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Thursday, April 30, 2015 20 comments

"Z" is for No Time to "Zzz"

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.
…After making it past the audience and judges, Donald has several other, major adventures throughout Season 3 of America’s Got Talent. And, somehow, someway, he manages to battle through numerous cuts and disappointments to remain in serious contention.
(Read all about them in the book!)

"Z" is for "No Time to Zzz"


In Conclusion...

…By the time the two-part, Final Five show rolls around in September 2008, there’s so much going on inside my head. I’m worried it might pop on live TV. I never expected—surely I dreamt it, but I never thought these types of dreams could come true—to make the top fifty let alone the Top Five, but there I am standing onstage—again.

Before the show, I take a moment and let my barriers down a little. I think about the what ifs should I win the whole thing, I mean, I’ve a one-in-five chance now, which makes me smile, but I’m not there yet. I clamp down on the thoughts and close up the mental box. Then I lock it and put it in the back of my mind. I don’t want to jinx myself.

Apart from me, the finalists were:

·         Queen Emily, a spectacular singer who I thought had more of a general appeal to a larger audience.

·         Nuttin’ But Stringz, two brothers with amazing skills on the violin.

·         Eli Matson, a pianist and singer

·         Neal E. Boyd, an opera singer


It’s Neal who walks away as the overall winner. I place fourth, Eli is second, Nuttin' But Stringz comes in third and Queen Emily rounds out the Top 5.

When the lights come down for the last time, I let out a huge sigh of release. Yeah, I don’t have a million bucks burning a hole in my pocket, but what a huge accomplishment. Booed on a Dallas stage, kicked off the show in Las Vegas, recalled from San Antonio and here I am, standing proud at the end of the final show in Los Angeles. What a blessing that I had the chance to sing along the winding road that is America’s Got Talent.

I marvel at how many people stepped up to help me along the journey. My family, friends, colleagues and a whole bunch of people who offered up prayers to the Lord. I will be forever grateful to each and every one. There’s no way I could have done this alone.

I’ve already won so many times over. It not all about coming in first place, it’s about what I’ve personally achieved. I hadn’t merely recovered to where I could speak to my wife or sing in the shower again. I was singing to millions of viewers on national TV, and those millions of folks had endorsed me week after week by bringing me back time after time.

The whole AGT experience was a major accomplishment and I attribute one hundred-and-ten percent of that to God. He knew I wanted this opportunity in a bad way. I never expected he would have me glorify him through a reality show, but hey, whatever works to gain maximum exposure.
 For me, the reward is standing up as a positive image for those who struggle with various issues or inner demons. Paying homage to God after each performance allowed me to become a responsible voice to so many people who’ve gone through difficult times, and that reward was so much greater than a million dollars and a show in Las Vegas. God rewarded me in a different way. He does work in mysterious ways—and I couldn’t have asked for more...

Donald: Simply Enjoying Life - & his Second Chance to Sing

Tomorrow: What? There’s no more letters??

Photo Credit:  Neva Barnhart
Tuesday, April 28, 2015 19 comments

"Y" is for "You," the reader...

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.

Today, however, is all about YOU...


"Y" is for "You, the reader"


Before I wrap up the sharing of Donald’s story tomorrow, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks.

Thanks to YOU.

You know those nerves you get when you share something with the world? Well, that’s how I felt when I started the A-Z Challenge. But then I started getting positive comments and some readers returned for a second day/comment.

I said it earlier in the month, but it was a blast writing Donald’s memoir and now, with all the positive comments, I feel truly humbled.

I never went to the writing skool or wrote a book before, but YOU have made me excited first about REVIVAL and now about my current work-in-progress.


Thanks for sticking with me for this crazy month that was the Challenge.

Thanks for taking the time to read the post and then write a comment.

Simply put, thank YOU.


Tomorrow, we return you to your regularly scheduled Z post :)



"X" is for the "Big Red X"

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.
As I near the end of the A-Z Challenge, Donald finally gets to sing in front of the judges -- and the live audience -- at America's Got Talent... but things don't start well...


