William Shakespeare wrote that some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them.
I like to believe that I fit all three categories. Not really, but it seems appropriate to carry myself with an unreasonable and obviously sarcastic level of arrogance this week after my random moment in the spotlight last Saturday.
It was exactly one week ago tonight that I had the pleasure (honor?) of portraying the great Sir Elton John in a stage performance on the Carnival Splendor cruise ship. My years of karaoke obsession were rewarded when I was selected to star in such a show in front of a couple thousand spectators.
In so many ways it was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I think it’s only natural to be nervous when performing in front of a large group of people. Particularly when you are dressed in full flamboyant Elton John attire. And you are singing a classic Elton John song with a live band. And you’re not actually a singer and have never really had any vocal training in your life.
Elton was not the only performer that night; there was also a Frank Sinatra, an Elvis Presley, a Garth Brooks and a Madonna, among others. Each of us had been chosen through a karaoke audition process that included judging by cheering crowds. Most were gifted singers who had experience performing in front of groups.
Yet as I sat backstage awaiting my turn in the bright lights, it seemed as if I was the least nervous among us. My reasoning was after that night we would all be getting off the boat and going our separate ways, so why worry about embarrassing myself in front of a bunch of people I’d never see again. But while that’s very true in theory, it doesn’t usually stand up when you are summoned to the stage.
So many people suffer from stage fright of some sort; I’ve heard public speaking is one of the most-feared things in the world. I’m not sure how singing would be considered any less terrifying. In that moment, something about the experience just messes with your hormones and can cause tremendous fear. I could see that with the people around me, even some of the most experienced performers out of our ragtag team of amateurs.
But as I walked onto the stage to the introduction of “Crocodile Rock,” I wasn’t really worried about messing up. Perhaps the only thing I was worried about was what to do while on the stage, since Elton isn’t really known for any sort of dance moves I could parody.
I’m starting to think there may be something wrong with me (and my family members all nod in agreement). I knew I didn’t embarrass easily or really get nervous in most circumstances, but is it possible I actually lack the ability to feel shame, at least to some degree?
Seriously, think about how many people you know who: 1. Love singing karaoke in front of people even though they aren’t a really talented singer (I’m not counting those great singers who have done choir all their lives and are just born performers), 2. Would actually go through with an audition in front of a large group of strangers to portray Elton John, and 3. Wouldn’t ever really get nervous leading up to the performance.
I’ve always known I’m weird, but last Saturday made me realize I may be even more abnormal than I ever thought. In the days and hours leading up to the performance I was fully expecting to get nervous. I figured the nerves would grow as the time drew nearer, but that really wasn’t the case.
This was an experience I never would have expected or even thought I would want. As a karaoke fanatic I’ve always hoped to have a chance to sing with a live band, but I never would have imagined it taking place on an actual performance stage in the middle of a real show. I can’t even really say I crossed it off my bucket list, because such an aspiration never made my list to begin with.
These are the experiences that make life exciting. I used the Shakespeare quote at the beginning of this post facetiously, but it is absolutely true that sometimes in our lives we have unforeseen opportunities to do memorable things we never would have imagined or desired.
When I returned to work on Monday I was asked if I brought the Elton John suit with me on the vacation. I wasn’t sure exactly how to take that question – does anyone really think of me as the type of person who would not only own a suit like that but take it with me on a vacation in hopes of finding a chance to wear such an ensemble?
The reality is that for me none of this could have been planned. I am just weird enough that if I had regular access to that suit I would absolutely wear it for karaoke, but that was not the case. This was just one of those experiences that will stand out for the rest of my life, the time I performed as Elton John in front of thousands of people.
I’m still kind of flabbergasted when I think about everything, but I’m very happy I did it. And I’d like to believe others would step up when the opportunity arose to do similar memorable things.
I used to convince my studious friends to take a break from their homework to watch movies or drive to Seattle to enjoy midnight cheeseburgers. I would always tell them 30 years from now they would not remember anything they were studying but they very well might remember whatever shenanigans we did that night. Most of those nights have melded together in my memory, but I can already say that even just a couple years removed from school those memories are far stronger than any of the books I read for classes.
Don’t live your life in fear of greatness. It will often strike when you least expect it, and it will rarely appear the way you envision. And if greatness is too terrifying a word, just seek out the memorable. And go for it.
Because as the years go by, the rock might die. But they’ll never kill the thrills we got burning up to the crocodile rock.