Heavy makeup, curled hair, bedazzled dresses. I gape as my soccer-gear- wearing daughter appears transformed into a curious mix between an Irish Step Dancer and a low rent hooker. And she doesn’t even seem to mind! In fact, on a Saturday morning she and her contemporaries are gussied up and on a bus at the high school at 5:00 AM for a day of cut throat show choir competition. They have been singing and dancing for weeks in the choir room and they are ready to bring it.
If this is your first trip to the Show Choir rodeo, there are some ground rules to understand from the get-go. First, most of the competitions are in small town high schools in Wisconsin and Iowa. Midwesterners love Show Choir! Second, a lot of the parents are over the top about these events. I’m talking appliqué sweatshirts that say “I’m a show choir mom” and big buttons featuring their son or daughter’s face. Last, despite the first two factors, these cult-like events are jam packed with varying degrees of talent and unbridled high school energy and fun.
My husband and I leave the Chicago burbs bright and early on Saturday and drive a couple of hours north into Wisconsin for this first of the season competition. We know we are getting close when most of the houses along the rural route have stone deer ornaments in the lawn and some of the front yards feature above ground swimming pools. It’s a nice touch. We go by the little town of Brodboard and we see the pizza place where we will probably escape for lunch. It’s adjacent to the taxidermist, so I am wondering if squirrel deep dish will be one of the options.
Once in the high school we find the other Prospect High parents and we all start watching the shows in the auditorium/ gym. The performing show choirs are a mix of all girl groups and mixed boy and girl groups. They all sing, dance and swing their way through medleys that range from 80’s hits, to gospel number / Maroon 5 mash ups. Some of the groups are fantastic and others are merely creative or enthusiastic. They all get 15 minutes on stage to convince the judges that their vocals and dance moves are the shizz. But the outfits are almost worth the price of the $4 admission! Sparkles? Satin? They got them covered – and that’s just the guys’ wardrobe. There are always some unfortunate dress choices which will scar the heavier set high school girls for life. Seriously, I have never appreciated a universally flattering dress the way I do now! And the hair-dos from the rural schools completely rely on teasing, poofs, and hairspray that rival the starch we put in to our 1990 perms. Show Choir is hands-down Aqua-Net’s Mecca.
But then my daughter’s group, Company, takes the stage and all of my jaded observations take a back seat while I watch in rapt attention. They sound so good. Is she hitting her marks? Are the mikes picking up well enough? Is that really my daughter in the call-girl get up? They were fantastic. A few hours later the Prospect Mixed company choir performs. I know a lot of the kids and parents from this group and I find myself getting – what? Really excited for them? Cheering my head off? Welling up at the ballad sung by the neighbor girl? Yes, yes, and yes. I am careening toward the Show Choir dark side.
Now it’s late in the evening, everyone has performed, and there’s nothing left but waiting for the awards when this crazy phenomena sweeps the high school auditorium. The place is packed. All the kids are on the bleachers and parents are in chairs set up on the basket-ball court floor. The house music is blaring, the kids are all singing and dancing in the bleachers (how do they all know these words and dances? I ask myself). But the fun and the energy are contagious. I really want to leave the parent section and go dance with the kids, but I realized that would kill it for them. So instead I point out to another parent that if there is a fire in that gym right now we just need to accept that we are all going to die. She was not amused. I notice the wild dancing starts to subside, and just when I was getting the flow of “Thrift shop” the emcee takes control of the place again. They announce the winners of the all girl groups – its Company! I am on my feet with the rest of our school supporters hooting and hollering like I just won the damn lottery. Then they announced the best combo band –( yes, there are full on bands that accompany show choirs )– And Prospect won that distinction. Could I be any happier as I continue clapping with all of these parents that I am now feeling strangely bonded to? They are going to announce the overall Grand Champions. The crowd hushes…. second runner up is the Wisconsin team that had the teased up hair, and the Adele medley. First runner up – the school that won the tournament last year. After 10 straight hours of show choir, were we going to bust or win it all? The parents are all smiling expectantly at each other. The emcee pauses and then announces “This year’s grand champions are PROSPECT MIXED COMPANY. Yeah!, yeah, yeah, baby! Take that Iowa! Take that Wisconsin! Who’s the best singers and dancers and spanglers? That’s right, oh yeah. OMG. What’s happened to me? I am in full Show Choir furvor. I chalk it up to the squirrel pizza and the light deprivation in the gym. But I can’t wait to see how they do next weekend.