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The moment I met Diana Edmonds, I understood why the Tony Award-and Oscar-winning actress captivated me and thousands of other fans. Diana was the reason I had become an actress, now three weeks shy of college graduation and striving to land a job on Broadway.
"So nice to meet you," she said, giving me the once-over. I smiled and prayed that my makeup had concealed the acne on my chin. But Diana zeroed in on it and frowned.
"Good luck," she said coolly, before moving on to the next actor, singer or dancer who stood in line, waiting to audition for a part in the musical she would be headlining. I hoped I looked calmer than I felt; my stomach was turning flips.
When I was in second grade, my parents had taken my sister, Charlene, and me to see Azula, the touring musical in which Diana had a starring role. Then Diana had released an album and played a recurring role on a hit TV show. She was everywhere, and as often as possible, I reminded my mother that I also wanted to act and sing, just like Diana Edmonds.
Mom and Daddy believed in me and had provided for everything from dance and voice lessons to regular visits to regionaltheater productions and to the national touring shows that came to Baltimore. For my sixteenth birthday, they treated me to a trip to New York to see The Lion King.
It wasn't easy, on teachers' salaries, but they knew what corners to cut to make their girls' dreams come true. When Charlene decided in ninth grade to become a chemist, they helped her make that happen, too.
Despite the many years I had followed Diana's career, today was the first time I'd ever been this close to my "inspiration." I laughed at myself for being so excited. Most of the hundred or so actors and singers surrounding me were probably feeling the same way.
We had gathered at this theater on Forty-fifth Street to audition for spots in Then Sings My Soul, Diana's upcoming Broadway musical. The stars of the cast had already been selected, but the chorus line was still being formed, and out of that, several lucky actors and actresses would garner bit parts.
Daddy, Mom, Charlene and my church family in Maryland had already prayed me into a prominent role. I didn't know what it would be, but Mom had assured me when I talked to her this morning that something special was going to happen after today's audition.
"God has smiled on you your entire life, Jess," she said.
"This won't be any different. Go in there and just trust Him to anoint your singing and whatever lines you have to recite. You're so close to graduation. I just know that this is going to be your first job. I feel it in my spirit."
I had smiled as I gripped the cell phone with one hand and brushed my teeth with the other. Mom's spirit was always speaking to her, and usually whatever God was saying was on target. I tried to listen to Him, too, but I hadn't mastered the practice yet.
While Diana continued to weave her way through the crowd of actors to extend greetings, I spotted a couple of my classmates from New York University. We exchanged waves before turning our eyes toward the stage, where a production assistant announced that we were about to start. The elimination process was about to begin.
Diana walked to center stage and stood there silently for about thirty seconds, inhaling deeply, and then exhaling, to prepare for the solo she was about to render as a warm-up for our auditions.
It was unusual for her to even be here. Most directors worked with a panel of judges or the playwright to decide who should fill each slot. Rarely was the star on hand.
However, the industry rumor mill indicated that this was Diana's legacy-making performance. She wanted absolutely every detail and person in the production to be handpicked, down to the members of the chorus. Which explained the time she had devoted to personally greeting everyone who had come to audition.
When the legendary director, Palmer Jordan, rose from the table and motioned for silence, a hush fell over the Imperial Theater. Following his cue, a tall, thin man walked regally to the piano and seconds later, music floated through the air, in dramatic crescendos and decrescendos.
Diana closed her eyes. With her arms loosely before her and her fingers laced together, she poured out the song that we would accompany her on as a full chorus.
Her voice was so powerful, yet controlled, that it gave me chills. Watching her was rewarding: her vibrant brown eyes, the perfect curve of her full lips and bronze cheeks, the flawless skin that put mine—twenty years her junior—to shame.
I glanced at the people to the left and right of me. I wasn't the only one spellbound.
After Diana sang, each of us was called, one by one, to perform two songs for her and for the director, both a song we had selected and one of their choosing.
Listening to the competition had its pluses and minuses. When someone belted out a Jennifer Holiday–like performance, I counted how many slots in the chorus would be left to insure I still had a chance. When someone missed a note or butchered their selection, Diana showed no mercy. Palmer would glance at her, and if she delivered a quick headshake, that yielded a polite, "Thank you. We'll call if we need you."
I had number thirty-one. By the time they called me, I thought my heart would leap from my chest. I walked to the center of the stage, gently cleared my throat and bowed my head for a few seconds to breathe in and focus.
When the music for "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" swelled, I closed my eyes and forgot where I was until I sang the final note. I was greeted with silence, which left me trembling.
Is this good or bad?
