Monday, June 18, 2012

America's Got No Talent



Next year, when my kid says she wants to perform in the talent show, here's what's going to happen. I'm going to do a special hand signal, and you're going to send a medivac chopper to my house. I'll do some acting of my own and you'll winch down the stretcher. I'll climb on and you'll evacuate me on the day of the show. I'll feign head injury or Leukemia. I've suffered enough. No one should have to do that twice.

I admit I may have held some false hope. In this TV world, where talent shows are de rigeur, where editing, and splashy graphics shrink time and space, creating the illusion that there could be talent among us is easy to do. Like the dancers who show up in their black light suits and blow your mind, I thought surely there must be an equivalent kid in a basement around here who was dreaming up the ultimate mind-bender. I felt sure he was whittling marionettes out of cast-off furniture and string-acting scenes from Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Nope.

Mostly, there are a lot of kids out there, who just because they enjoy a song on the radio, believe they can sing. And I want to be the first to tell them. They cannot.

There's a kind of bad singing that I think we can all relate to. The Happy Birthday song, enthusiastically sung in three wrong keys. The mumbling you might be willing to do on occasion, humming a few bars to remind your friend of a song, whatever it may be.

But there is also another kind of singing. One that happens to you. At you. On you. It's a terrible sound. One that starts from a place high in the constricted, untrained throat, that scrapes along the tissues of the gullet until it ricochets off some high tension orthodontia, like the early telephone --Watson, I need you -- but to the melody of a Bruno Mars tune, sung over a karaoke CD. The bad sounds issue forth, and are then amplified by mediocre middle school sound equipment, causing sound waves to come for your cerebral cortex in a torrent. Your brain rejects it.  Getting those sounds in there is like trying to bath a cat in a bucket of water; it's just a hissing, rigid 'X' of claws, electrified hair and bared teeth refusing to fit in your ear canal, but getting wet all the same.  When I say that not a single note was sung in tune, I'm not overstating it. Not...a...single...note.

So there's the auditory assault. And that's deeply uncomfortable. But it is no match for the emotional discomfort.

Something happened to me. I'm not the same person. There was me before the talent show, and there's me now. I have PTSD. Post Talent Show Disorder.

What happens to a body when it must suppress embarrassment for two hours? I believe there was an extreme compression that caused my empathy gland to secrete every last dribble of protective parenting hormone I possess. I believe if they could harness this chemical, the one that comes from a mother's last cell of embarrassment, secreting this final ounce of protective nectar - we'd have a cure for cancer.

And then there were the comedy acts. Mumbled inaudibly through masks. And the violin mini-recitals, where they choose to play popular movie themes so that we might better be able to  catch every mis-fingered squeal, every bow-scraping howl.

Twenty acts, three minutes each.

Vildy and his dad sat in the back row so they could leave the nano-second after Lily's performance, which was almost exactly the middle of the show.  I mention to them that it's a little gauche to exit like that, to not respect the other performers. They both tell me that I will not take them alive. They don't care how it's perceived; I will be taking this one for the team. In exchange they will buy me things. Cars. Countries. 

I must remain behind to give after show high-fives. It's in my contract.

But wait! Here comes the Jon Bennet Ramsey of the dance world. Sparkly leotard, dark nude hosiery, fake eyelashes. Tight, hairsprayed bun. And with her, the hope of relief. Because this girl has gone to regionals. She's been practicing this routine for eighteen weeks in some kind of Dancing with the Stars competitive dance atmosphere. She's a professional amateur. So at least I don't have to worry that she will freeze and run from the stage crying. In these times, this is a comfort. But heaven help me, it's excruciating in another way. Everything is performed with a toothy, possibly professionally-whitened smile. Its a combination of "dance", cheer-leading, gymnastics and early 90's aerobics moves. Every movement is preceded by a split kick, and concludes with a walk-over. There are so many jazz hands. It's cringey. I imagine the machine that has put this girl here, in this place in time. The many rides her parents have provided and the many hours they've spent waiting in dance class lobbies, scrolling social media on their smart phones, the late night glue-gunning of sequins. The "potential" they believe they have cultivated in this child. Potential for what, I wonder as I dig my fingernails into my thighs.

Later in the show something happened involving a girl in a chicken suit. While I'm writing it, it sounds like it might be good. I'm a sucker for a chicken suit. But it was not good. It was strange and I don't know what it meant.

So many more singing acts. All of them inspired by watching Glee, High School Musical, America's Got Talent and McGuff's Million Dollar Hand Job. I made that last one up. But you can see that the kids have been merchandised to effectively, they have no clue that talent is not an American rite. Just because someone hands you a microphone, doesn't mean you should sing into it. And parents. Yes, encourage your children to try things, but don't let them try them out on us. Try things out on siblings, possibly grandparents, but not the general public. It's not ok. You must stop them, as a public service.

You may wonder now, what about my kid? What happened with her dance action? Weeeellll, let's just say, it was fine. Nothing terrible happened. I knew it wasn't going to go off hitch-free when I realized that she'd rehearsed the whole thing entering stage right, and they made all the kids enter stage left. That turned her orientation to the audience on its head. There was no way she could re-jigger her compass points mentally. So, sections were forgotten, micro-expressions of confusion were registered by me, but I feel sure, by no one else. And the miracle was this: she had a great time! She didn't care at all. When she forgot, she improvised. When she was in the wrong place, she repeated until the music caught up with her. Her face was so focused and beautiful, and her sweet, long body twirled and twirled. I viewed the entire thing from a very disembodied, magic carpet ride of maternal love and anxiety, which had a delightfully anesthetizing effect. It was like a twilight sleep in which I dreamed that my daughter was was a person who could perform with joy in her heart, and when I woke up, I discovered it was not a dream at all. She did. Sure, she kinda blew it. But in the end, for her, it was a party.

Next year she wants to sing.

It's fine with me, because I wont be able to hear it over the chopper blades.

4 comments:

  1. "What happens to a body when it must suppress embarrassment for two hours? I believe there was an extreme compression that caused my empathy gland to secrete every last dribble of protective parenting hormone I possess. I believe if they could harness this chemical, the one that comes from a mother's last cell of embarrassment, secreting this final ounce of protective nectar - we'd have a cure for cancer."

    Thank you for explaining this feeling to the world so perfectly. I love your magic carpet rides.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Jessica...for voicing the discomfort of parents everywhere. I was sweatin' just reading this! "Yes, encourage your children to try things, but don't let them try them out on us. Try things out on siblings, possibly grandparents, but not the general public. It's not ok. You must stop them, as a public service." The same is true for youth sports & all school projects. Yes, Shakespeare said "All the world's a stage," but not "All the world's an audience." What's the new bumper sticker say, "Sing like your in the shower, Dance like you're in your bedroom, Chat like you're in a truckstop restroom." Something like that. THAT is the heart of the art form. That is where these talent shows should be performed, to an audience of one self. You go girl!

    ReplyDelete
  3. wow, good stuff, thank you jess. this will make the rounds at shady hill

    ReplyDelete
  4. Our town has the grace to schedule the talent show during the school day so it is difficult for parents to attend...

    ReplyDelete