Rap Attack This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 19, 2013
I choked. No, I suffocated. I went cold, my stomach turned over, and I felt the color drain from my expressionless face. Even if my brain hadn't shut down, I had no air left in my lungs to make a sound. I knew I was nervous, but the middle of my act was the worst time for stage fright to kick in.

I love music and always have, and in my first year of high school I got the chance to show my skills to my peers. Unfortunately, I approached the talent show as though I had something to prove. It was too much pressure, especially for a kid who'd never even told anyone he was a rapper. The few I had told didn't think I was serious. It was a pretty crazy idea. I knew I wasn't that good; I had just started.

One day I was walking through the halls when I saw a poster for the school talent show. It was perfect. I would go on stage, drop a few bars, and the crowd would go nuts. Everyone would know my name, and I would no longer be just another faceless kid. Gallons of ink went into writing my two-minute rap. By the time I was done, I had gone through all the paper in my English binder.

The problem was, I didn't know exactly how to present myself. I wasn't the stereotypical rapper, talking about how awesome I was and how much money I had. That didn't fit. I mean, I knew I was awesome, but getting everyone else to believe it wasn't going to be easy. I needed to stand out, not blend in, and most importantly, the rap needed to reflect a message about me: about how it doesn't matter what you look like or what you have, because as long as you feel the music and have the skill, the mic can be yours.

I didn't show anyone what I had written before the show. I was in a weird position: I wanted to stand in front of everyone and be proud of my work, but I couldn't even find the courage to tell anyone I was a rapper. Except for my parents and a few close friends, no one knew. Of course my parents were supportive, but I doubt they thought it was something I was taking seriously. Kids change their minds about that kind of stuff all the time. This week he wants to be a rapper, next week an astronaut, parents think. My friends were neutral, showing no opposition or support.

As showtime drew closer, I grew more anxious. I chose to go a capella. That decision turned out to help me in the end.

The day before the show, all participants did a practice run. I was the sixteenth act, so I had to wait for a while. I got through my rap perfectly, without a single stutter, slur, or word forgotten. I was ready. By now people had found out I was in the show, but they didn't know what my act was. I told people when they asked, since there was no point in hiding it anymore. I got a few chuckles but also a few good-lucks.

I think most people were expecting me to go up on stage, rap “Ice, Ice, Baby,” and take a bow. I almost considered doing that, and to this day I sometimes wish I had. It would have taken the risk completely out of the performance. But what would that have proven? It would have gone against everything I was trying to say. Fail or not, I was too far in to back out.

The big night finally arrived. I didn't dress any differently than I would on a normal day. I didn't want to look like I was trying too hard. I remember standing on the stage twenty minutes before the first act and imagining a huge crowd on their feet, cheering and clapping. What I got was very different.

To start, there wasn't a full house, but a decent number of people came – enough so that if you embarrassed yourself, everyone would find out. Each act seemed longer than the last, and I was getting more nervous by the minute. I ran through the song in my head dozens of times. I lost count of the acts. I couldn't focus. I started sweating.

When I finally heard my name, I forgot how to move. Stage fright was threatening to overwhelm me. I snapped out of it long enough to get up on stage before everyone thought I had left. They handed me the mic, and I was so out of it, I almost waited for the beat to kick in.

The first word was almost impossible to get out, but I grew more comfortable as the song went on, and was even feeling good about my performance. I saw some heads starting to bob, and the judges looked pleased.

Then it happened.

To this day I don't know exactly what caused it, but I froze and forgot the next line. I remember the look the host gave me when I stopped. It was a mix of confusion and pity. I tried to come up with something on the spot, but it was pathetic. The line was supposed to be, “Even if you have nine cars in your garage, if you don't got the heart you'll be gone like a mirage.” Instead I said, “Don't hate. I'm great.”

I was done, and the only thing left to do was get off the stage. I was embarrassed beyond belief and mad at myself. I should have worked harder on memorizing the song, or tried to prevent my stage fright from taking over. I heard my mom say, “It's okay, Tanner,” and one of the other acts tried telling me it wasn't that bad. I knew it was. There was nothing I could do but slump in my seat until the show was over.

When it was time for the winners to be announced, I wondered if I might hear my name for third place, given that most acts really weren't good; maybe I would got a pity vote as the scared kid. But when I didn't get third, I felt that was my last chance to even come close to proving what I set out to: that I should be taken seriously as a rapper. How could I face my friends – or anyone – now?

As I stood up to leave, I heard someone say my name. I looked up and realized everyone was looking at me. I saw two other acts on stage, and the host was motioning for me to come up.

I had won. I didn't understand at first. How could I have won when I forgot half my song? It was awesome to win, but awful at the same time. I was ecstatic, but I had to stand on the stage like nothing had happened. I didn't make a speech or wave to the crowd; I simply looked at the judges and said thanks. I took my $50 and walked off. My point was proven, just not exactly as I had imagined.

I still rap today, and love music even more. I haven't stopped trying to get visibility either. Last year, my parents and I took a road trip to NYC so I could audition for “America's Got Talent.” I didn't make it, but I don't regret trying. I have videos on both YouTube and Facebook under my stage name, Tan-Air (creative, right?).

I realize now that there's no point in being embarrassed about something I love doing. Even if I don't become the next Eminem, at least it's not from a lack of effort.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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