The seconds in which that thought flitted through my mind seemed like an eternity. When I finally raised my head, Palmer Jordan, his assistant directors and several of the stagehands simply looked at me.
"No need to do a second song, Jessica Drake," Mr. Jordan said. "You'll receive a call from us soon."
A thirty-something woman who had auditioned just before me and had also received a promising response was gathering her belongings as I came down the hallway.
"I heard you sing and thought you were great," she said, and zipped her lightweight jacket.
The woman strolled toward the door and I called after her. "Um, thanks. What's your name?"
She chuckled and continued walking, without turning toward me.
"You're new to this game, aren't you? This is not a business where you take names and form friendships, sweetie. You take names to know who you need to out-perform at the next audition."
She opened the door and turned for a final look. "I'm Mara," she said. "See you soon, at rehearsal."
I smiled at her confidence and prayed that she knew what she was talking about.
I slid into my short blue jean jacket and exited through the same door Mara had used. It had been a long morning and I was starving, but I had to call Mom to fill her in on the audition.
I pulled my cell phone from my jacket pocket just as I stepped outside. Before I could dial, Mara caught my eye. She was standing a few feet away, gesturing vividly and talking fast to a tall, café-latte brother. He held a long, skinny notebook, but he was also armed with a miniature digital tape recorder.
They noticed me and Mara motioned for me to join them. I tucked the cell phone back into my pocket and strolled over. The man tipped his cap and extended his hand.
"Quentin Grey, Times reporter. Great job up there on the stage today. I was standing at the back of the theater during your audition."
"Thank you," I said, determined to keep my eyes neutral, despite his good looks and the intense stare he leveled at me. "Quentin writes for the New York Times' Sunday magazine," Mara explained. "He's planning to write a profile of Diana and share backstage details about the cast of the new musical and what goes on during rehearsals for a major stage production."
I read the Times' Arts section and Sunday magazine regularly and was familiar with his name. Still, I decided to tread cautiously.
"That's great," I said. "Have you already interviewed Ms. Edmonds?"
He nodded. "Several times. The director has given me the okay to talk to the cast, sit in on rehearsals and capture some behind-the-scenes action. I'm talking to some of the folks who auditioned today, to get a sense of what it felt like and how hopeful you are about your chances."
"Good luck with your story, but I'm not interested in talking, especially before I know whether I've got the job," I said. "See you later, Mara."
I spun on my heel and strode in the direction that would take me to the nearest subway station. He thanked Mara for the interview and bade her goodbye, then trotted along beside me. He thrust a business card in my face.
I read it and continued to walk. Quentin F. Grey, staff writer, New York Times.
I looked at him again. "Thanks, but Mara just introduced you."
He smiled and my heart involuntarily fluttered. "You're probably a great actress, Ms. Drake, but your suspicions were written all over your face a few minutes ago."
I shrugged. "I've been taught that it's bad luck to plan for something before you have it in your hand, that's all. Don't want to ruin my chances with Ms. Edmonds or Mr. Jordan."
"Don't worry," he said. "A lot of the interviews I'm doing now are for background information. This piece won't run for several months, until the weekend after the show premieres.
"If you're in the cast, then great, I'll have some 'before and after' quotes from you," he said. "If you aren't, you may or may not be quoted about what it felt like to audition in front of the great Diana Edmonds."
He paused and cocked his head to one side. I stopped because he had piqued my curiosity.
"You kind of look like her, you know. A younger, fresh-faced version."
I shoved my hands in my pocket and leveled my eyes at him. "You can't come up with a better line than that?"
He laughed and walked toward me. I had reached the subway stop I was planning to take to the Village and was about to trot down the stairs.
"No, I'm serious. You really do favor her. It's uncanny."
"You're entitled to your opinion. I guess I should be flattered. I mean, I am her biggest fan and I've always considered myself a 'plain Jane,' but hey, a New York Times reporter has spoken! I'm hot!"
I laughed at myself and extended my hand.
He tucked his notepad in his pocket and shook it. "Off the record? You are hot, Ms. Drake."
Now that was pretty forward. I blushed and grew flustered. "I need to catch a train. Gotta go."
As I descended the stairs to the subway, he called after me, "You've got my card. Give me a ring when you've been hired and let me know how it feels. It would be great for the story."
Now he had me confused. Was this work-related flirting or sincere interest?
Either way, I had to go home and think about it. If actor Hill Harper wasn't available, there was at least one look-alike brother to ease the pain.
Excerpted from This Far By Faith by Stacy Hawkins Adams Copyright © 2008 by Stacy Hawkins Adams. Excerpted by permission.
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