, and it wasn’t good. And it was very loud. But I kept going. I finished the song and hurried off the stage.
I was mortified. I was angry at my friends for “making” me go up alone, but I was mostly disappointed with myself. But then something amazing happened. After the talent show, one by one, three lovely eighth grade girls came up to me. “You were so brave.”. “You did great!”. “I love your outfit.” Each kind word was music to my soul. My embarrassment became not quite as painful. I began to feel pride that I had done it. I hadn’t done it well, but I had tried.
Every now and again, I like to remind myself of that seventh grade moment. A moment when I conquered my fears and reached for something. Of course, to this day, if that song comes on the radio, I turn red and immediately change the station. But it wasn’t all bad. Most moments in life aren’t… Thank you Whitney.