Tears that roll in panic down a child’s makeup-layered face create great rivulets that are not unnoticed by hot sound stage lights and cameras. Deposited from both corners and the center of the iris, the tears eventually unite creating virtual crevices on the child’s face that require a buff up by an annoyed, overworked and underpaid studio makeup artist named Hazel who thinks, You shouldn’t be here.
Of course, Hazel would never say that to her, a paunchy little girl of about nine or ten, not much older than her son back home in Van Nuys. The company line is confidence, confidence, confidence. Whenever you can, pump a kid’s head full of positive words so she, or he, can have the kind of vibe it takes to face what’s coming, a terrifying cacophony or colors and light and heat and people. So many people. So many eyeballs.
No crying on stage. Absolutely never. Especially in front of a live studio audience on the biggest night of Season 15. The night a winner will be decided.
Hazel kneels down, soaking up the girl’s tears on her soft cheeks with a tissue before using a tiny gold-handled brush to reapply another layer of makeup. She thinks about what words she can dump into this kid’s head that will foster enough confidence to step on the stage and give ’em hell. She considers a chorus of words and phrases that might, or might not, work in this situation, words she’s used with her own son before he stepped onto the stage for the first time at the playhouse theater, a dive that’s a 40-minute drive from home.
She’s seen it all before. Her son, this kid, a hundred other kids. Pure terror of what’s imminent.
The little girl—Hazel looks at a nearby clipboard and surmises her name is Jaye (no last name listed)—made it this far, so she’s got talent. What is it? Singing? Dancing? One of the two, or both. Who can remember? But she’s blonde and fair-skinned and the camera’s going to pick up those red splotches unless I can make them go away. More brushing. More tears.
Myron’ll be pissed if this kid goes on stage in this hot mess.
“Look,” Hazel says to her in a soft, cooing voice, the kind she uses to calm her own son before his entrance onto the stage. Parents are allowed to be backstage at the playhouse theater, but not here. Here is the big leagues, the network, and she wonders where the proud parents are right now, if they would enjoy the show knowing their daughter is melting down, albeit out of sight.
“You’re good, Jaye,” she says. “C’mon, kid. You can do this. You’ve got this.”
That’s a phrase she absolutely hates—you’ve got this. Almost as bad as, I’ve got your back or, Have a good one!
Jaye looks up at her with a quivering lower lip.
“Mommy and daddy said I have to win,” she says, “that I’m going to be in a lot of trouble if I don’t.”
Parents, Hazel thinks. Terrorizing their kid for a cool million.
She convinces herself she’ll never be that way with her son as she wraps her arms around Jaye and gives her a squeezy hug.
London theatrical haunts were Myron’s life for two decades before he got what others called his big break in America, hosting a silly talent show that, while true, showed some impressive acts, most were bollocks, especially in the auditioning process. For God’s sake, a grown man singing a made-up, one-verse song about a boy’s pants falling past his ass, or a ventriloquist who could make her dummy fart?
Bollocks. Most of them.
Myron and his agent had been talking recently about other opportunities, be them in America or London, or somewhere—anywhere—in the U.K..Covid had sealed off his career from something new and fresh, but with a general loosening of society on both sides of the big pond, maybe there was something to which he might write home to mother. Maybe there was something more challenging theatrically than listening to quite stupid people trying to get on his show for their shot at a million dollars, which his business manager had said now equated to a million pounds. Maybe there was something more challenging than placating those idiot American pop stars that were his panelists, although that one, the china-doll brunette with the big fake breasts and the low-cut leather tube dresses and stilettos was impressive in the sack.
Let’s see, he thinks. Who’s next on the hit list?
Oh, right. Jaye. The darling little singer with the problematic parents.
Now, she has real talent. Her audition had been damn near flawless as had her first couple of rounds of Season 15 competition. That rendition of Nat King Cole’s Stardust last week had been unequivocally inspired, a lilting entrée to the standard before reaching vocal heights that were unfathomable for, what, a ten-year-old? Or was she nine? What this kid could do with actual coaching and a mother and father that would just back off and let her croon. They had cornered Myron in a hallway after Jaye nearly stumbled in the third round when singing another standard, Cole Porter’s Night and Day, pleading for mercy going forward, that that wasn’t their kid’s top capabilities. She would do better. They guaranteed it. Worthless sots.
