Two years ago, my daughter Lauren, who was 12 at the time, had the idea to audition for one of these national talent TV shows that have become famous over the last 10-12 years. She has great vocal talent and I am convinced that she will be a recording artist some day. But I was not convinced that the timing was right for an attempt by a 12 year old, in addition to the fact that all the host cities were far, far away.
A month or two later, my sweet daughter asked to speak with me. She explained that the final audition for this show just happened to be on her 13th birthday and the only present she wanted was an opportunity to try out. I told her that as much as I wish we could, there was just no way to make a trip from South Carolina to Texas happen. She understood my reasoning, but walked away with her head hung low.
I went to find my wife to ask what she thought about the audition idea and before I could get a word out she said, “I think you need to take Lauren to Dallas for her birthday!” I had hoped that she would say that and we began putting our birthday surprise strategy into place!
On Tuesday, May 24, 2011, my wife and I arrived at my daughter’s school just after lunch time. Her bags had been packed and were in the car waiting as my wife went in to have Lauren dismissed early. She was told that a last minute dentist appointment had become available and a few minutes later the two ladies I love most in this world came walking out to the car. As they approached, I revealed a hand made poster that read, “DALLAS OR BUST!” Lauren’s eyes lit up as she realized that her birthday dream was coming true! My wife graciously sent us off (staying home to care for our two sons) with her prayers and well wishes for success.
Lauren and I hit Interstate 20 West and drove hard to get to Dallas before registration closed the following day. We laughed and sang and celebrated the freedom of the open road, stopping only when we needed gas and timing our meal and restroom breaks just right. We strategized and also spent some time talking about having humility and being prepared for disappointment. We reasoned that chances were very low to be picked from the thousands of competitors and that the focus would be on enjoying a special birthday together. I was able to last on the first leg of our trip until about 1:00 AM as we reached the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, making our overnight stop in Vicksburg. The next morning we got an early start and continued our trek to “The Big D.”
As we rolled into Dallas late Wednesday afternoon, we made a beeline to the event location and got registered for the big audition. My sweet Carolina girl was so excited and as we made our way toward the car, a news reporter from Oklahoma stopped us and asked Lauren for some comments and a sample of the song she had chosen to sing. She belted out a couple lines of her version of “Forget You” and I believe that is where I got my first glimpse of her great potential as an artist. Don’t get me wrong – I knew the talent was there, but stepping back and seeing her perform in this spontaneous way was awesome!
Being first timers to an event like this, we had a lot to learn. From what I had researched online, my understanding was that the first ones in line on auditon day would be the first ones to audition. But no, this was not the case. The audition time on audition day had actually already been determined by the time that we had registered the day before. Ouch! So my daughter’s 13th birthday began about 4:00 AM as we prepared for the day and we arrived at the venue around 4:50 AM. We had a lot of fun along with the estimated 10,000 other competitors, parents, fans, and event staff. Excitement was in the air, as well as heat as the temperature soared into the 90’s. Since we were one of the last to register, we were also one of the last to audition. The day that had begun at 4:00 AM did not end until 18 hours later as my daughter sang her songs for the talent judge at about 10:00 PM. Happy Birthday Sweetheart.
But there’s more. As she sang and shared her heart with the talent officials, something happened that caught me completely unprepared. For the last week, I had researched, planned, schemed, strategized, driven, and worked hard to get my daughter to this event and in front of the judges. I had convinced myself that there was really no chance for a 13 year old to advance in a competition like this. After her song, the official thanked Lauren and handed her a gold colored piece of paper. I had not planned for extra time in Dallas, extra days off of work, or allowed the possibility of advancing to even enter my mind, but SHE DID IT! She advanced to stage 2! HAPPY BIRTHDAY SWEETHEART!
We celebrated big that night with an awesome dinner and a horse drawn carriage ride through the streets of Dallas. I couldn’t believe it, but she did it and was on to the next round. The next day was exciting but more focused as the list of competitors was being narrowed. We met new friends from all over the country and heard many stories, but in my opinion, none of them were as good as making it through round 1 on your 13th birthday! Round 2 was more intense, but once again my daughter sang her heart out and ADVANCED TO ROUND 3!
You can imagine that round 3 is even more intense as the producers make key decisions about who will represent them to a nationwide TV audience. These auditions were the afternoon of the second audition day and no answer was given that day as to whether or not competitors would advance to TV tapings. Instead, the staff informed us that we would receive communication before the next round occurred if we would be invited back to continue. My daughter gave it her best in the 3rd round in Dallas and left it all on the playing field. A few weeks later, we received an e-mail that her journey for 2011 had ended. There was definite disappointment, but a determination was sparked as she looked at me and said, “Well Dad, it’s time to start getting ready for next year!”
Fast forward to the first week of May, 2012, and the next year arrives in Greensboro, NC, much closer to our home. We improved on what we learned from the first year by being one of the first 200 hundred in line to register. That helped Lauren to finish her audition on day 1 before noon and she once again advanced to round 2.
As we lined up to enter on day 2, we met a very interesting family from Miami. The dad was named Mike, just like me, and his daughter was named – you guessed it – Lauren! We entered at the same time and were given seat assignments together in the waiting area. We shared with our new friends about our previous experience in the competition and Mike shared with me that he hoped that the audition would be finished soon because they had afternoon flights booked back to Miami. He soon learned that his flights would have to be changed as his Lauren advanced to round 3! It was fun watching them celebrate and leave the audition area ahead of us as my Lauren waited her turn.
My daughter stepped in to take her opportunity at round 2 and unfortunately had a difficult audition. For some reason she tensed up and allowed the pressure of the day to get to her. As we walked away after being cut in round 2, I encouraged her that we all have off days, even the biggest of stars and the greatest of heroes. Her attitude amazed me as she focused on the positive things she had learned in this her second year and she very quickly began to look forward to her next opportunity to learn and grow as an artist.
Just for a moment, allow me to go back to our friends – the other Mike and Lauren. At the point that my Lauren’s 2012 journey ended, we did not know how far our new friends’ journeys would last. When we watched the show on TV, especially the Greensboro tapings, we were so excited to see Lauren and her family and we celebrated that she had advanced to the TV rounds. She was eventually cut as an individual contestant, but as usually happens, there were more surprises. The show’s producers joined together five young ladies who would come to be known as 5th Harmony, the Top Group in the competition and overall 3rd Place Winner! We recently reconnected through Twitter and hope to see Lauren and her family again soon.
And now, it is Audition Time Again! My daughter Lauren, now 14, is determined to keep working and learning and striving toward her goal. As we registered today for year #3, many folks that we shared Lauren’s story with said, “Well you know, 3rd time’s the charm!” I don’t know if that phrase will stand up or not, but I do know this – through faith, hard work, and perseverance, great things are achieved. I’m excited to watch my sweet Carolina girl go for it again this year, win or lose, doing what she loves to do!