I don't sing; I don't dance; I don't recite dramatic verse poetry. In my heart of hearts, however, I like to think I have star potential. I like to imagine that one day I, too, will be discovered while standing in line at the Denny's all-you-can-eat buffet. If Gisele, supermodel that she is, can be discovered at her local Rio McDonald's, then why can't I be eating a Filet-O-Fish one day and strutting the Paris catwalks the next? Only impediment to my ambitions is the small fact that, beyond my ability to make conversation with anyone within three inches of me, there's no real indication that I do, in fact, have what it takes to dazzle.
I realize that you can't talk about your own star potential. All you can hope for is that others will recognize it, like the glow of pregnancy or the bruise of a stigmata. In my case, the only person who recognizes the divine chanteuse somewhere inside me is my mother. "Of course you're special," she says. "You take after me."
My fatherI have to work on him. "I don't want you anywhere near the music business," he says.
"But you're a musician."
"Like I said, I don't want you anywhere near Music Row."
So it surprised me when one recent afternoon my father called me at work to ask if I would sing on a song he was recording. My father is tall and wiry, his hair a little disheveled, his movements revved up and nervous. There is no languid ease in his speech. His manner is the closest you can come to a cocaine-induced state without actually being on cocaine. He's always been this way; when he was a child, my grandmother used to put him outdoors and say, "Run around the house," and he would. Many times.
That afternoon when my father called, he was in his usual hurried state. He barely said "hello" before following with a jittery, "I need you to sing something for me."
"But I don't sing."
"Doesn't matter. You talk like me," he said in his rattling, mumbling way.
"I'm feeling a bit congested. I don't want my moment to come when I'm ill."
"Just get on over here soon as you can. I need a female background vocal, and no one else has been able to match up with me yet. You and I have the same rhythms, you're going to work just fine." Then he hung up satisfied, while I sat there terrified. I love my father, but in addition to the "I don't sing" aspect, he and I have never worked well together. I still have nightmare visions of third-grade math homework, or piano lessons with the metronome clicking and him yelling, "Don't look at your hands. Don't look at your hands! I'm covering them up!"
My father doesn't remember such horrors, so as soon as I walked into his office with its small studio setup, he handed me some earphones and pointed to the mic stand in the corner. I barely had time to lay down my bag before he was playing the already recorded vocal track and instructing me to "Sing these two lines here. Notice how you've got to go up in pitch at the end of the second one."
I listened. I tried. I tried once more, then once more again. I couldn't do that change in pitch. I just couldn't get that one little part. Maybe it was the fact that I'd never sung before, much less sung with giant head-enveloping earphones on. It was the traumatic multiplication tables all over again: for each time I sang incorrectly, my father would shake his head, erase the evidence and say, "Nope, do it again."
"Do it again."
"That was close, wasn't it?"
"Nope, do it again."
"Are you auto-tuning me?"
"Just sing it again."
For three hours this went on. For three hours I stood there and sang the exact same line. My allergies flared up, I developed a rasping cough, my friends called leaving messages asking where I was, was I going to meet them later. What was I supposed to tell them? "Sorry, my father's, like, got me laying down some tracks. I'll have to get back to you."
What's possibly most disturbing about the whole incident is that, even though I saw how hard it is to sing and I experienced how difficult it is to perform, my focused determination to dig out that star potential wasn't diminished one bit. When I finally did hit the right note, I still half-expected him to admit that maybe his daughter did have what it took to be the next American Idol, that there was talent hidden deep within me.
So I stood there, waiting. Then, finally: "You feel my star power?"
He fiddled with some controls on his mixing board.
"You think you can find me a deal?"
He muttered and shook his head.
"Daddy, are you listening to me?"
"Do you think I should start my own band or not?"
He looked up, a bit startled, then laughed. Hard. Maybe even for several minutes. I picked up my bag. He continued laughing. To this day he still laughs whenever I bring up my music career. Looks like we know who won't be getting any thanks on that gold album I'm planning.