It's Okay to be Terrible

Facing what we can’t be good at

For a person who makes her living talking, I’m terrible at singing. I always have been, but it was highlighted recently, forcing me to accept it—and get over it.

Here’s the backstory: When I was in 4th grade, I tried out for chorus. Everyone got in, but we were supposed to experience the “audition and performance process.” I wasn’t shy, so this wasn’t a problem. But when I tried out, the choir teacher look at me quizzically and said, “Jordana, just mouth the words.” I figured she was talking about “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells,” which we were singing for the Christmas concert. She knew I was Jewish and probably thought I didn’t know the words. Throughout rehearsal, she discovered I knew the words but still insisted that I lip-synch. When I asked her why, she told me the truth (this was back in the day when teachers and coaches were honest): I couldn’t sing, and she didn’t want me to screw up the real crooners next to me. Harsh. But I sucked it up, stayed in chorus, and mouthed the words. Also bear in mind that my mother knew all about this and totally agreed with the choir teacher—thanks, Mom. Even 30 years later, nothing has changed: My kids tell me not to sing to Katy Perry or Macklemore in the car, and god forbid we have one of their friends with us. I’d better just hum.

Did being a terrible singer hamper me in life? No. I became a news anchor, and now a talk show host, and I sing in the shower and the car (when the kids don’t have friends along). To be honest, I don’t even appreciate musical theater. I have no idea about pitch, tone, and key. I’m completely tone-deaf, it’s true. Growing up in New Jersey, my parents took us to Broadway shows every year, and did I appreciate it? No. Cats, boring, Les Mis, too long, even Rent, whatever.

But awhile ago, I took my oldest to see Fiddler on the Roof at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, and through her eyes, I finally got it. I knew all the songs, of course, but seeing it with someone who appreciates perfect pitch made a difference. Of course, I wanted to share this musical experience with her. Yet when I tried to sing “Matchmaker” on the way home, she chuckled and said, “Don’t ruin it, Mom. OY!”

That night we watched Grease as a family. I love Grease. I know every word to every song. Again, I tried to sing along with the movie, they told me to shusssh so they could listen. Seriously? I’ve been doing the hand jive since before puberty and you’re telling me to shussh so you can learn it from Danny, Sandy, and Kinicky instead? What the heck? It was at that point I was told (diplomatically, by my very honest fiancée): “Look, you have rhythm, you can dance, but singing is not your thing.”

So, yes, I’m really that bad. It’s my reality. I was told by people to whom I’ve given birth, and whose ear buds are not fully developed, that I’m stunting their musical learning. So here I am, confronted with something I want to share with my spawn and it is an epic failure. I’ll admit it, I feel left out. It hurts a little to be so bad at something that every human you come in contact with tells you to stop.

By the end of the Grease night, I realized I had to come to terms with being terrible at singing, and that I’d never really be able to appreciate watching The Voice or American Idol with my kids. So I tried to find the bright side—there had to be a lesson in here somewhere, right? I will always be able to embarrass my children in front of their friends. When asked the all-important job interview question (“What can you improve?), I’ll always have an answer. And most importantly, being truly abysmal at something is helpful to keep the ego in check.

God gave me a voice in which to bring you news and opinions and interviews, and yet he laughs when I try to use that same voice to do something as simple as sing. God, checkmate. Well-played, old friend… But I’m still going to sing in the shower.

What are you terrible at doing? Let’s chat Wednesday night @wccoradio.

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