He watches Jaye enter stage right and stand on her mark slightly to the left, Or maybe slump was the more operant word.
Shit. Was she in tears?
Who allowed a teary-eyed baby on my stage? Someone’s head will roll for this.
“Well, Jaye, welcome back,” Myron says, making substantial effort to flash his best toothy grin for the camera. “It looks like you’re a wee bit nervous?”
At first, Jaye tugs on the collar of her black sleeveless blouse, which complements her asphalt gray pants. Not a dress. Myron wonders if she’s dressed appropriately, considering the circumstances. But she’s not being judged on her outfit, unlike, say, figure skaters.
Jaye says nothing.
“Oh, come on, Myron, give the kid a break,” the brunette says with a sexy gleam in her powder blue eyes. That was for later, undoubtedly.
Myron lifts his cheekbones, which exposes his capped teeth even further and masks his abject fury. This pretty little troublemaker was stalling. She may have talent, but she won’t take it far unless she asserts herself.
Heads will roll.
Now relax, boyo, he thinks. Relax. You’ll never get back to a proper job here or in London if you act like an ass. Be cordial. Collegial. Make a joke, for God’s sake. Anything to keep the ball rolling.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says in faux-merriment to Jaye, who blinks, revealing wet eyes. “We’re all friends here.”
Behind him the Applaud sign lights up. The audience follows through, standing and hooting their encouragement.
Exactly eleven meters behind Myron, front row center, are mommy and daddy, Derek and Abby. They sit and lean forward hyper attentively in the relative darkness of the full-house studio audience. The lights are blistering hot even here, and they illuminate their only child as she walks across the carefully buffed black stage that looks akin to an ice rink. They have savored this moment since Jaye began taking voice lessons when she was just a tyke.
This is it, they think in unison.
Derek: This is the payoff. All those years, all those tears. All that scratch.
Abby: I want that check. I want to take it back to Milwaukee and rub it in their faces.
“Their faces” meaning the naysayers who thought they were being too hard on poor Jaye. How many voice coaches had they gone through? Three or four? She can’t remember right then, but it was several, each guaranteeing Jaye would be a star. According to the first one, a fat slug named Yolanda, she had that…that something, that intangible electricity few child performers possess, even as a six-year-old. She was gone in six months, of her own volition.
Derek and Abby ran with it, and through cajoling, orders and even threats and a spanking or two, they had brought Jaye to the pinnacle of her career thus far. Surely bigger and better was ahead of her.
So, too, would be the financial reward.
Derek runs his right hand through his curly flat-black hair. Abby clasps her hands under her chin, before brushing a stray blonde hair from her left eye. Her iPhone buzzes, but she ignores it. The time has come.
But there’s something wrong.
“Well, Jaye, welcome back,” Myron says. “It looks like you’re a wee bit nervous?”
Jaye says nothing, and leans slightly back and forth in her black flats. She simply peers at Myron and the other panelists, appearing helpless.
Then she lifts her chin and focuses behind the four of them, making eye contact first with Derek, and then Abby.
She still hasn’t spoken. Thoughts gather like twin storms.
Derek: What the hell is going on?
Abby: Sing! What is wrong with you?
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Myron says. “We’re all friends here.”
The Applaud sign lights up. Applause. Everyone stands, except Derek and Abby.
Jaye’s eyes don’t leave them.
Every instinct in Derek’s mind compels him to elbow his way past those standing to his left, rush the stage and shake her, really shake her into action. He lifted weights; he could handle himself in a scrap with a security guard or anyone else who got in his way. It happened before.
Or maybe he could play the role of a concerned parent, the kind of parent who loved his child so much that he wanted to be with her in her time of doubt at the cusp of triumph. They’d let him through, he thinks.
But as he is thinking this, Jaye opens her mouth and begins to sing.
