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1. The narrator was nervous at the tryout that morning because
1) it was her first time appearing in front of an executive.
2) she wasn’t a beauty queen and didn’t have the right look.
3) she had too little time to make a good impression.
2. The narrator viewed her singing as a way of
1) struggling with local economy.
2) making new friends.
3) getting new opportunities in life.
3. The narrator gave her first concerts
1) at the department store.
2) in talent shows.
3) in a local bar.
4. The narrator’s singing in a local bar was accompanied by
1) a karaoke machine.
2) a portable tape-recorder.
3) a group of musicians.
5. In John Grady’s office, the narrator felt a bit more confident than in the past because
1) she had had some experience in singing.
2) she knew she could sing well.
3) she was not alone.
6. While the narrator was singing, John Grady
1) was very interested in her songs.
2) felt awkward.
3) seemed to pay no attention to her.
7. In the end of the tryout, it turned out that
1) John Grady was passing on the narrator.
2) the narrator had mistaken the words Crady wrote on the paper.
3) the narrator was to write at least 100 songs.
1 – 3
2 – 3
3 – 1
4 – 2
5 – 3
6 – 3
7 – 2
It was my ninth time appearing in front of an executive to sing a few songs and try to snag a record deal. The first eight tryouts had led to stone-cold rejections. I didn’t have the right look. My hair was dated. I wasn’t a beauty queen. I was a little too old and too heavy. Too something.
That morning, waiting to sing three songs for a man behind a desk, without a microphone, lights or amps, I was nervous. It’s very hard to stand there and let someone judge whether you’re worthy of a commercial career in 10 minutes. But in this business, it was something I had to do.
I’ve always been a fighter. Most of the people I knew growing up in rural Illinois struggled just like my family did. Outside of farming, there wasn’t much of a local economy. If you weren’t a pig farmer or corn farmer, you’d be down at a diner or truck stop flipping eggs, an auto mechanic working in a shop in your backyard or a bartender pouring drinks. The best you could hope for, if you wanted new horizons, was to latch onto a skill or career that could take you out of there. That’s how I viewed my singing.
My mom, Christine, says I started carrying tunes when I was three. By the time I was four or five, Mom was setting up spontaneous concerts at the nearest department store on Saturday afternoons. She’d plant me on a box and announce she had a treat in store. I’d sing a Patsy Cline tune, and shoppers would go nuts. Mom was proud of me. Soon I was competing in talent shows.
Finally, when I was 19,1 made money from singing in a local bar. My so-called singing act was to belt out country standards to the backup of music-only tapes on a portable recorder, a kind of do-it-yourself karaoke machine. I was so scared beforehand but I did it anyway. I knew I could sing and I got paid for it too. That was a huge step for me.
Many years after that, in John Grady’s office at 8 am, I also knew I could sing. But I felt a little better this time because I had my manager, Dale, with me. I also had Big Kenny and John Rich playing backup. They were people I loved and trusted, the group of singers I’d found after moving to Nashville. Dale said my only job that morning was to sing like it was 11 p.m.
I was in the middle of my second song, when I glanced up at John Grady, who was sitting behind his desk. He didn’t appear interested at all. He was going through his desk, looking for something to write with, as if to jot down a grocery list. It was awkward. About halfway through, I saw Mr. Grady write something down. From where I stood, I could clearly see him write the letter ‘n\ followed by the letter ‘o’. As in ‘No’.
That’s it, I thought. He’s passing on me. He folded the paper while I went on with my third and last song. I was sure the guy hated me and could not wait to get out of there. As we said good-bye, Grady gave me the paper. I didn’t understand. Though my hands were shaking, I found the courage to read the note. It didn’t say, ‘No.’ It said, ‘Now.’
My dream of becoming a professional musician was starting to come true. I still had to write, sing and record an album, of course. But I was pumped. The next day, I started writing songs, and over the next three months, I wrote at least 100. Most of them are in a drawer somewhere. But the ones that clicked ended up on my first record.