When Talent Shows Go Bad

When Talent Shows Go Bad

At the risk of bursting some bubbles, friends, we need to talk about when well-intentioned parents put their children onstage. I know, I know…you’ve all seen my Glamour1 Shots and you may think I’m going to talk about my past life as a young beauty pageant contestant2, but we’ll dissect that nonsense another day. No, friends, what we need to talk about tonight is….*dramatic pause* …When Talent Shows Go Bad3.

** cue the excitingly ominous music **

** Internal Thoughts: Should I bring William Shatner into this? I’m on the edge of getting all nervous and Unsolved Mysteries here.   Hmmm…. “Um, hello, William? Can you come over? Baby, you’re on my heart tonight.” **

I usually jump right into the Verbose Lagoon when I tell a story4, but tonight’s tale will be brief. William Shatner just arrived and he’s going to hold my hand to keep me from falling apart in the telling. This might actually be a three-minute read.




In 1983, my elementary school, Glen Oaks, announced that it was going to hold a student talent show. I was an awkward eight year old, swimming clumsily through the shark tank known as third grade, while my adorable sister, KT, was living the good life of first grade construction paper projects and phonics worksheets.  I don’t know if either of us really wanted to be in the talent show, but our parents5 signed us up and the preparations immediately commenced at home.

The musical Annie was quite the thing in those days. We had seen the stage production in Chicago6 as well as the movie. Plus, we had the record of the original 1977 Broadway musical cast and we played it repeatedly in KT’s room.7

Friends, I’m telling you, it was a hard knock life every day. Every dang day. We loved It’s the Hard Knock Life and sang it all the time.   Thus, it made perfect sense that our parents had us prepare to lip-sync to the inspirational tearjerker The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.    (“Oh, that high note at the end! It will be a goose-bumper for sure!”8)

KT and I didn’t really need to practice the song very much. We owned a grand total of three records9, I think, so we had every word of the Annie score nailed. The real issue was what we would do onstage.

On the day of the performance, would we just stand onstage and move our lips to the song?   No, friends, we would not. My dad, inspired by the most demented of choreographic gods, had us stand woodenly in front of the microphone and sway our arms back and forth across our bodies10.   It was the most awkward, painful thing ever. I’m sorry if you think that you have endured the most awkward and painful of experiences because I am here to tell you that you are wrong. That “choreography” qualified as the worst experience of childhood awkwardness. Your experience, whatever it may have been, paled in comparison to mine. Sorry, not sorry.


Please, dear friend, come and walk through the Wooden Arms Nightmare with me and KT.   Or rather, “walk” with us by not moving anything but your arms from left to right across your torso.   Do not move anything else – like your shoulders or hips.   Nothing.   Stiff skinny arms swinging from left to right. Poking out of red short-sleeved dresses. Arms in sync, of course.   Everything else woodenly stuck.   See? Tired yet? Go ahead and sit down there, friend. You have nothing to say from here on out. Those arm moves conclusively give us the win for The Most Awkward Fuckery Ever.

Bonus: KT and I both already had reddish hair, but we still wore those curly-girl red wigs. It was like being one of those devoutly religious women who wear wigs over their real hair, but at least they have a good reason for doing it.  Our wigs were part of the costume, but they were a little-okay-a-lot overwhelming. There was major curliness going on.

Plus, all roads led to Rome with the arm issue: the wooden swaying from left to right…no shoulder movements…no wig adjustments…try not to lift your arms to poke at the wigs, girls. Itchy-itchy, and a true social death from a thousand tiny cuts11.


While I’m visiting these memories on Cringe-y Island, you should know as well that my red Annie dress was a little bit too small. Saggy-crotch white tights may have been involved in the ensemble as well.   Jay-sus. You couldn’t see the sag, but there was nothing comfortable about those bad boys.

You may be wondering what the other performances entailed.   Compared to us, our peers were a dazzling mix of Star Search and the Mousketeers. There was a Michael Jackson12 performance. Some charming magic tricks. Gymnastic stunts. Real singing and – gasp! – dancing.   I’ll tell you one damn thing for sure: all of those kids were moving more than their arms. All of them. They were all Full Body Movement gold medalists compared to us.



Naturally, video footage exists of this spectacle. It will be a joyous day indeed when all of the VCRs of the world are in the landfills13 and I am able to rest easy at night knowing that no one will ever. ever. ever see that talent show video again. Until then, it resides somewhere in my mother’s house and probably a few of the homes of my childhood friends.   I might have to execute a ninja mission to destroy the evidence once and for all.

Sweet Baby Jesus, these memories are exhausting. I need to go lay down. William Shatner, bring me the thunder blanket, please.    This wooden-armed chica is all tuckered out.

As always, thanks for reading, friends.


1You saw that, right? Yo girlfriend was rocking that British/Canadian “u.”   Take that, ya Jealous Janies.

2 Total bullshit.   Never happened.

3Full disclosure: Tonight’s entry has been inspired by our blog group’s super cool moderator, Jimmy Greenfield, who provided us with the following prompt: “Write about something in your life that still really makes you cringe.” I’m not going to lie to you, friends: just considering this topic has had me twitching towards a full panic attack all afternoon.

4 Reference: Pretty much every single thing I’ve ever written. Like ever.   EVER. My creative writing professor, Brian Burt, is nodding somewhere like, “Yep. Chick never shut up when she was on paper. I fell dead asleep more than once over her stuff. Best bring some espresso when you’re jumping into that abyss.”

5My parents were always involved in a positive manner with our educations. Seriously. Their intentions were good here, but…goddamn…well, you’ll see.

6I just fell down a Wikipedia Rabbit Hole, trying to find the name of the theater where we saw the musical production of Annie. Was the Auditorium Theater around in those days? Would it have been at Drury Lane?   Why is that I give zero fucks about anything related to geographic trivia (the Tribune’s GeoQuiz on Sundays is my nemesis), but I have a burning need to know which theater hosted the 1981 performances of Annie? Sheesh. I need to get a grip here. For all y’all keeping score, I’m already on my sixth footnote and the damn story hasn’t even gotten rolling yet. Get a grip, lady.

7Why was the record player in her room, btw?   At two years older, I was waaaaay more mature and should have had that responsibility. Family meeting! Stat!

8Made ya look here! Ha!

9Anybody else out there own the record Free To Be You And Me? Now those were some foreal-foreal good jams.

10We looked like we were handicapped. Actually, I apologize to the differently abled out there. Everyone – even the way-way-way-in-the-future Trump supporters – looked better than us.  I think their childhood records were called Free to Be $&#?! and Me.


11 The wig was not well-received in the third grade shark tank.

12Michael Jackson:  Greatest Musical Entertainer Of All Time.   T-R-U-T-H.

13How long did it take for eight-track players to disappear? I need for every VCR in the world to follow that trend, please.

Filed under: Chicago, Childhood, Humor, Parenting

Leave a comment