Disney Channel has always been there for me as a kid on those mornings that I'd snuggle on my couch with a bowl of cereal, excited for the days and its awakenings. I'd like to imagine maybe by 4 p.m. I'd be living a new life like Miley did in "Hannah Montana," or perhaps that day would be the day I'd magically gain powers like Raven from "That's So Raven" Disney Channel really boosted my imagination as a kid, and so naturally, once my mother and I heard the "Disney Channel Talent Search coming to Atlanta!" blaring over our van's speakers, it registered as my chance to "become special" like the characters I'd watch on TV. Soon after, my mom, my sister and I found ourselves sucked within the life of Disney Channel.
I remember walking into the building where the talent search was held, and my mother having to contain my 7-year-old excitement with one hand while she held onto my sister. Inside, there were hundreds of little boys and girls with sleek hairstyles and the trendiest outfits; a sentiment to how important this opportunity was to everyone, as compared to my beat up Twinkle Toes and the worn-out tu-tu I had insisted on wearing. On the outside, my sister and I didn't seem up to par with the other children, and as we walked to our seats, I could almost feel the glares of fame-hungry parents and their polished children while I coughed over the heavy scent of perfume and hairspray.
We sat nearer to the back, and my mother caught herself next to a blonde, tall women who I remember wore bright red lipstick and sunglasses, though we were indoors. She talked about her children to my mother, and my mother would tell us later that her children went to a "special school program" for rising actors, in which they could only go to school half a week and spend the rest preparing for auditions and rehearsals. The mother in front of my mother would join in later, but her features would be cloudy. I remember her saying that her daughter was an elite ballerina dancer and could "hold a tune like nobody's business!" My sister and I laughed over the thick sound of her country accent, and that's when I remembered the search began.
First, the light dimmed as a man walked across the stage and introduced himself as one of Disney's talent scouts, promptly mentioning that, "If you think your child is ugly, get out!" Laughter ensued, but in my 7-year-old mind, I couldn't help but compare myself to the other pristine children around me. I found myself regretting having worn my favorite Twinkle Toes and tu-tu instead of a fancy dress like all the children around me. Just as my spirits fell, the man spoke once again: "We'll be the judge of that."
The first part of the search included a practice commercial, where they gave all the children a script to memorize and repeat in front of the camera. In theory, this wouldn't be so terrifying. However, the videos would be projected on a giant wall for the entire auditorium to see, so one mistake was broadcasted to hundreds. I found myself feeling more nervous as the names soon dwindled down to mine.
Standing in front of that camera was one of the worst experiences in my life. I think the reason I found the audition so hard was because I felt like a puppet. A very under-dressed and unprepared puppet. I developed an inferior mentality from comparing myself to the other kids who auditioned before me. I watched them make up impromptu acting and dancing that went along with their script. I saw some configure props they brought that would help better tell their story. For me, I stood in front of the camera and recited my lines to the best of my ability. But after I finished, I felt that my best perhaps wasn't enough. It was the only time in my life that I felt like I wasn't me in a sense, though I was doing what I always hoped and dreamed of. It was the only time in my life I felt that being me won't satisfy them — the fame-hungry mothers in the auditorium, the viewers of Disney Channel, the other kids behind me in line watching me perform.
I wasn't enough.
As I took my seat once again, I found more and more mothers turning their heads to look down upon my outfit choice and lack of "professionalism." My mother was filling out document after document about my sister and me, trying to get us to achieve our dreams. I remember she finished mine and handed it to me to give a lady sitting at the table, who had a Disney name tag like the man speaking before. The packet we received said I'd have to go to California to meet with talent agents who would help kick start my career as a "young actor" and then sponsor me into higher level acting jobs such as movies and TV series. On the cover was a picture of Selena Gomez in "Wizard of Waverly Place," and once again I found myself asking if I really want to do this.
Professional headshots and clouds of perfume surrounded me on my journey to the table with the lady, and when I finally reached to turn in my form, she peered inside the packet and asked: "Which song are you singing?" Song? I remember taking a look at the package my mother circled and it including a singing audition, and I finally felt a little more aware of my surroundings. Beside me, a little boy was pushing out the melody to "Burnin' Up" by the Jonas Brothers, and many other polished children were waiting behind me, doing vocal warm-ups and practicing their own songs.
A glance at my mother showed her giving me a thumbs up and turning back to meet the lady's gaze. I cleared my throat and began singing the "Kim Possible" intro (complete with drum noises in case you were wondering) that ended in the single head nod of the lady. She wrote an X and said "Next," leaving me pushed aside by the purse of the next mother with her child in line. Reflecting, it may have not been one of my proudest moments, but in that moment I was proud of myself. Once again, I began feeling that maybe I'm not enough.
I believe that my family and I left early. The audition got too much for us, and the constant boasting of mothers about their children began to become a long drone. Another hit landed on to the already formed bruise on my pride. It was clear that I wasn't as "professional" as the other children and seeing me sad, my mother took us out for ice cream after. There, she relayed the events that happened while we were auditioning, how mothers around her would say "You're so much better! Look at her hair! Her outfit! The mother who allowed her children to live out like that is blind," and a "terrible mother," while my sister and I auditioned on the projection. She told us that even if we didn't get picked, she still loved us and wanted us to know that we are beautiful too, no matter how well dressed the other kids in the talent search were.
In all, it was pretty easy for my mother to pick me back up again, and I realized that this life wasn't for me.
Even though I wanted to be on TV, up to par with my favorite idols with whom I'd binge watch over and over again every morning with my bowl of cereal, I would rather be happy and proud of myself and my favorite Twinkle Toes than become a puppet on the other end of a camera. And just as easy as it was for my mother to pick me back up, it was just as easy for my sister and I to forget about the audition. We still speak of it, happy that we didn't stay or let the mothers and their children's high range of talents get to our heads. We decided to continue our lives and develop our identities by staying true to ourselves and our wishes.
Even after we received the voicemail for the callback.