Friday, March 28, 2008

Twenty Five Years After Starmaker

I graduated from high school in 1983. My senior year was stellar. I had no idea what I was heading for; nor did it matter. My friends and I just seemed to make the most of that year as we forged ahead believing we were ruled.

I had very few core classes in my two semesters as a senior. For me, the only thing that mattered were the courses -- a term used loosely -- at the Lincoln Cultural Center. It had been determined a year prior that our school district was deserving of a center devoted to fine arts. A huge government grant had been acquired. For the two school years that made up my junior and senior years, I would end my day with two hours of dance and choir. Essentially, those hours were all about show choir. For those of you who don't know what that is, instead of standing on risers and singing in harmony, we'd sing while executing choreography. Being in "The Celebration Singers" required auditioning.

A great time would be had as we participated in competitions and performed for local Chamber of Commerce groups. We'd have the standard yearly school performances and assemblies, too. I lived for the moments of being on stage. I was given a chance to escape. I wasn't the best singer or dancer, but I did put my heart and soul into each note and movement. Passion was my drive.

My other love during high school were the musicals. Everybody knew that our director would choose the musicals based on certain people as the leads. It was frustrating, but it seemed to have been that way forever. Rogers and Hammerstein were the typical front runners of shows to be put on.

In my freshman year, I didn't audition. I didn't figure there'd be a part (even in the ensemble) for a 5'11" girl in "The King and I." I did, however, help with make up. I still had a blast.

In my sophomore year "The Music Man" would lure me to audition. I was nervous singing in front of seniors. Naturally, the role of Marian would go to the blue-eyed blond (even though her voice was as sharp as a Ginsu Knife). No matter. I loved being a pick-a-little lady. Wearing period costumes brought me great joy. The hats? Big and full of plumage.

"Hello, Dolly!" we would combine talents of the district's once divided high schools. The fine arts program would prove that east could meet west and create something phenomenal. In this production, I would still find myself in the ensemble, but dancing and singing while wearing period attire was simply out of this world. I learned to polka! The set crew built an extension from the stage and took up the first two rows of the auditorium so the cast could parade their Sunday clothes in style.

"Love Look Away" would be my shining moment as a senior. Flower Drum Song was the final show of Eastridge High School. The director decided to take a nostalgic trip as we closed the doors to our school. The school district decided only one high school was needed in our fair city. Flower Drum Song had been the first musical done when Eastridge was first built.

I had desperately hoped that I'd be cast out of my element to play the flirtatious night club performer: Linda Low. I had to beg to be allowed to audition for the part of Madame Liang (the mother who sings Chop Suey) During auditions, it had become apparent that the directors had already decided what part I would play. A role I would be far too comfortable in. The single, forlorn seamstress, Helen Chow. The deciding factor was that I could sing the solitary tune of unrequited love. I could hit the high notes without effort. I would still endure many hours of vocal coaching so I wouldn't strain.

So many hours had been put in by our parents and family members to help us put on the most spectacular show. Sets were designed to resemble Chinatown in San Francisco. Silk and satin costumes were hand sewn. I wore a black satin dress that had been hand painted. It's similar to the one here. Hundreds of intricate frogs were made as enclosures for our oriental clothing. My sister researched theater make-up to make Anglos appear Asian. Our hair was expertly done by authentic Asian stylists. Many of us dyed our hair jet black. Blonds wore wigs.

I had sung solos before in choir, but never had I stood on a stage alone with bright lights beaming down on me. Never had I ever had to hold an audience captive with my presence. One particular performance will never escape me. We'd put on an all school show. I recall being so nervous performing in front of not just a few, but ALL of the student body. I sang my song. I felt completely on pitch and in time. The energy was intense, but not so much that I lost control. My solo ended and the spot light dimmed. A roar of applause erupted. I looked out to see my classmates standing on their feet. For a brief moment I felt like a superstar ... and it was on with the show.

A short time after the curtain closed for the final time on Flower Drum Song, I competed in the Miss Kankakee County Pageant. My friend and I had been recruited during rehearsals for Flower Drum Song. We figured it would be fun. It turned out to be pretty low key and very small. To say I was First Runner-up sounds like a real coup. However, with only four contestants, it's not much to brag about.

Under the encouragement of my choir director, I sang, once again, "Love Look Away." It met the time constraints and I knew it like the back of my hand. I won talent. I won evening gown (a dress hand-sewn by my sister Maureen) and swimsuit, too. I didn't win the interview portion and that was 50% of the point tally. I only know this because one of the judges sent me a letter congratulating me and offering to serve as a pageant mentor if I chose to pursue pageantry more seriously. Her suggestions were more than I was willing to take on. Standing at 5'11" I weighed 150 lbs. That's about 20 lbs more than a competitor should weigh. I'd have to be diligent with voice lessons amongst many other 'lessons' to be picked up. The bottom line was that I couldn't financially carry out the dream. Still, it was nice knowing I had impressed someone other than family.

To round out the year that would be a bright spot in my life I would sing with friends at graduation. Fame was a huge part of our musical loves and we opted to serenade our classmates to the tune of "Star maker." Karen, Tommy, Jessica (sang while playing piano), Erik and myself. In harmony we sad good bye to childhood and our beloved school. In show of appreciation our classmates rose to their feet with applause. At age 17, nothing could have been better.

My eldest brother would later dash my graduation high by telling me I needed to work on my breath control. It took everything in me to work on my fist control after hearing that. It wasn't "wow! you kicked ass little sister!" it was, "you need to work on your breath control." Had the 17 year old then possessed the chutzpah of today, big bro would have received a big "FUCK YOU!" in response. Instead, I just nodded and smiled.

The summer to follow graduation would be filled with lots of good times with those I shared my high school days. They'd all go off to college in the Fall while I would attend the local community college and continue working my part time job at the pizzaria (Monicals for the locals). I loved that job. I'd long for performing and do so in projects here and there.

So, here I am 25 years later and preparing for my class reunion. I'm still in touch with the closest friends I had then. One, Tommy, I call my best friend because I know I can tell him anything and his love is unconditional.

I am a much heavier version of my 17 year old self. I do have the confidence and poise (ha) of a super model goddess in training. NutriSystem has proven to be a bit slow going with my body, but it's working. I can feel it. To quote James Brown, "I feeeeeeeeeeeeel good!" My appearance is less puffy and bloated. My body aches far less. In fact, when I ease myself up from the couch I fully expect to hurt somewhere. Guess what? I don't. I walk away realizing I didn't make a sound fitting for an 80 year old Yiddish man. It took me many years to pack on this weight. I'm not compelled to kill myself to take it off in a matter of weeks. All in due time, and this time it will be for good.


  1. Great post! Just now having a chance to read it. :) ~ Johnny K

  2. Wow, John! You found this post on my first site. How'd ya do that? I kind of like how I wrote this post. I lost my edge somewhere. Maybe when I started trying to please others? Perhaps at the time when I started writing for others rather than myself? Yeah. time to get back to what I know ... me.


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