April 24th, 2010, 8pm. The Freestyle Legends Tour at Silver Spurs Arena, in Kissimee, Florida had begun. The line up was awesome including, Tony from Nu Image, Jayquan from Nasty Boys, CNR of Trilogy, Nyasia, Giggles, & More, Noel, myself, Lil Suzy, Angel of Cover Girls, Lissette Melendez, George Lamond, Expose and TKA. While getting ready for the show, I had a small emergency: I forgot a brush. The type of hair I have DEMANDS a brush. Thanks to Lissette Melendez, my hair was worthy of a show. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was on the top of their game.
We arrived to the arena, and was immediately told that there were already 1000 people on line, and it wasn't even close to showtime. Wow, I thought to myself, they're not on Latino time? Latino time means if the appointed hour is 8pm, we're really arriving at about ten minutes to nine. About a half hour before the show, I walked out to see the stage, and there were already people seated in front. As I was discussing what to do with my road manager, people began to recognize me and take pictures. I was actually surprised that happened..usually I sneak to the side of the stage, and no one even notices me. This time was different. Then the emcee announced I was on the side of the stage, and the flashes from cameras began to dance. I was happy, as it is always a compliment when that happens. I knew already it was going to be a good night.
I was only functioning on 3 hours of sleep the night before, but my nerves were working overtime. You would think that after doing this more than 20 years I would no longer feel the butterflies, but alas, butterflies are my friends. I always take nervousness as a sign that you actually care about what you are about to do. The adrenaline that accompanies the nervousness is the fuel that gives you the energy to make the senses more finely tuned. I was able to watch almost everyone's performance, and everyone, I mean everyone, was on top of their game! You could hear the excitement and applause from way in the back, beyond doors that separated the dressing rooms.
& More was performing, and I was up next. So, I began my ritual, the only one I have before I go on: I pray...really hard. I created this rule that once I say "amen", I am forbidden to feel nervous. I must walk in faith, that all will be well. I admit to the faith part, but I break my rule everytime. This night when I said, "amen" a field of butterflies began dancing in my gut. Ugh, horrible feeling. I start shadow boxing to try to calm myself, and the people around me backstage begin to laugh. My biggest concern? What am I gonna say when I get up there? The emcee got the crowd so riled up, and before he even mentioned my name, some people in the audience began chanting my name, "Judy, Judy, Judy..." Wow! What a freaking feeling - what a compliment!!
I walk on stage, and the smiles are evident, the excitement so present...the people had a calming effect on me. I was so happy to walk on and see everyone so happy, recalling all their freestyle day memories. I began to speak: "Before there was Rihanna - there was Cynthia. Before there was Justin Timberlake - there was George Lamond. Before there was NSync - there was TKA. And before there was J-Lo...I point to myself over my head...there was J-To." The crowd just screamed with amusement, and the butterflies began to fly away finally. I continued. "I was born and raised in the Bronx, the oldest of 5 siblings and a single mother to care for us. I was told I couldn't be a singer by others because I couldn't afford it. Then I was told that I wouldn't be successful because I didn't change my last name. (In the eighties, it was not cool to have an ethnic name as it accepted today) and finally because I am chunky but funky, I was told no one would want to sign me...this is for you, for those who are told that can't make it...because you CAN make it..." I begin to tell the story of my first recording..."oooh, oooh...(from No Reason to Cry) the year was 1987..." And I began to sing my heart out. I also did a few old school dance moves, and I sometimes forget when I do these moves that I actually have to keep singing. I have to quickly tell myself to stop and catch my breath.
All I can say is I stopped midway to talk to the crowd. I'm old school - I grew up watching Sammy Davis, Jr., Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli...the one thing they all had in common was they sought to find a connection with their audiences, and I really admired that about them. They were story tellers, and it really taught me that the time you are onstage, you are creating an intimate relationship with your fans. They're not just people who love your music; they are people who have had a hard day, they are burdened with life's issues and they come to you to feel better. It is your job as an entertainer to "heal", to make them feel good, to have a real relationship with them, to be vulnerable in front of them, to be honest about what you are singing about...those things are important to me...just as important as singing the songs. I have been criticized in the past for talking too much, lol, but it is part of who I am. I want to get to know the people, and I want them to have an idea at least of who I am too.
