My Guardian Angel: From Chicken Soup For The American Idol Soul

Excerpt from Constantine Maroulis
Top 10, Season 4

If I went back to my high school and walked the halls, I’d probably still hear my teacher’s voice calling out to me, “Constantine! You have such talent; don’t waste it!” For some, a teacher like that comes along once in a lifetime. For many, not even once. I now look back and see how lucky I was that she cared about me. Not too many teachers did.

When I was a teenager, I had a lousy attitude and topped it off with bad grades. Deep down, I thought I probably was a good singer, but I didn’t have an ounce of confidence in my bones. I’d look in the mirror and see a shy, ugly, geeky kid staring back. And I’d be flat-out terrified if somebody asked me to sing. In fact, I was so scared, there were times when I’d open my mouth and nothing would come out.

I remember the rainy February morning that I walked into her music class. I sat in my chair, half slumped over, thinking that this was gonna be bad. I was chewing gum, figuring I could probably sing and chew at the same time. I mean, I wasn’t serious about this singing thing.

The old wooden door opened slowly, and into the classroom walked Mrs. Carol Birdsill. She looked right at me and smiled. I instantly knew that she connected to something inside of me. What it was, I didn’t know, but that something whispered, Sit up, shut up, and put out your hand, Constantine. She is holding the missing puzzle piece you’re looking for. I threw out my gum.

She was a round, jolly woman with big white hair. I loved to watch her sit at her piano and sing her heart out. She was the kindest, sweetest, and probably the most talented woman I had ever met. I loved everything about her, but more importantly, she loved everything about me.

For the first time in my life, someone believed in my talent. With Mrs. Birdsill, I didn’t have to say a word — she knew how much I struggled to let my inner voice out. She saw my anguish, and she never gave up on me. Her goal was not only to get me to sing, but more importantly, to get me to believe I could sing. She also happened to be the musical director for our high-school plays and wanted me to be in them.

One day, she took me aside, looked me in the eye, and said, “You have real talent. Just stop the nonsense and focus! First of all, you have to start doing better in school. Secondly, I know this is something you could pursue professionally some day. I believe in you, Constantine.” She gave it to me straight, but it just didn’t sink in fast enough. She tried so hard to get to me, but I remained slightly out of her reach. It was just a lot easier hanging out with my friends than facing my fears.

The surprise of my life came when Mrs. Birdsill picked me to be the music teacher for the day. It might not sound like a big deal, but it was. In fact, it was considered a school honor — my first. I was so proud and excited.

The day before my big teaching day dawned, the principal called me down to his office during music class. I thought he probably needed to talk to me about the procedures for the next day. I walked in and he said, “Sit down, Constantine.”

My knees knocked as I tried to center myself in the enormous mahogany chair in front of his desk.

“Constantine,” he said, “you’ve done very well in Mrs. Birdsill’s class, and it’s a great privilege to be chosen as the music teacher for the day. Unfortunately, your other grades are not worthy, and I can’t allow you to accept this honor.” I sat there motionless as his words went through me like a blade of ice. I was devastated. I had failed again, and I took it out on the one person who meant the most to me.

I fought back my tears as I went to her class, picked up my books, and walked out, never looking back. I had made my decision: I’m not going to try out for her shows. They’re for losers.

I remember the day before the school’s big show — the show I belonged in, and the one I knew Mrs. Birdsill wanted me in so badly. I peeked into the auditorium and saw her hard at work with actors, singers, and band members. I walked home slowly that day with an awful, empty feeling inside.

When I got to my house, I went into the kitchen and threw my books across the floor just as the phone rang. I didn’t feel much like talking to anyone, but I picked up the phone and unenthusiastically said hello. The chilling words that came across the phone line left me frozen. “Constantine?! Oh, my God, Constantine, Mrs. Birdsill just died!”

I threw the phone and, as it smashed into the wall, I screamed, “Nooooo! Please, come back. Please!” I wept — my God, I wept. I felt like I had lost my guardian angel, the one who had been sent to help me believe in myself.
My pain was so great that I thought it would never leave. But my lack of will to turn my life around was greater . . . until exactly one year to the day after Mrs. Birdsill’s death.

The opening day of our school’s annual play was upon us once again — and, once again, I wasn’t a part of it. Just as I had done the year before, I peeked into the auditorium, and this time the absence of the jolly woman with the big white hair was painfully obvious.

But a strange thing happened later that day. A huge, round, fluffy white owl perched itself on a telephone pole outside and just sat there, motionless, staring at the school. No one knew where it came from. We had never seen an owl in our neighborhood before — and didn’t they just come out in the dark of night?

I went outside and watched that bird for hours. Everyone was talking about it, asking, “Why is it staying there?”

I knew why. That owl had come for me. As I stared at the creature, it stared back, looking right through me, and I felt just like I did when I first walked into Mrs. Birdsill’s music room twelve months earlier. The owl took no pity. I fell to my knees and wept — and it just watched me weep. That owl had a message, and in the quiet evening air, I finally heard it, loud and clear.

The next school play was West Side Story, and although I was terrified, I auditioned. I found the strength to overcome my fear when I heard Mrs. Birdsill’s voice inside me, saying, I believe in you, Constantine. You can do this.

I got the part.

I worked harder than I had ever worked at anything in my life, and when the curtain went up on opening night, I sang my best, knowing my guardian angel was right by my side. As I struggled to find that first note, the missing puzzle piece was finally in place. I not only heard her voice saying, I believe in you, but for the first time ever, I heard my own voice saying, I believe in me. And that’s how it all began.

(Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul: Stories from the Idols and their Fans that Open Your Heart and Make Your Soul Sing).

(Note to iSnare Editor: Our client Debra Poneman is author of the book Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul. The book contains first person accounts of the hit TV show from contestants, fans and behind the scenes crew members. The piece above is from one of the contestants, Constantine Maroulis. We have Debra’s permission to offer these excerpts from her book to iSnare.)
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