Happy Birthday Apollo Theater! :)
The line was very long. It snaked around the building and for blocks by the time I arrived to the unfamiliar neighborhood. Spending most of all my life in Downtown Manhattan, Harlem felt like upstate New York. I was an unfamiliar face out of hundreds, waiting for our chance to be heard for the Wednesday night Amateur Night auditions.
I remember it being really cold, and very very early. Those who stood with me on line were practicing and singing their audition songs. The rest of the line was a cold sniffly blur, but I remember being let into the theater for the first time and asked to take a seat. The walls and chairs had seen better years, the red velvet wore its history conspicuously, but there was still strength in the air. Thankfully enough for the seat to support me for the hours I waited for my audition to happen. I was seated all the way in the back, where the rumor ran rampant that we might not all get seen today, we might be the unlucky ones. After hearing the enormous amount of talent and hopefuls around me, I felt waves of confidence and intimidation, depending on who decided to share their voice with us during the wait.
The precipice for my attendance was a comment from a friend saying that I could never get on the stage and win. Nothing fuels me to do something than for someone to tell me never. I always loved the show.
My audition song I chose was Mariah Carey’s “All I Ever Wanted,” the producers stopped me and quickly asked me if I could sing something else. So I sang Alicia Key’s “If I Can’t Have You.” Before I knew it, they were scheduling me for my shot at Amateur night.
Ultimately, I sang “Sweet Love,” by Anita Baker – one of my favorite songs in the world.
I went back to work after my audition. I was an assistant at New Line Cinema for the music department. A department that placed artists on soundtracks for films. My job was primarily to answer the phones and admin work for the legal department. Word got out in the office that I was performing, and I was surprised my co-workers wanted to attend. For a brief moment in time, I let the world in on my dreams and hopes – but was scared and embarrassed because I knew there was a high likelihood of being boo’d off the stage. I wasn’t sure if people wanted to attend to support or watch me get boo’d off the stage. What I also didn’t know was that these performances weren’t one off’s, they were competitions. I performed at The Apollo Theater 3 times. Twice for Wednesday Night Amatuer Night – which I won and never cashed the prize checks. Unceremoniously packed away in storage boxes. The third time, I was invited and performed for the legendary Showtime at the Apollo. The episode would air on Halloween and ironically Christmas 2004. That was a long time ago.
The last time I remember so clearly this overwhelming feeling when approaching the mic. When I heard the then host Monique make my introduction, and as I walked out and placed my hand on the tree of hope – I felt this rush. If I could describe the ingredients it would be a mix of fear, anxiousness, excitement and then fear, enveloped in numbness. Despite having performed at the theater twice before, the third time was the charm to stun me.
My performances at The Apollo were the only musical moments in my life that I had to remind me that no matter what I did in my life, I still had the music. I still had it in me. That if I could win over an Apollo audience, that for myself – would prove that I was great. After those performances, my musical life and career was swiftly put into an induced coma.
It would be many years later before the musician in me would wake up.
The Apollo is a place where of course, legends are made and stars are born – but its also the keeper of dreams. It’s a place where thousands of people convene to prove to others, but also themselves that they are made of the stuff that legends are born from. So I’m quite proud to see that this extraordinary New York institution is celebrating its 80th birthday. There will always be a special place in my heart for The Apollo Theater. Happy Birthday Apollo! 🙂