11.22.2009

The Jordan Idol Report

In my imagination, I climb into the DeLorean and race back to 1990 to warn my 13-year-old self that, 20 years later, I would be doing the unthinkable. Initially, my 13-year-old self just stares at me in bewilderment and wants to know when I had gotten crow’s feet around my eyes and whether or not my hair color is natural.

“There’s something you need to know,” I say to my young self. “It may seem a bit much to take in right now, but just bear with me. In fact, you might want to sit down.”

Teenage me slowly eases into a chair.

“In 2009, you are going to sing for New Kid on the Block Jordan Knight in an audition. Of sorts.”

(You see, in 1990, he was all THAT…
 nkotb old 
and here in my room, I was THIS…)
jen in nkotb room

In typical teenage fashion, my 13-year-old self leaps out of the chair and launches into a disbelieving tirade. “No way! You are lying. Don’t manipulate my emotions like that!”

“Calm down, Little Me. I’m not making fun of you. It’s true. I just thought you should know.”

With that, 33-year-old me mysteriously disappears, with fairy-godmother sparkles left in my place.  (This is my made-up story.  I don’t need a DeLorean.) And teenage me is left standing there breathless, hands shaking. She is a skinny little kid with bird legs and puffy permed bangs whose voice quivered whenever she sang in front of the church. How in the world was she going to have the guts one day to sing in front of Jordan Knight? It didn’t matter. She would figure it out later. Regaining her wits, she reaches for the phone to squeal the news to every single New Kids on the Block fan friend she ever had.

Fast-forward to November, 2009. Jordan Knight, now in full-fledged reunited boyband mode…
nkotb
…is holding auditions across the country in the hopes of finding background singers for his album or even duet partners (and of course, though not explicitly stated, in the hopes of ingeniously creating a buzz to surround an upcoming solo album.) 

Thirty-three-year-old me, now in full-fledged soccer mom mode, knew the time had come. I was under no illusions about what the prospects would be for me. Still, though the past 20 years had not given me voice lessons, they had provided me a good bit more singing experience and some more confidence than I had in my bird-legged days. “How could I NOT go?” I asked my husband. “Just to say I did it. To be there, for the fun of it all.” Knowing the history I had with my favorite group from days of old, he had no real answer to that question. Actually, he understood, and made the statement that a comparable experience for him might be receiving a touchdown pass from Dan Marino in a Super Bowl against the 49'ers, or being Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader - his childhood fantasies. So I went with his blessing and his encouragement, one of the many reasons that I have the greatest husband in the world.

In the days preceding the event, my stomach started to tie up in knots and the insomnia kicked in. Am I really going to do it?  I thought to myself.  And why am I freaking out like this? I was used to singing in front of a church. But this…this was way different. 

Here is the “teaser” video that came out just prior to the Atlanta event. Just watching it made me want to throw up.

What had started in the initial planning stages as a van-load of girlfriends traveling together had dwindled down to only one person – myself. One by one, everyone’s plans fell through, some even at the last minute. My true blue friend who was planning to accompany me all along wound up in the hospital that week. I missed her dearly, but standing in line outside the venue, I made new friends and met up with an old friend I had not seen in ten years. The blockhead community at work. Overthinker that I am, I had brought along a keychain that had a tiny recorder on it so I could discretely hear my starting note, a G.  But I discovered in line that the batteries had run down. And rather than trusting myself to start correctly, I spent most of my time in outside line trying to find a G in my head. A lost cause.

Inside the venue, my nervousness reached a new level and continued to skyrocket when Jordan Knight came on stage to welcome everyone and the judges were introduced. And when fellow New Kid Donnie Wahlberg took his place on the judges’ couch as a surprise guest judge later in the evening, I started to think this was all too much for me. I stood in the “singers line” waiting my turn to perform and enjoyed watching an endless parade of mostly amateurs getting our moment, as if we were all loyal subjects entertaining royalty. It was encouraging to note that no one was criticized, mocked, or ridiculed by either the judges or the crowd, in American Idol fashion. On the contrary, everyone got a polite response, whether it was deserved or not.

Later, as the line snaked past Jordan himself backstage, the girl in front of me told him that we were nervous. And I said, stupidly, “You have no idea.” I quickly amended that statement to, “Well, I guess you do have some idea.” He said that now we know how he feels. (Really? Jordan Knight still gets nervous?)

When Donnie Wahlberg squeezed past us, I had the opportunity to look right into the infernal dark glasses that he insists on wearing indoors and to tell him that I had written the blog he had tweeted recently.  As it registered, he spread both his arms out and wrapped me in a big bear hug.  I thanked him for sharing that link with the fans.

“What are you thanking me for?” he said, smiling. “You wrote it.”

He graciously signed a copy of it that I had brought along, and then he started to read the whole thing again.  I stood there beside him, awkwardly, and I finally said, “Um, you don’t have to read it now.”
“I remember this,” he said. “I actually read the whole thing. And that’s good for me because I have ADD.”  Gold star, Donnie.

By that time, it was almost my turn. As Jessa, the nice girl in front of me destined to become my cruise roommate, sang “Amazing Grace,” my nervousness started to ease up. I found my feet carrying me forward, and Kendrick Dean, the emcee, putting his arm around my neck, asking me my name, where I was from, and what I was singing. “But I gotta say my twitter name,” I said, since he had asked previously asked each contestant what their twitter name was, and it was relevant to the song I was about to sing, a re-write to the old NKOTB song, “I’ll Be Loving You Forever.”

