I Rapped About Aaron Burr To a Thai Audience

For those of you who have not had the misfortune to hear me sing, let me describe my vocal “talent”. I’m usually off-key, and I have a hard time keeping the beat. To give you a more tangible description, think about how a tomcat perched on the fencepost sings at the moon. It’s soulful and from the heart, but also painfully awkward and cringe-worthy.

My roommate Pingpong and our friend Kie and I met up and headed to the School of International Relations at around 12:30pm on Saturday. On the ninth floor, I followed Kie and Pingpong, who were apparently both singing in what then I concluded was not a concert, but rather an audition for a show put on by the School of International Relations much like American Idol or The Voice (very popular in Thailand).

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The registration table. AKA Where It All Began.

At this point, Kie turned to me and says “Paige you should sing too”. Let me remind you: I am a caterwauling tomcat with a big heart.

I backed away like a shying horse, tossing my head and snorting out “no way”. And that’s when friendly, but firm, peer pressuring ensued. Eventually, I agreed to do it. Here’s why: because I don’t want to make a scene, because I am the only white person out of the 50 or 60 people there and that already makes me much-watched and scrutinized, and because Kie said “Paige this is a once in a lifetime opportunity”.

I’ve always secretly wanted to sing into a microphone and be applauded by polite and pitying audiences.

So I agreed. I have to choose two songs to sing, at least one of them in English. Well, choosing English songs was not difficult. What was difficult was choosing songs I actually knew the lyrics to. Or at least, songs I didn’t think the Thai judges would know, so I could BS the lyrics if needed. I settled on “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt, and “Wait for It” from the musical Hamilton.

We all headed to the bathroom to learn our lyrics and panic. My face in this photo pretty much encompasses my feelings. Excitement, severe nerves, and a sort of all-around “who cares, this is for fun!” attitude.

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Left, Pingpong, center, me, and Kie on the right.

A while later, they called people into The Room to perform and hooked up a TV to Livestream for those who have not performed yet to watch the competition. That’s when I first see a Thai student sing “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt. “Oooh such a good song. She’s a good singer too!” said Kie. Or, it was something like that. All I recall is my reaction, which was along the lines of “oh shoot wait people here know this song? Know this movie? She’s so good!” I was hoping to pass off my terrible voice on just poor taste in music, a sort of cross-cultural exchange gone sour. But it was too late to switch songs; I had written down my song choices in pen.

On our way to the bathroom again to panic and giggle some more, Kie pulled me into an alcove and said “okay now is our chance; let’s jump out the window”. This was pretty much exactly what I was feeling, but I had already been interviewed by a TV crew about my upcoming performance and people were watching me; I couldn’t jump out the 9-story window unnoticed.

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Left, Kie, and right, Pingpong. Kie really emulates what I feel at this point in the waiting process.

After an hour of watching amazing talented girl after amazing talented guy, it was Kie, Pingpong and I’s turn. We went into the The Room and Pingpong, then Kie, took the stage, singing their songs to an amazed audience. Those two are great singers. Really, really talented. And I went right after them.

Someone handed me a microphone, and I was thinking “oh god wait what songs am I singing again?” The judge politely asks me my name in English, and I reply in Thai, fervently hoping to gain any favor with the crowd. Well, 25 people.

The great part is that this competition is all a capella. Meaning I can end the song whenever I want. The horrible part is that this competition is all a capella. So I can’t get hear the correct pitch or hide behind the music.

I start caterwauling out “When You Believe”, and the judges politely nod, and I gain some confidence. Then my voice cracks and I keel way left of on-pitch, then I veer right and just miss the mark entirely.  I see some girls giggling in the back, and I haven’t even made it to the third verse when I think “eh. They get the idea. On to the next song!” I know I ended halfway through the chorus because the video is online. I will tell the person with the highest bid how to find it

The judge says “Okay. Next song please?” This is when I realize that, without the background music, the entire Hamilton song “Wait For It” is spoken word/rap. So I start rapping about Aaron Burr having an affair with a British officer’s wife in the Revolutionary War. And at this point, what am I asking myself? Am I on-key? Is the audience enjoying this? Am I making weird noises in the microphone? Nope. I’m thinking “oh well thank goodness everyone’s now seriously confused.” Because the first lines are “Theodosia writes me a letter every day / I’m keeping her bed warm while her husband is away/He’s on the British side of Georgia/He’s tryin’ to keep the colonies in line”. Yeah, it barely makes sense even if you know this song is written about a very specific event in America from 200+ years ago.

I ended it about halfway through, again thinking “well, great. They get the idea. Hamilton’s awesome”, and the judge very politely said “well, thank you very much and good luck”. And the audience applauded me off stage!!!! My memory is a blur of shame and adrenaline and happiness, but I know no tomatoes or “boos” were thrown at me. Which, given my vocal “prowess”, is a success.

And while I definitely made a fool of myself today, it was, as Kie said, a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. I got to sing into a microphone to a room full of people too polite to run for the exit, and it was a great way to support my highly talented friends, making them sound even more amazing then they already are. Yes, I took a risk. And did it pay off? Heck yes. I’m definitely NOT going to be asked to participate in the semi-finals, but I had fun and got to laugh at myself and enjoy listening to a lot of highly talented a capella singing.

1 thought on “I Rapped About Aaron Burr To a Thai Audience

  1. Erin

    Paige! I’ve been listening to Hamilton all day and I’m deeply inspired by your feats of magic abroad. (Just sayin’). Have a great rest of your time in Thailand!

    Reply

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