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I shiver with anticipation as the other nine finalists and I line up on the Portland Teen Idol stage. I’ve performed my songs to the best of my ability, and now I grasp the clammy hands of my talented neighbors, waiting to hear the results. The announcer booms: “And your 2012 Portland Teen Idol winner is….Miss Hailey Kilgore!” My name is not Hailey. Hot tears prick my eyes as tumultuous applause fills the auditorium. I guess my jazzed up rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” didn’t go so well, because next thing I know, I’m clutching a participant’s plaque and attempting to force my lips into some semblance of a cheerful grin.
After striking out in the Portland Teen Idol arena, I decided to take my talents backstage. I founded a singing competition called Beaverton Teen Idol. As school budgets were slashed, students lost access to music education in my district. Beaverton Teen Idol was intended to offer those students a chance to make their voices heard. I pulled together two preliminary auditions, a semi-finals round, and a grand finale. The night of the finale, 150 people attended, a journalist wrote up the event in the local paper, and we raised $2000 through ticket sales and donations, all of it intended to help homeless youth. All of the late nights spent contacting sponsors and downloading karaoke tracks finally came together when my ten talented finalists lined up on the stage to await the results. As I announced the very first Beaverton Teen Idol winner, I was overcome with feelings of accomplishment and joy.
I haven’t always been able to take pride in my achievements, not this way. Before Beaverton Teen Idol, I held myself accountable to an absurd set of standards. Even minor failures were painful blows, and the most earnest accomplishments were never good enough. I used to measure my personal value by using my friends’ achievements as my guidelines; by that criterion, I always felt inadequate and inept. I threw myself into cheerleading, science research, and debate club in a futile attempt to prove my self-worth. Beaverton Teen Idol was my salvation. While I was planning the program, I was able to carve out a niche for myself. I don’t think I’ll ever throw a perfect back handspring or be a science fair champion, and that’s fine with me — now I have a creative outlet where I flourish. Making flyers, booking judges, and hauling audio equipment were therapeutic experiences. By immersing myself in a productive activity that I wholeheartedly enjoyed, I was able to piece together my shattered self-esteem. Every ticket I sold helped me pick up a shard of confidence.
After the finale, while I scoured the auditorium floor for candy wrappers and empty soda cans, I could finally breathe freely. My shoulders no longer ached from the burden of my critical alter-ego. Now, I’m no longer driven by a frenzied need to win teen idol status, Grammys, or gold medals. My real victory is in breaking personal records, and discovering the best version of myself.
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