One of the things I like about Facebook is finding old friends I’ve been out of contact with. One of those friends is Donita. We went to elementary and high school together, and we both lived in East Enterprise, Ind. Donita still does.
She sent me a Facebook message saying she’s been trying to find me. She’s been holding a plaque that my twin brother and I won from a school talent show. I’m guessing the year is probably 1962.
My brother and I were in second grade and represented Allensville Elementary School. The talent show took place in Vevay, Ind. We sang a song, which one I don’t remember, but we won first prize that year.
Since then, the plaque had been hanging in the old Allensville School, but Donita took it down when the school closed a few years ago. In her message, she wanted to know if I would like to have the plaque.
The easy answer would be to say yes, but I remember that talent show and all the others my brother and I entered. They’re not pleasant memories.
Over the years, the talent shows kept getting bigger, branching out to Cincinnati and beyond. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn’t.
Losing wasn’t acceptable, and I remember those losses more acutely than the wins. The pressure was always to come out on top, to beat the competition. According to my parents, winning was the most important thing.
To me, it wasn’t. Having a talent, whether it’s singing, playing a musical instrument or any other kind of creative outlet, should be fun and not turned into some kind of competitive sport to ensure you’re better than somebody else.
Donita’s message about the plaque brought back memories about those talent shows. Maybe because of all the contests my brother and I entered as kids, I’ve avoided watching talent television shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent
I found myself interested in one of those talent shows called Britain’s Got Talent. I started keeping track of contestants Natalie Okin and Hollie Steel. Both girls are 10 years old.
Both of them have a lot of talent, and during the first few rounds all the judges praised them to high heaven. They could do no wrong — that is until acts had to start being eliminated.
The girls went pretty far in the competition, but somehow I knew they wouldn’t win, and sure enough, they didn’t. Both were eliminated during the semifinal round.
When they lost, they both cried right there on television for millions to view. Sitting at my computer watching them, I cried, too. You see, I remember what it’s like.
I don’t think it’s right to tell little children — and 10 years old is still little in my book — that they’re good but not quite good enough to win. I hope the parents of Natalie and Hollie remind them they still have talent, but most importantly that they’re still good, winning human beings. I hope those parents consider not putting their child through that type of experience or torment again.
As for adults entering these types of talent shows and being competitive, I suppose they’re old enough to know what they’re doing and what they’re letting themselves in for. For some like Susan Boyle, it’s worked out wonderfully. For others, it hasn’t, but if people want someone like Simon Cowell telling them they have no talent, I guess it’s their business.
For me, this craziness has been over for many years. Thank god I’m no longer entering singing contests. Now, I’m just a writer, but this also has a competitive side.
Last year I won an award for something I wrote here in CityBeat. When I first found out about it, I felt a bit queasy. I felt like I was being pulled someplace I didn’t want to go.
To this day, I’m not sure exactly how this award came about. Maybe my editor entered my story in a contest. That’s what I’m thinking, but I really don’t need or want to know. All I know is I didn’t personally enter any kind of competition.
There was a dinner for this awards presentation. It was fun meeting the other people who won and/or lost. I’m glad I went, but if I never win another award or never go to one of these things again, it will be fine with me. Just like other awards, writing awards can be a slippery slope.
I want to write for the sake and joy of writing — not for a piece of paper or a plaque telling me I’m better than someone else. I think for me, being competitive would get in the way of the actual talent that I hope I have.
Within the next few weeks, I’ll be heading to East Enterprise. It’s been many years since I’ve visited by hometown, and even longer since I’ve seen Donita. I’m looking forward to the visit.
As for that plaque Donita has for me, I guess I’ll take it back to Cincinnati. What I’ll do with it I don’t know, but I don’t think it will get me wondering when or where the next American Idol auditions are going to be held. Not being competitive just works better for me.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: email@example.com