“SO, WHO IS JUDGE #3?” she bellowed.
We all looked toward the door of the judges’ meeting room to see a rather large, black high school student with a big smile on her face scanning the people seated at our table. We had gathered there for last minute instructions before going off to spend this Saturday evaluating middle and high school students who were hoping to earn medals for their musical performances. This young lady, who had volunteered to work as a judge’s assistant, had come to show Judge #3 to her performance room.
I don’t think I was the only one startled by her boldness; most young people would have been shy about interrupting a group such as ours. She was not. On the contrary, her outsized personality dominated and brightened the room.
“Mrs. Stanley hasn’t arrived, yet,” replied the head judge. “We think the snowy weather may be slowing her down.”
“No problem. I’m happy to wait,” the young lady said.
One by one, the other judge’s assistants, high school volunteers all, arrived to show us to our performance areas. I had been assigned to judge the upper level piano solos in the auditorium. I would be listening to more than 40 students, most of whom were hoping to qualify for the State Festival to be held a few weeks later.
My assistant’s name was Lizzy, though she would only be with me for the morning; another student would be taking her place. Lizzy was a senior and a member of the high school choir. Her plans included attending Purdue University where she would receive a partial tuition waiver because her father worked there. In addition, she had already been awarded a fairly substantial scholarship because she was a very good student with a 3.8 gpa.
Lizzy’s job this day was to keep the students organized who were waiting in the lobby for their turn to play. She would also be double checking my math on the score sheets I would be filling out, and running paperwork here and there.
After about two hours of this, I heard that voice again.
“ALRIGHT, LIZZY. IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO GET GOING!”
Looking over my shoulder, I saw the young lady who had greeted all of us early that morning. She was strolling toward us down the aisle of the auditorium.
“You’re leaving so soon?” I asked Lizzy.
“She needs to go warm up for her performance,” said the Voice.
“Yeah. I’m singing a solo in a few minutes,” explained Lizzy.
“Very good,” I said. “I hope it goes well. Best of luck to you.”
Turning to the Voice, Lizzy asked, “Are you here to replace me?”
“Oh yeah!” she said. “I’ll fill in for a few minutes until Alex comes. He’ll be taking over for the rest of the day.”
“Thanks, a bunch,” said Lizzy. “By the way, you’re also performing today, aren’t you. What are you singing?”
“A negro spiritual,” she answered.
“What? You aren’t supposed to call it that,” Lizzy said with a laugh.
“Why not?” she said, with an even bigger laugh. “I’m allowed, and that’s what it is!”
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Chaquita,” she answered, but I hadn’t quite been able to hear her.
“Did you say ‘Chaquita?’” I asked.
“Just call me Kylee. Everyone else does,” she said.
“Why is that?”
“’Cause ‘Chaquita’ is hard to pronounce, and it’s SO black,” she answered, smiling.
“I think it’s pretty. Do you spell it with ‘Ch’ or ‘Sh?’”
“Good heavens,” she laughed again. “It’s spelled with a ‘Ch.’ ‘Sh’ is so ghetto!”
“Well, Chaquita, what year are you in school?” I asked.
“I’m a junior.”
“Do you have any plans yet for when you graduate?”
“I’m thinking of studying law in New Mexico. They’ve already offered me a scholarship to sing in their choir,” she told me.
“Wow. You must be pretty good.”
“I’ve made it to the fourth round of auditions for “The Voice,” she said. “You know, the reality singing competition on TV?”
“I’ve heard of it. Congratulations! When is the next round?”
“I’m supposed to submit a video recording by tonight, but I’m not sure if I’m going to make the deadline.”
“Well, I hope you do. You sure have a dynamic personality, and you seem very comfortable with people,” I said. “Maybe I’ll get to see you on TV someday.”
“Just watch for Kylee Armani. That’s going to be my stage name.”
At this point we were interrupted by a student waiting to perform his piano solo, and with the busy schedule we had to keep, I didn’t get to ask her any more questions. Though our conversation had been brief, she had made a lasting impression. I heard some excellent performances that day, but Chaquita’s was the most memorable, and she hadn’t even sung a note.