Last year I heard an educational speaker explain why the American phenomenon of school talent shows is incredibly important. While across the oceans other countries and cultures demand perfection and precision in all things, we here in the U.S. try to encourage kids’ creativity. It is not a prerequisite to be the best of the very best if you want to perform; you simply have to be brave and try.
When I was in second grade and fourth grade, I participated in the school talent show with my childhood best friend. We used to love to sing together on the school bus, and one of our favorite play games was “traveling” around her backyard to make it to our singing gigs. The stage, of course, was none other than the green electric box in her front yard, where we sang to our adoring imaginary fans. In second grade we delivered the well-known hit “Talk to Me,” as performed by Justine Bateman in the movie Satisfaction. (If you’ve never seen that movie or heard that song… don’t worry about it.) I can’t actually remember what we sang in fourth grade, and then maybe our school stopped having talent shows?? I can’t imagine why I would have stopped trying out.
Today the school where I work had its Talent Show 2012, an every-other-year event. It opened with a 3rd grader’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as sung in a key that got close to the octaves only dogs can hear but remained perfectly on pitch throughout. Demonstrations of gymnastics and taekwondo followed, along with more musical performances — even another 3rd grader’s cover of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” Preceded a few acts earlier by a rousing rendition of “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” sung by a kindergarten student in a lavender leotard. Awesome.
One of my favorite acts was the pre-school kiddo who did his gymnastics demo with the first verse of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” playing in the background. When he jumped and landed in the splits during the intro guitar solo, I was hooked. I also loved the little first grader who demonstrated her ability to make a paper airplane. A little bit of physics for the masses, if you will.
Watching all of the students give the performers their full attention and seeing all of the parents and family members who showed up in the middle of the day was kind of incredible. Sure there were kids who sang off key and couldn’t sing on the beat. Yes the highlight of the sixth grade dance routine was watching the two girls crawl through the other’s bridge-up. And when it was all over, a sweet 3rd grader looked at me with her eyes shining and said, “There were some really awesome acts today.”
Even though the sometimes sarcastic and critical type-A part of me wanted to laugh a little at her earnest comment, I knew she was right. There were some extremely talented kids who performed, no doubt. And there were some average kids who performed. The “incredible” part for me was thinking about how much courage it takes to get up in front of one’s peers and perform, regardless of skill level. Public speaking, after all, still ranks as people’s #1 fear (at least in 2011), so I imagine that dancing, singing a solo, or doing anything else alone on a stage provokes a similar level of fear in most folks. All of the kids who performed today chose to share some other part of themselves that isn’t always highlighted in a classroom setting. I bet the singers — though nervous — were totally excited to sing in front of an audience. (I know from experience: I used to love to sing in front of my mirror at home with a hairbrush microphone. A jump rope also worked, as it imitated having to deal with a microphone cord.)
For all its varied level of “talent,” I absolutely loved the hour of my day spent watching the students perform. I’m also going to have to agree with the ed school professor who believes in talent shows. The band teacher/Talent Show MC summed it up best during his closing remarks: he encouraged all of the kids to explore all of their talents, to find out what they may like or be good at beyond academics because, he said, “you never know.” I think that we all want students to be original, to be open to new ideas, to feel like they have the permission to try anything at least once.
In this digital age, YouTube is like one huge international talent show; post a video and have an instant world-wide audience. But nothing quite compares to being live in front of your school, your classmates, and your parents all at once, because there are no edits or re-dos then.
So bring on the talent shows, I say. We’ve got some creativity to foster.