• Steph Jay

Trippin Over Paradise

My mom used to always joke that I came out of her singing. My nickname early on in life was ‘bird’ because I would always be singing a tune. I heard this nickname more often than my given name. My parents, not being the most musical of folks, didn't know what to do with this little soul that loved music more than life itself. They knew they wanted to support it, though. So, they sent me to voice lessons at an early age. With voice lessons comes recitals. One of my very first recitals came when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I remember I wore a long navy blue dress and my hair up in a big bun on top of my head, with a couple of curly cues in my face. My voice teacher had all of her students there that night and everyone got a turn, singing a song of their choice. I was set to perform in the second half of the recital, so I had to sit through everyone else's performances. I was horrifyingly nervous. My mind kept going to the darkest, worst case scenario spaces. What if I forget the lyrics? What if my voice cracks or I sing out of tune? I'm not as good as all of these older kids. Did I overdress? Did I underdress?

My palms were sweaty, and my pulse was thick and fast. I begged my mom to leave. She would just shake her head no. She said, "Everyone else has to go up there, so do you." I wouldn't give up that easily, though. I would beg her every ten minutes or so to get me the heck out of there. I would bargain with her...."I'll go home and do my homework" "No one will notice I'm gone" "I'm too scared" "I'll clean my room!" “I think I’m sick!” It was all to no avail. She just sat there and smiled at me. "You will do a wonderful job up there, don't worry, Steph. Nerves are natural, you love to sing, that's all that matters." She was right, but I was so angry at her for it.

Me in animal print..what's new? I was a 'Singer' for Halloween..199..7?

After what felt like decades of waiting, they finally called my name and the doom truly set in. My heart started beating faster than ever before. When I stood up, my legs felt like rubber, they could have given out at any second. It was as if something else took over my body and marched it up there to that stage. On the stage were a slew of cords, some hooked up to the PA speakers and others to the mics they had set up for the singers. Once I got to the stage, my foot got caught under the mess of cords and I went flying, finally landing on my face on the stage. I remember all of the laughs. I remember looking out into the crowd and seeing all of their faces just laughing away at my unintentional comic display. I remember looking up at my mom, my rock. Her face was so stern. I could feel her power from the back of the room. My mama is a tough bird. Her picture is next to the word stoic in the dictionary. She is made of stone and sweat tea. She doesn't like excuses and raised us to pick ourselves up off the ground.

I channeled her strength and stood up strong and grabbed the microphone. They cued up my song, "A Few of My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music, (at my young age I was only allowed to pick from Disney songs or show tunes.) I sang my heart out, not missing a single lyric or note. Three minutes later, that crowd was cheering me on. They had already forgotten about my fall and moved on to celebrating the performance. I remember the feeling I was left with.....I just wanted to sing another song, and then another and maybe even another. I was hooked! I knew THIS was what I wanted, no--needed, to do. Every time thereafter, I would perform, I would be so nervous I felt like I might puke and have a heart attack all at the same time - then after my performance, I would want to get back up there and do it all over again.

I was a glutton and I couldn't get enough. Those butterflies, that nervous energy, made me feel alive. It reminded me that I was human. It was a reminder of how much I loved live performance. People ask me all of the time if I still get nervous after all of these years of performing. You would think I wouldn't, but you would be wrong, I still have that nervous energy before each performance. And I wouldn't want it any other way. Maybe I'm not begging my mom to take me home anymore, but those butterflies are still very much alive in my belly. I love music and live performance as much as ever before, I’ll never forget that fateful eve when I stopped tripping over paradise and started sitting back and enjoying the hell out of the view.

-Steph Jay

'Stars of Tomorrow' performance. I sang: 'Part of Your World' from The Little Mermaid...hence the costume. I won 'Best Stage Presence' 1996

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