I don’t have much fear of the stage. I never have. I can be shy in one-on-one situations, but put me in front of a group of people and I’m okay. There is only one exception to this rule: I am terrified of singing in front of people. I sing in the car, in the shower, around the house and I do an all-out performance and, dammit, I’m good. I’m a diva. Once microphones and/or audiences enter the mix, I’m mute. I had a karaoke machine and couldn’t even do that. When I listened to the playback, I was horrified. And I know I don’t really sound like I did on that tape. I was extremely self-conscious, my throat muscles were tight, I couldn’t breathe, and I was in the guestroom-alone. It was that freaking microphone! I knew somebody was going to listen to that tape. I was. My worst critic.
When I was in the first grade, my class had its little Christmas show. All the children were carefully arranged on the risers. I was in the second row directly facing the kid behind me. All the audience could see was the back of my head. I don’t remember this happening, but it’s a story my mom enjoys telling.
When I was in the eighth grade, I auditioned for a solo part in our chorus. I was to sing “Tomorrow” from “Annie”. The piano accompaniment began, then abruptly stopped after a few measures. The chorus director told me I had missed my cue and to try again. The thing was, I hadn’t missed my cue. I sang, but it was inaudible. We tried a second time and I ran screaming from the stage, arms flailing. Okay, that last part didn’t really happen, but in my nightmarish mental re-enactments I run every time.
So fast forward to 1999 and the age of 29, and I’m at a karaoke bar with friends. I decide, with the help of a million Jack-and Cokes, to give it a try. Actually, I filled out a slip but couldn’t summon up the nerve to turn it in. As a cruel joke, my “friend” turned my name in while I was in the restroom. So my name was called, I begged my friends to come up with me for moral support, and I got behind the mic. “Roam” by the B-52’s began to play. I learned quickly that it is not a good idea to perform an upbeat, cheery dance tune your first time. If there is one thing I am afraid of more than singing, it’s dancing. My buddies were behind me groovin’ to the “music”. I stood there with my hands stuffed in my pockets, singing in a dreadful monotone, peppering it with phrases like “shut up!” and “no,stop it!” to their repeated requests that I dance, too. Once that ordeal was over, I decided I had to redeem myself. I put in a non-dance tune, “Hotel California” and performed it later that night. I grabbed a stool and pulled it up with me. It was a much better performance.
A few weeks later, I went karaoking at a different bar, with a different, and rather shy, friend. Feeling like the confident karaoke pro, I persuaded her to sing “Piano Man” with me. “Oh, I was nervous, too, my first time,” I told her helpfully, “but, trust me, once you get up there it’s not that bad.” I was smug.
So our names were called, we got onstage, and I coolly told the dj to “pitch-shift it up a bit” so I could get those male-oriented low notes. The music began, and I realized that, not only could I still not hit those afore-mentioned low notes, I now could not get to the high notes, either. My friend, who shall remain nameless, sang very loud and very off-key looking straight at me, eyes wide, burning holes into the side of my head with her glare. I just stood there holding my mic down by my side, giggling like a fool, helpless.
I know now that it is important to know your material well before going onstage. There are teleprompters,yes, but sometimes they can be confusing. I once tried a Britney Spears slow song called “Sometimes”. I needed a break from my usual songs and figured, hey, it’s Britney. How hard can it be? Unfortunately, I didn’t know the song by heart and had to rely on the teleprompter. The lyrics included everything down to those little improvisational bits she does at the end of the track. I tried my best, singing exactly what was on-screen, which was a lot of “oh baby” “oooooooooooooh”and ”someti-i-i-i-imes”-, but I hadn’t a clue how to actually fit it into the song. I finally gave up and sang with the back up singers.
I do have to say that I have improved. I no longer sit at my table sweating, silently fearing that mine would be the next song called. I am able to socialize and, upon hearing my name, excuse myself calmly, saying “I have to go sing now. We’ll continue this conversation when I come back.” I am able to delude myself into thinking I can sing, and I have fun with it. After all, like my “cruel friend” says, “It’s just karaoke. It’s not ‘Star Search’”.