I heard a delighted squeal from the audience and watched as Mama took off running. A big burly man came sauntering in with his arms wide open. That was my uncle, always making an entrance. His black hair glinted blue in the studio lights and you could see his brilliant white teeth from a mile away. I grabbed Brock’s hand and hurried out. “Come on, baby! Uncle Etienne is here! I want you to meet my mama’s little brother!”
“Ma belle fille! Come give your uncle a hug now!” His thick Louisiana accent came through as I ran and launched myself into his huge arms.
“Je vous ai manqué” I whispered, trying my best not to cry on his big shoulders.
“Now, now, little one. Don’t you start crying. You gone make this ol’ Marine soft.” He kissed my temple and chuckled as he rubbed my back like he did when I was little. “I’ve missed you too, little girl.” I took a deep breath and gave him a big kiss on his cheek.
“There’s someone I want you to meet.” I reached behind me for Brock, pulling him next to me. “This is Brock.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Brock flashed his amazing smile and extended his hand. A big smile broke out on Uncle’s face.
“Well now this must be the young man your mama been telling me about.” He clasped Brock’s hand in a firm shake before jerking him in for a loud slapping hug. “Addie can’t stop talking about you, son. By the way my girl is looking at you, I can tell you are something special.” Brock blushed at the compliments, chuckling nervously.
“Amber makes it easy, sir.” Uncle threw his head back and laughed.
“Naw son call me Etienne or LeBoeuf. I’m nowhere near old enough to be sir.” We laughed and talked a bit more. I hugged everyone one last time and made my way backstage again. It was showtime!
The studio lights dimmed. The emcee introduced the host. Blain swaggered out on the stage like a true showman, greeting the cheering audience. Mama and Uncle with Brock were in the front, all smiles. My friends sat in the audience right behind them and Ryder took his place at the piano.
“Good morning East Point!” Blain knew how to work his audience. “Do we ever have a treat for you today! We have the winners of this year’s California State Vocal Solo and Ensemble champions!” The audience clapped and cheered loudly. “You know I’ve been listening to these kids practice all morning and I am so far beyond impressed! Wait until you hear for yourselves!” He went on for a few minutes more. “Now before I get too carried away, and believe me I could talk about these amazing kids for days, let me introduce them to you. Third place winner Connor McMahan hails from Monterey and is a student at Mt. Carmel High School. Second place winner Aurora Raines comes to us from sunny San Diego and is a student at Beachmont High School. First place winner is our very own Amber Stone who attends right here in East Point!” Cheers got louder as my family and friends went crazy. All I could do was laugh and smile because I was loving their enthusiasm.
“So tell us what you will be singing for us today, Connor,” Blain stood next to the tall lanky blond haired boy.
“We will be singing a capella our own version of a classic by Manhattan Transfer, Tuxedo Junction.” Blain nods, impressed. “We came up with our own arrangement and practiced on Zoom before coming here.” Blain’s mouth dropped open as he stared wide eyed at Connor, then out at the audience.
“Did you hear that, people?? They wrote their own arrangement and practiced via ZOOM! Is that serious talent or what??” He shook his head in amazement, a lopsided grin on his face. “Without further adieu, I give you your champions, ladies and gentlemen!” The spotlight zoomed in on us as we took our places on the stage. We began the opening, Aurora taking lead before we blended our voices together seamlessly. Snapping and grooving, we let ourselves go and really enjoy the song. We had the audience standing on their feet as we picked up the beat and really let it swing. Oh my gosh, we were really rocking it! The studio band picked up and began playing along with us.
The studio erupted when we finished. We were laughing and hugging each other as the roar of the crowd lessened. “That was amazing!” Blain said, shaking our hands. “You kids are incredible!” We settled into our seats and prepared for the interview portion of the show. “Did I tell you or did I tell you?” he addressed the audience. “Wow! I’m almost speechless…almost,” he said with a wink and a smile. “So you all won scholarships to the prestigious Berkeley College of the Performing Arts, Amber getting a fully paid tuition for four years.” We nodded, smiling and waving at the crowd.
“I mean you all just blew our minds with that performance! Do you think you could do it again?” I smiled deviously, nodding my head.
“You bet your sweet boots we can!” I giggled. I looked at Connor and Aurora. We had secretly prepared a couple of others in case we were asked to perform together again. “We might need the help of the studio band this time.” Turning to the musicians, I smiled. “What y’all think, boys? Think you can help us out?” They cheered and strummed or beat in agreement, Ryder tinkling up and down the piano keys. We rose and took center stage again. I whispered in Ryder’s ear. He turned to the musicians letting them know what we were singing.
“Thank you all so much for loving on us!” I addressed the audience. “This is our version of a great song written by Stevie Wonder, Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” We broke into easy harmony and the band picked right up. Each of us took a turn showcasing our range and talent. I continued to be impressed with Connor and Aurora. They were amazing! We ended the segment with another standing ovation. It was the most incredible feeling I’d ever felt! It was a high I couldn’t describe and I couldn’t stop smiling. This was what I wanted! I was now addicted and anxious to start my journey.