Kids who constantly crave attention rarely get it in the ways they want it. Instead of amazing an audience with their singing ability, everyone cringes at their choking. In plays, the few lines of spoken dialogue are forgotten, only to be replaced with silence and an improvisation that throws off the entire performance. Dance steps are always a second behind the rest of the group. They can be disruptive, talking out of turn and breaking silent class time with dumb jokes. None of these mishaps fulfill the need inside to be noticed. I should know. I was one of those kids.
My moment of redemption came at the end of high school. Every year, my school held a contest called Cutie Court. It was this big contest to vote for the cutest boys in the school, one for each grade. They were the closest thing we had to homecoming kings but in a more casual way. This particular year, just to mix it up, there was going to be entertainment in the form of a lip sync contest with a $100 prize. I worked at McDonalds after school, so a hundred bucks was practically a million from my minimum wage perspective.
I had a good feeling about this. I can kill it on karaoke and lip syncing is just karaoke with the hard part taken out. All the years spent hamming it up in class were finally going to pay off. Forget honorable mention or a trophy just for participating. This was my prize to win. I would be leaving school that day $100 richer after blowing the minds of my classmates.
My first choice was “Like A Virgin” done in the style of the 1984 Video Music Awards, but the principal shot that down a week before the contest. The image of me rolling around on the gym floor in a Goodwill wedding dress was deemed too controversial. I felt I had no option but “...Baby One More Time” since our Catholic school provided the costume for me.
Getting ready for the contest was its own struggle. My physical appearance didn't attract positive attention and sexing myself up like Britney, in a way that I would have never, ever presented myself, made me even more nervous. I was self-conscious and chubby even in my regular clothes. Still, I was dedicated to playing this part. I rolled my plaid skirt a couple inches higher, unbuttoned my white dress shirt, and tied the ends together with a tank top underneath to hide my belly. A friend worked my hair into two little pigtails. Another friend gave me ruby lips, rosy cheeks, and thick lined eyes. I tied a sweater around my waist, pulled up my knee socks, slipped on my Mary Janes, and there I was, Chunky Spears. I wish I could go back in time and give 17-year-old me some gin to calm my nerves, even though I'd never drink it.
I was the third act to go. When they called my name, I shuffled to the middle of the gym floor. I heard some laughter and comments from the bleachers at the way I was dressed, kicking up a flurry of butterflies in my stomach. I had nothing planned. I didn’t practice dance moves. All I had was the lyrics memorized and the ability to think on my feet. From the first pounding notes of “Da-DUN-DUN”, I was on.
“Oh, baby, baby, how was I supposed to know?” I mouthed. I threw my arms in the air with the beat, swinging my hips side to the side to each “Da-DUN-DUN”. I even shimmed. I danced like no one was watching even though everyone I knew was watching. I wasn't nervous anymore. Performing put me out of my head.
The first verse transitioned into the chorus. I dashed through the center steps on the stage, where the Cutie Court nominees were sitting, stood in front of one of those boys who made fun of me, and proceeded to sing to him. Kids in the bleachers screamed and laughed. I accused him of killing me with loneliness and that he should give me a sign. For the famous last line, I went to the very center of the stage and smacked my hands on my hips as I rocked them left-right-left-right. Hit me baby, one more time.
It was awesome.
I went back to the gym floor for the second verse and continued making up dance moves. During the soft, serious bridge, I looked wistfully at the kid on stage. “Oh pretty baby, I shouldn’t have let you gooooOOOoooooo.” Meanwhile, my brain worked overtime. What could I do as a big finale? I needed something over the top. The song ends with lots of drama and emotion. It called for taking a risk and doing something that truly terrified me. I had only one option.
With the song winding down, in front of the whole school — the kids who made fun of me, the teachers who hated me, the principal who couldn’t stand me, in front of all of them — I flung off my glasses and tore off that white button down shirt. I had never, ever worn a tank top in public before — far too self-conscious to let anyone see that I was a teenager with arm fat — and here I was, dancing in front of my friends, enemies, and acquaintances, my belly fat one thin layer of cotton away from public view.
Without my glasses, everything was a colorful blur. My knee socks were pooled at my ankles and the sweater I tied around my waist had fallen off. I was sweaty and out of breath and I didn't care. Chubby biceps and teenage cellulite were nothing to me now. I wanted glory. I wanted to win. I wanted them to remember this. I dropped to my knees with my arms raised above my head in a V. HIT ME BABY, ONE MORE TIME. I put my heart into it and left it bleeding in front of everyone. Love me, hate me, no matter what, it couldn't be denied that I gave it my all.
The gymnasium exploded with cheers. A standing ovation rose from the stands. “YAAAAY ANDREAAAAAAA!” echoed against the wooden bleachers. Kids congratulated me. My best friends hugged me. Someone picked up my glasses and gave me back my shirt. For a few seconds, I was the sun and everyone else were the stars. My eclipse would never end. It was the plotline of my very own teen movie: Fat Weirdo Wins Over the Whole School With Her Shenanigans.
I did not win.
The student council decided it was a ‘tie’ between myself and another senior. He wore a suit and mouthed along to Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In the Night”. Pretty boring, but all the upperclassmen knew he needed the prize money to go to prom, so he won in a cheer off. His friends carried him across the gym in victory.
I was robbed of $100, but tried to comfort myself with the fact there is only thing that couldn't be denied. For three minutes and thirty seconds, no one could take their eyes off me.