Witness one anxious singer as she enters her final audition, in a place located just north of… the edge of reality.
When was the last time she had truly auditioned for anything? She could not remember. As she sat in the little lobby, waiting her turn, someone continued pounding the piano in a bombastic style in the next room, just beyond a closed door.
Over the piano, she could also hear a male voice. “I need your love,” the captivating voice sang. He sounded so familiar, but she could not place him. “God… speed your love… to… me,” he finished on a high note and added a flourish of piano keys.
No trace of doubt. No trace of strain. Every note perfect.
Was this her competition?
How could she top that?
She hated that she had to ask those questions. At one time, it would not have mattered. Her voice would have carried her well beyond any challenger. But now, things were different.
Dressed in blue, the guard rose and fished through dangling keys on a ring before inserting one into the doorknob. “You can go in,” he said, holding the door open for her.
“You really have this place locked down. You must get a lot of crime here.”
“No, not exactly,” he said, and ushered her inside.
She walked into a large, dim studio. The only thing cutting through the darkness was a single spotlight, shining down on a young man sitting before a grand piano.
“Hello?” her voice squeaked. After hearing the awe-inspiring song from the lobby, she was completely nervous. So much for all the practicing.
“I’m ready when you are,” he said.
She could not even remember what she planned to perform.
As if sensing this, the young man began playing a quiet melody. She knew the song. She had practically grown up singing it.
“Yes, Jesus loves me…” she began singing. She knew immediately. Her voice, her gift, was finally back. Like it was before. Full of joy, she wanted to cry, but she kept going, “…for the Bible tells me so.”
The song seemed to come from within her. The more she sang, the more she realized this was not like before. Even then, she had not been able to sing like this.
She wanted to go on singing forever, but she soon came to the end of the song. She realized she was now within the warmth of the spotlight, too. The young man behind the piano was smiling.
“Have we met? You seem so familiar,” she said.
“Yes, but you were just a little girl back then.”
She laughed. “When I was a little girl? You’re not even half my age, you know.”
“It depends on the day,” he said. “And, by the way, welcome to the show.”
“You mean, I made it? I’m in? No call-backs?”
His blue eyes sparkled in amusement. “You made it as soon as he let you through that door,” he said.
“Then, what was all this?”
“I just wanted to hear you sing. Back then, I had to go, before I ever had the chance. Your voice is so powerful.”
“I know… I don’t know where that came from.” The tears began flowing from her eyes.
“Honey, don’t cry.” His voice was suddenly different, like that of a father. She looked at him again, and he seemed older. She felt younger, like she was six-years-old again.
She recognized him now.
His hands began playing another melody on the keyboard. An old country song. His voice boomed as he sang, “In the twilight glow, I see her…”
He stopped and said, “That new strength in your voice, part of it comes from joy, you see. Your music brings happiness to millions of people, and now you have all of that joy within you. They are sharing it with you.”
She understood now. “But I did so many things wrong,” she said.
“So did I,” he said and shook his head, lost in thought for a moment. “So did all of us.”
“Then, how did we make it here?” she asked.
“Our audience is very forgiving.”
“He’s here with us?”
“He always has been, Whitney. He always has been,” said Elvis.
Two legends, united in destiny and still making music on… the edge of reality.
[With apologies to Serling.]
Last Saturday night, I was browsing through some of my favorite sites before I went to bed. I checked The Sheila Variations blog for any new pieces. The top story featured an embedded video of Whitney Houston singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The story had no text, but Sheila’s headline was simple, effective, and haunting: How I Will Always Remember Her.
The words sent a chill through me. Why would she title her post something like that? My heart did not want to know, but my mind understood exactly what it meant.
Still feeling cold, I went to Yahoo News and confirmed the worst. Whitney Houston was dead. As I began to read the story, I queued up “The Greatest Love Of All,” the first Whitney song I’d ever heard. Memories of being a fifth-grader in elementary school came flooding back. My teacher, a gifted educator and vocalist, sang this to us one day and told us all about a young singer named Whitney Houston.
Next up, I played “I Will Always Love You,” a song that Whitney simply owned. No one, not even the songwriter, can sing that one like Whitney did in her prime. Not even close.
I’m not going to pretend I’ve been a huge Whitney Houston fan for all of these years. For a period of time in the early 1990s, though, she was one of my favorite singers. Eventually, I overplayed her albums and moved on to other artists.
I didn’t follow her as closely after that, but I still rooted for her. I was sorry to learn of her struggles, and I was always hoping that, somehow, she would work things out and stage a huge comeback.
“Now, she won’t get her comeback,” is actually one of the first things I thought about when learning she had passed away. In fact, that thought was the beginning of the above short story.
The night Whitney Houston died, I concluded my impromptu tribute by playing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I remembered watching the live television broadcast of Super Bowl XXV in 1991 when she performed what would soon become the gold standard against which all other versions of the National Anthem are judged.
The song ended, but before I could close iTunes, Whitney’s version of “America The Beautiful” began. I just couldn’t turn it off, so I considered it an encore.
Farewell, Whitney. Thank you for the music.
This post is dedicated with respect to the memory of Whitney Houston, 1963-2012. Her music lives on.