Saturday night saw the 8th annual Hospice of Southern Illinois Red Carpet Gala. It is the premier event in our region and this year was a total sell-out with more than a thousand people on hand to raise money for a great cause. For those who don’t know, the Gala features local folks singing, dancing and performing on stage.
I first hit the stage in 2014 as part of a group that lip synced YMCA. The act included some dancing too. A year later I provided backup vocals as one of the Jersey Boys which featured a variety of tunes. Then it was comedy time as I was a Bill Engvall from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. And in 2017, I became ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and told jokes with a real life dummy. (Sorry Les.)
Over the summer of 2017 assignments for the 2018 Gala started taking shape. I was told I’d be joining my buddy Tom Harness (who crushed it as Pitbull earlier that year) and Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens in a rap mashup. I was also informed that I would not be lip-synching this time. I was going to actually have to learn the lyrics and perform. Oh, and we’d also be doing some dancing with the routine.
Those who know me or have witnessed me at karaoke know that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. My dance moves look like exactly what I am, a middle-aged dad trying to look like he knows what he’s doing. However, I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone and I knew the team I’d working with would get me there. I never knew how right that assessment would be until the night of the performance.
We started practicing in late October. Each Monday (sans Christmas and New Year’s Day) we’d go over the lyrics to Tom’s song Ice, Ice Baby, Will’s Humpty Dance and my Bust a Move. These one-hit rap wonders were a sampling of the entire show entitled Adventures in ONEderland. We dubbed ourselves RUN SHH (Stephens, Harness, Hunsperger).
The hardest part in the beginning for me was relearning the lyrics to Bust a Move. I was a junior in high school when Young MC introduced the world to this hit. However, I remembered the words differently than what they actually are. So I had to retrain my brain. I felt like I knew about 80 percent of my words early in the process, but I lacked the “ummph” in my delivery.
This concerned me, even a week ahead of showtime when I gave my friends a sneak peek at karaoke night. My wife told me I needed to loosen up and have fun. For some reason, I have trouble doing that. So the final week of practice, which increased to two nights a week, plus two dress rehearsals, I opened up. The members of #TeamTodd took notice too and their words of encouragement helped boost my confidence level.
We rocked the two performances at the Friday night dress rehearsal. Then, of course, I thought I’d jinxed us and would forget my lyrics Saturday night when it mattered most. Admittedly, I had a few adult beverages to calm my nerves and loosen up a bit. The liquid courage was the right mixture as we hit the stage and nailed our performance. The compliments and congratulations were genuine from everyone and the three months of practice provided a real sense of accomplishment for me. I hadn’t been that nervous or that far out of my comfort zone since my pro wrestling match in 2012. (You can watch that here.)
In closing, I want to thank Tom for nudging me out of my comfort zone and requesting me to be a part of the rap mash up. I also want to thank the Hospice Gala directors Todd Ellis (our director and biggest fan), Jennifer Lee, Jennifer Vinyard, Herby Voss and Jared Garrison for welcoming me back a fifth time. Will Stephens for rounding out our trio with the best version of the Humpty Dance since Digital Underground. My wife and kids for supporting me during the practice period and show night. And last but certainly not least our dance team; Lynsey Hentrich did an amazing job with the choreography. Thank you to Taylor Poore, Neshsa Bhattacharya, Whitney Swift, Jennifer Lee, Shanda Sylwester, Megan McVey and Olivia Porter. Your dedication to the team made this the most memorable Gala for me.
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