In that moment, I realized why I had been so nervous all along. What if the re-write flopped? What if the crowd just blankly stared at me and didn't get it?  It was terrifying.  But it was too late for what-ifs. I was on the stage.

“I’m not that kind of girl with a five-star VIP,” I sang, referencing the high-priced concert meet and greet tickets. The crowd responded with laughter, and Jordan did, too. I felt more comfortable. I started to warm up. “There’s just so much that I wanna say,” I sang. “But when I try to tweet, all the spam gets in the way!” At the end, Jordan jumped up from the judges' sofa and reached up to hug me, and Donnie was on his feet. “That’s why I had to say my twitter name,” I said. 

Here is the clip that captures most of it.


And here is the 45-second clip that captures the reaction of the “judges”…Jordan Knight in white shirt and black tie, Donnie Wahlberg in baseball cap and vest.

I floated off the stage.  My teenage heart was soaring, not because of any abilities I have, but because I set out on a solo adventure to pursue a long-forgotten dream. I went that night all because my teenage self told me to.  Her voice does not often surface, and when it does, I don’t always listen to her. But every now and then, she has a pretty good idea.  I pause to consider it.  And if she’s lucky, I carry it through.  So, teenage me, I'm glad you're still a part of my life. I hope you’re still around 60 years from now when I’m 93. Because then, I’m certain, we could really have some fun.

Laurie and me standing in line at Jordan Idol
Atlanta, GA

Addendum: Two years have passed.  As far as we know, no word ever came to anyone about the results.  It simply “is what it is.”  Or rather, it was what it was.  Could it have been a PBI, maybe?  A partially-baked idea?  It seemed good to everyone at its inception.  And make no mistake, it was.  But I suspect that it was too complicated to carry it through to a resolution, for any number of reasons which I would not presume to speculate upon. 

I would have liked to see a conclusion of some sort, although I realize that no conclusion at all might just be the best possible outcome. That night in Atlanta brought some great friends into my life that I would have never known otherwise, and for that reason alone, it was worth it.  (Well, that…and the whole dream-come-true bit.)  I have no regrets. 

We still don’t know why you went through all that trouble, Jordan.  But we’re glad you did.  Thanks for a great memory.

11.09.2009

In My Room

I took my kids to my hometown. An incredibly gorgeous fall weekend in the South, the kind that makes you feel alive. I loaded up the minivan, and they piled in, and we went to visit my parents, who still live in the same house that we moved into when I was 13. The house is the same, for the most part. It has had some cosmetic facelifts here and there – new porches on the back and front, a remodeled dining room, and brand new windows. There was no particular reason for the trip, nothing that compelled us to go, other than simply seeing my mom and dad, which, in itself, is not uncommon. But while I was there, I reflected on some profound things.

At night, I would settle my small children into double bed in what used to be my room, and I would lie down in the twin bed in the same room, which we jokingly referred to as our “motel.” And then I found myself staring at the ceiling and the same pale pink walls, contemplating the passage of time. The wallpaper border was the same one I remembered – pink bows tied in knots from end to end, all the way around the room. There was my old bookshelf, which still held a collection of reading material from approximately age 5 all the way through college. Where else could I find Sesame Street books and Great Expectations on the same shelf? My sliding closet doors bore tape residue from the celebrity posters that had hung there years ago. The view out the window had changed – a huge maple tree stood outside the window where there used to be no shade at all.

There, in the night, surrounded by my past, I thought about my present. I really have turned into a grown-up, I thought. And this was the room where I had so longed to become that. It used to seem so impossible to reach. This was the room where I had spent hours pouring my heart and soul into diaries full of teenage angst…where I had cried when I didn’t go to the prom…where I had a telephone permanently attached to my ear after school…where I struggled and fought with my physics homework. Where I wrote my boyfriend, who would be my husband, long letters when we were apart during summers home from college. The room where I sought God and felt His love and assurance surround me in times when I needed Him most. The room where I forged my own personhood and dreamed about the days that were ahead for me.

I grew up on Beach Boys music, thanks to the influence of my dad. And I was reminded of the 60’s song, “In My Room”… “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to…in my room, in my room…do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray…do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday.” The place in which I lay awake that night had been my sanctuary for so long. There was something sacred in the moment that I realized I was seeing the fulfillment of a dream in the bed across from me. Two little children, a boy and a girl, slept peacefully, snuggled up next to each other in the very room in which I had once wondered who they would be. I certainly could never have dreamed them up myself. I thought of the man I had back home and smiled…because I used to spend nights in that room wondering if there was anyone out there for me. Back then, it did not seem likely, but I was wrong.

I will probably never be as attached to any room – ever – as much as I am to that pink one. Sometimes in the woven tapestry of our lives we are given the opportunity to make connections. To trace the path of a single thread that starts at one end of the fabric and stretches all the way across to the other side – where another thread picks up the pattern and keeps going. That reflective weekend, I made some connections from my growing-up years to my grown-up years, thanks to the pink room that is still there. So mom, if you’re reading this, don’t remodel it. The border is a little out-of-date, and the color a little teenage-girly, but I still think of it as my room. And I probably always will. Let’s keep it that way.
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