It would all be over in 90 seconds. Nothing to sweat. Nothing to lose.
I was screwed.
Altruistic auspices had lured me to Independence Center, but it was sheer terror that kept me frozen on the small food-court stage, strangling a microphone as I peered out at blank faces.
"How's everyone doing in the food court tonight?" I offered nervously.
"I want you all to know that I listened to 'Eye of the Tiger' before coming here, so I'm pumped," I continued.
"This next one is a little tune I wrote ..."
Dignity, please meet your party at baggage carousel 3.
I deserved it. I had voluntarily thrown myself on this pyre of humiliation. Nobody forced me to belt out the national anthem at an open audition for the chance to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a Kansas City Outlaws hockey game.
But if I was going to spend my days arbitrarily dissecting the performances of other people, I figured the least I could do was throw myself into the emotional wringer of public scrutiny.
I was horrified. I hadn't expected much of a turnout, but I arrived at the mall to find a KMXV 93.3 van, a camera crew and some 30 deathly serious people waiting to sing.
I don't really like people. Or at least doing anything in front of a lot of them -- such as singing the national anthem. And I don't sing. Not in a plane. Not on a train.
My rendition would surely be the vocal equivalent of burning an American flag and urinating on the ashes. Roseanne would grab her crotch and scoff. William Hung would sneer, He blows ... he blows.
Oooohhhhhhhh, say can you see, I moaned in a low, quivering voice.
It was probably too late to stage my own death. Nobody would buy it.
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight's last gleaming.
I paused. I blanked. I groped for the next line and came up empty. I hope you're happy now, Francis Scott Key. Smarmy songwriting bastard. Then it hit me.
Whose broad stripes and bright stars ...
I was on autopilot now. At least no mallrats were throwing cups of Orange Julius. Yet.
... through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming ...
I had a newfound respect for the other singers. And I, in turn, surely had their sympathy.
O'er the land of the FREEEEEE-EEEEEEE, I bellowed for the finale, and the home of the ... Outlaws!
Yes, I was an unapologetic whore. But you gotta earn points where you can. And, as I walked off the stage, I saw the judges were laughing.
With me, of course.