Well, suddenly, they began chanting again and the entire audience at one point was standing up...the lights on the cell phones and video cameras were all on..it was a stunning sight. I could hear everyone just cheering. It was a cheer that was so loud and in unanimous agreement of pleasure that it penetrated my spirit. I couldn't handle it...the love was too much!!! I wish you could be onstage and see what I see: collective love! What an overwhelming sensation. Uh, oh...I felt the tears welling up. "Thank you...thank you, please don't make me cry because then I can't sing." And the volume of their cheers accelerated...and I just let the tears fall...it was almost what Oprah calls the ugly cry, but I let it go because I was grateful. What a lot of people don't know about me is that sometimes I question myself...I question if perhaps I should live out Plan B somewhere and become a therapist. I told the audience the truth..."It's hard sometimes...I asked Lisa-Lisa once if she ever wonders if it will be over...as long as you come to our shows, we will be here for you." It was a moment I allowed the crowd to see my vulnerability and fear that one day this may be over for me, and the crowd opened up their arms to me & with their applause they reassured me that this isn't over just yet.
I began to sing Come Into My Arms, and suddenly, the words weren't a tale of a broken heart, but rather words of appreciation to the crowd: "You, you showed me how love can be...you showed me how much you mean. You've always been by my side." I began to cry again, but I was just so grateful to experience that moment; to experience that kind of communal spirit. I completed the song holding out a note as long as could, which wasn't too long at all because I was just too emotional...but I gave my all. The crowd was again on their feet, and everywhere I looked I saw such happy faces. I said thank you, God bless you...and regrettably walked off. From the second I reached the bottom of the stairs to the long walk back to the dressing room, I just cried. I don't even know what I was crying about, but it felt like something was being let go...like unspoken pain was being released out of my body. Backstage, my very happy and proud road manager, sang the praises, lol. He had family with him and they asked me if I was okay since I hadn't been able to stop crying. I told them, "Do you have any idea how that feels? Oh, my God..it is unbelieveable..to receive that much love in one moment from so many people?" I was truly humbled because once agian, I caught myself thinking, 'I'm not all that special at all...'
During intermission I walked to the vending area where drinks were sold, and took as many pictures with people as was requested. Again, it just felt like it was all love, nothing else, just love. I also paid a visit to my very good friends, TKA, in their dressing room. Anytime I'm in their presence, I feel like I'm with my brothers and I am always guaranteed a good laugh and words of wisdom from Kayel. I told them how great it is that all of the freestyle artists get along so well and how we have become a real family.
George Lamond went on stage...he is just a class act. He never gives a bad show, and quite frankly, I envy his voice. He is warm and charasmatic and cute too, lol. He began to sing, "Don't Stop Believing", when to my surprise, he said, "Judy Torres come on up here!" Holy crap!!! He called my name...he wants me to go up? It was like I hit the lottery and at the same time Bob Barker said, "Judy Torres, come on downnn!!!" I had my slippers on...no time to put the shoes on and look cute. I ran and bumped into these black things, pulled a curtain aside to find it blocked by more black things and finally ran upstairs. I joined him and all I could say was I felt pure joy...pure elation. I was so honored and flattered and we sang our butts off! I harmonized and did whatever I thought I could do to help him and reminded myself that this was his show...but the audience freaked out! They were so excited! What a way to end it! Wow.
I got back to my hotel room, and I just didn't want to go to sleep...why? Because once your head is placed on the pillow it is the beginning of the end of that day. Tomorrow makes it just a memory, but I will take that feeling that I felt on stagewith me for the rest of my life. Do you kow what it felt like? The crowd's love was as closest as I'll get to being hugged by God on this planet...and damn, did it feel good!!!