I want to go home.
I want to go home.
There’s no place like home, even if mommy and daddy are there.
Jaye was supposed to sing something else, something more peppy for the final round to balance out the standards she sang in the earlier rounds. Mommy and daddy chose the songs.
They always chose the songs.
Her jaw drops and the words come, at first slow and deliberate, delicate.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
Now mommy is standing with everybody else.
“You’re singing the wrong song!” she screams, raising her arms as if she was Jesus on His cross.
To her right, she sees daddy trying to make his way onto the stage but is being wrestled down by two men wearing black with yellow Security patches on their backs.
She keeps singing, and then that thing happens, the thing that only comes when she gets really, really mad.
She stares at her right hand and it’s beginning to glow.
Miss Yolanda called it an aura. She was so scared of it, she told mommy and daddy that they had to find her a new coach.
“Lemme go! That’s my daughter, you pricks!”
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true
Her body has that aura now, and pure energy begins to formulate in her heart and travels the distance to her shoulder to her hands in a split second, where a ball of the brightest light anyone has ever seen, flecked with indigo and chartreuse ribbons, appears in her hand.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star…
She flicks her wrist in one motion and the spheroid leaves her hand, almost like a baseball. It strikes the camera behind Mr. Myron and the pretty lady and the other two panelists, the one they told her to stare into when she was singing. But the camera, it’s gone now, disappeared. The cameraman has been blown backward and Jaye can’t see him anymore.
There is chaos, as roughly half of the audience stares in awe at what just happened, at this tiny, helpless little girl begins to assert herself. As they raise their mobile phones, the other half stream into the aisles in a vain effort to climb over each other to escape the studio.
And wake up where the clouds
are far behind me
Daddy has broken free from the Security guys and is near sprinting toward Jaye from the right side. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees another figure approaching on the left. Mommy. They’re twin snakes, in a coordinated attack.
“You ruined it all, you little bitch!”
Daddy, with the back of his hand raised. He’s going to hit her. He’s done it before.
Jaye gets really angry again and another ball of energy appears in her hand. Daddy hesitates, but then keeps coming. She can hear footsteps behind her. Whom to throw at first?
The ball disappears, though the aura remains. Mr. Myron has dashed out of his seat toward Jaye and arrives in front of her, hesitating like daddy, a look of terror on his face, as if he knows he is going to die, but doesn’t seem to care.
“It’s okay, Jaye,” Mr. Myron says, holding up his arms and taking gingerly steps forward.
“Stay away from her, you asshole!” daddy says, and at this Mr. Myron turns and nods his head once. In the time it takes Jaye to sing:
Where troubles melt like lemon drops…
Four guys with Security patches on their backs tackle daddy and hold him down as he thrashes like an alligator she saw once on YouTube, using bad words, like the F word.. But it’s no use. They have him.
Jaye turns and is face to face with mommy, who looks at daddy for a moment, then back to her.
“You are in so much trouble, young lady,” mommy hisses, as if she doesn’t know what else to say, beginning to lift her hand.
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me
Jaye’s angry again, really angry The aura returns, a ball of energy appears in her hand and she cocks back her arm like a baseball pitcher.
There’s a voice from behind her.
“No, Jaye, no!” says the nice lady from the makeup room, the one who hugged her before she went on stage. She keeps talking as Mr. Myron takes a step forward. More Security guys have now gotten their arms locked under mommy’s, so she can’t move, either.
“Don’t hurt your parents,” she coos again. “Don’t hurt them.”
The tears are flowing again, and Jaye imagines those little drops messing up her makeup.
“They hurt me,” she whispers. “They hurt me a lot.”
“We’ll get you to safety,” Mr. Myron says, and at this, he steps forward and puts his arms around her. The warmth is intense, but not like the aura. She’s not angry anymore. She feels…
Love? Caring? Compassion?
Foreign feelings to Jaye. Scary feelings. But somehow they are more right than wrong.
The lady from the makeup room places her hand on her shoulder, and that feeling grows.
She begins to sing again, blubbering a little but making it through the song’s final verse.
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?