I’VE never been cheated on by any guy before. I don’t even have a boyfriend for crying out loud. But I sure know that feeling. That’s because I’ve been at it, singing Carrie Underwood’s Before He Cheats day and night, for a good two weeks, in preparation for R-Factor, my school’s version of Britain’s Got Talent, held on October 16. And “R,” surprise, surprise, stands for “Raffles.”
I don’t know if I’ve got real singing talent, but what I do know is that I can sing a pretty mean Before He Cheats—something I discovered in June, while crooning mindlessly at a karaoke with my sister and her boyfriend. Even my sister gave a stamp of approval over Instagram : “YOUR CRACKING IS BETTER THAN MY SINGING,” she announced with an attached video of my performance.
I just knew this was going to be the song. No second thoughts. I could envision myself strutting like a hurt cat, clawing my name “into his leather seats.” I could picture myself taking “a Louisville slugger to both headlights,” and slashing a hole in all his four tires. All I needed to do was to get the act together, choreograph my moves, and imagine I was Ms. Underwood. Then, there’s the whole slew of technical details from precise pitching to tonal coloring, and breath control to voice intensity.
Of course, there’s that bugbear: the super-high “D” on “all” in that ultra-violent line, “Slashed a hole in all four tires.” I can reach that note, but it holds up like cotton candy, full of air and fluff, so I devised a way around it. I transposed it four notes down to an “A” in a vocal experiment under the shower, and bingo, it worked! It worked so beautifully I like to think that even Ms. Underwood would have approved. No one caught it at the performance, I don’t think.
Actually, no one even caught that burp that came after the first chorus, the noxious rise of hunger-induced gas I desperately had to release. I hadn’t eaten at all pre-performance and my stomach was acting up into the first thirty seconds. The gas had to go, and it found its escape hatch just after the last line, “Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.” I whipped my microphone down in a fit, a gesture that wasn’t choreographed, but it incited a mad scream in the audience, much to my surprise. Thank you, Burp!
And then, the vocal cord and passage came alive again. That was not just a moment of creative necessity, but a flash of confidence, which was precisely the one big advice my helper gave me. Nita was the only person I entrusted my entire performance to in the days of feverish practice—not my mother, not my father, not even my sister.
“You must have confidence,” she said one day, spreading all her fingers down and outward, palms facing me, as if she were a showgirl herself in a ta-da moment, while standing behind the ironing board. That emphatic cry for confidence really harnessed my courage and diminished my petty little fears, which in truth, are never ever little. They came creeping up on me backstage just moments before my Underwood gig. It surely didn’t help that I was there for a good hour watching at least eight performances come before me.
When the time came though, I got into destructive mode, breaking into all that You Go, Girl! self-talk: Be sassy, be angry! As soon as I heard my name, I kicked the curtain—again, not planned—dragged my sole prop, an ugly classroom chair, and sat right down on it.
It was showtime! But the greater star of this show was not so much me, but Nita’s battle cry: You must have confidence!
Lim Zhi Yi, Secondary Three
For more essays by Zhi Yi, visit Zhi Yi Writes.