Center Stage

May 4, 2011
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Seated on the wooden stool, I feel the thumping of my rapid heart as it threatens to beat through my chest. My left hand, gliding down the neck, finds the third fret and takes its place. I lean forward so the melodious lyrics will clearly seep through the microphone directly to the audience. I have only a few seconds before the warmth of the florescent lights hit me, and hundreds of eyes lie on my guitar and me – center stage.

I pick up my guitar while I study the chord chart. It amazes me that such simple letters can hold such intimidation. Once again the doubts tug at my thoughts. I'm not good enough. Yes, I may be capable of holding a catchy rhythm, but these days that's just not enough anymore. The thought of singing in front of even one person completely mortifies me. So many times before I had let my low self esteem win the battle as I locked my music in my room for only my ears to hear. Not this time. I need to display the one thing that remains special to me. The realization hits me, I will not be able to follow through with performing unless I do it for the right reasons. Not to please anyone else, or to show off, not even to get discovered or become famous. I am going to compete in the talent show for myself. To prove that I love making music because it fills my heart with contentment and joy. With the guitar resting on my right thigh, I begin to play as I close my eyes and picture a cheering audience.

A few days have passed since I made my decision to perform. I look at the clock in history. Ten more minutes till the class is over. I open my laptop and begin to look up songs when I come across one that I have listened to repetitively the past few weeks. This was the one, “Dear John” by Taylor Swift. I have never been much of a T-Swift fan but this song is so perfect, it's as if the lyrics come directly from my journal. It's a sad song, but yet I feel as though it will give me the edge I need to make the auditions.

I have been practicing for weeks now. I can sing through every single verse not making a single mistake. My fingers switch chords fluidly and the rhythm remains constant. However, I have been performing for my bedroom, and I know it's time to get over my fear of performing in front of people. I have been working so hard it would kill me to be laughed at and humiliated if I were to mess up. I have to start small and work my way up. So I decide to perform for my mother and my step father. I step into my living room in front of them, their eager, supportive parental faces waiting in anticipation. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and begin the song. As I start to play I get nervous and stumble over chords. My clammy hands keep hitting wrong strings and my voice cracks at a few high notes. Finishing the song, I dread looking up to see their reaction. Once I muster up the courage I realize they are smiling. My mother puts her hand on my knee.

“Play it again.”

So I do. I play it over and over again. Then I begin to play for anyone I can. I call up my friends and play for them over the phone. I play for my Spanish teacher after school one day. I even sit on the dusty swing in front of my house and play for the neighborhood kids who ride by on their bikes. Every time I play, another ounce of fear leaves my body and I mess up a little less often.

My friends tell me I'm working too hard for this talent show. I sit in silence as I hear them go on about how “this entire thing is utterly ridiculous and not that big of a deal.” They were once supportive but after a few weeks they are tired of hearing about it. I glance down at the blisters that line the tip of my fingers. This may seem ridiculous to them, but to me all this hard work will hopefully lead to the outcome I've been wishing for.

I open the door and walk into the room full of judges. I take a seat and introduce myself just as I have done many times before while practicing.

“Hi, I'm Kristen Jackson and I'm going to be playing “Dear John” by Taylor Swift.”

My right hand strums down, hitting all the right strings, and the words leave my mouth, perfectly in key. When the song ends, cheering erupts in the room. I feel my face burn with excitement as I thank the judges and head back out of the wooden door.

It's been a week since the auditions and still no word. Maybe I completely misinterpreted their reaction to my song. I have spent so much time worrying that at this point, I'm certain I must not have made it. I check my e-mail one last time, hitting the 'Inbox' button. I hold my breath as the page loads. Nothing. A sigh escapes my lips. I draw my attention back to the teacher as she continues to give a lecture on Emily Dickinson and her influence on literature. The classroom door opens and a pleasant-looking girl walks in; a small blue paper, rolled and tied together with a ribbon, is placed on my desk and she promptly leaves. As I unroll the letter, the eyes of my classmates glued on me, I see the word “Congratulations!” written in large black ink. I made it into the talent show.

The light turns on and my right hand strums the chords just like it has many times before. The song is sad but yet the smile on my face won't completely diminish. Every single note rang through the auditorium into the depths of my ear drums. The slight echo added the power to my song that words could not. I held these few minutes for everything they were worth. I can't see the faces of the audience through the lights, but it doesn't matter. I'm doing this for myself. As I finish the lights fade and there is silence for only a moment. Then I can see every face in the crowd, only some are familiar, as they completely explode into screaming and cheering. They stand up, one-by-one. A standing ovation. This is more than I could ever dream of. I feel the tears build up and stream down my face. I don't even wipe them because they are the best kind of tears. Tears of victory. The effect my hard work had is more than I anticipated.

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