"X" is for "The Big Red X"


An easy grin rests on my face. The quarter horse is long gone, its unique “gift” scrubbed from the stage. Looking out into the crowd reboots my adrenalin, which mixes with more than a twinge of anxiety.
I’m ready—I know I am—for You Raise Me Up, but the audience, the unofficial “fourth judge,” remains unhappy. With the spotlights on me, I can’t see individual members of the audience, but the collected masses do seem anxious to X me off the stage.

Yeah, these guys aren’t in a great place….

 I’m not letting that minor issue ruin this opportunity. The catcalls that rain down are loud, however, and I struggle to hear the initial questions directed my way.

“And your name is…?” said David Hasselhoff, the former Baywatch star.

“Hi, my name is Donald Braswell.”

“And what do you do?”

“I am a singer from San Antonio.”

“And have you sung professionally before?”

The question takes me off guard, until I realize someone—that guy, Brad?—shared my story with the judges.

“Eleven years ago, I was a professional singer and I had a strange accident, and as a result of the injury, I lost my speaking voice.”

Hasselhoff asks if this is my first time back on stage?

“This is the first time I’ve been on a professional stage in eleven years.”

“What are you going to sing for us today?”

“I’m going to sing You Raise Me Up, one of Josh Groban’s songs.”

“Well, show us what you got.”

I nod, lower my head and take a moment. I hear the music, but no more than two notes in, the crowd—the whole crowd—begins to yell, boo and call for an end to my audition. It’s the most ego-deflating experience of my life.
Never have I received such a vitriolic response to a stage performance, or sung for an audience who didn’t accept my voice right out of the gate. In fact, it’s always been the opposite. During the old days, I understood my limits and never wore myself out, at least vocally. Usually, I’d be “warmed up” or stronger by the end of the opera than at the beginning.

Yet, here I am, standing on an empty stage, the focus of thousands of strangers, many with their forearms crossed to form an “X” in case the booing and yelling isn’t sufficient notice of their immediate feelings toward me. First time in my career I’m nervous on stage, the place where I’m most at home—when I’m not at home.
Donald Singing on America's Got Talent
I appreciate the importance of negative reviews, but this is crazy and it’s annoying me. As sure as hell, I won’t be forced off stage faster than my left-it-all-onstage equestrian friend.
Then, the noise and sheer volume of the jeering and catcalls overwhelm me to where I lose all sense of sound. I can barely hear myself sing, and can’t hear the backing track.
Can the audience or, more importantly, the judges, even hear me..?

Tomorrow: "Y" is for "You."
Monday, April 27, 2015 12 comments

"W" is for "Waiting"

Welcome to the last week of April and the A-Z Challenge!

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.

Donald is about to sing in front of the judges -- and the live audience -- at America's Got Talent...but needs to wait until the horse in front of him has its own audition...

"W" is for "Waiting"

 …The cowboy and his four-legged partner last all of about twenty seconds before the boos and catcalls overwhelm them. The buzzers ring out. Game over. I’m sick for them—all that effort. What would the judges think of me?

 I’m next. Before every performance, there’s always a moment when I take a step inward and eliminate outside distractions. I rest my shoulder against something hard and close my eyes to initiate a no-talk zone. Dormant feelings awaken and roll over me. As the crowd howls at the big X, I take deep, long breaths as adrenalin flows under fresh goose bumps.

With a quiet strength, I clench my fist along the side of my leg. As always, the wait makes me nervous. Some call me aloof, but to prep and transform myself into the requisite role, I need this solitude, certainly for today. Even with all my years of experience, I’ve never performed in a live television event.

Someone bumps me and a half-apology splutters to death in the rushed air. The sometimes profane shouts increase as the stage is readied for me. It’s close. I draw strength from a battered but unbroken faith. Time for some Carpe Diem.

Eyes closed, head bowed, I prep for the signal, ready to leave everything out on the stage. No shame, and absolutely no regrets. This is my audition, but the glory goes to You, Lord.

My sense of smell is suddenly assaulted with the smell of fresh manure. Confused, I open and shade my eyes as harried crew members hustle on stage to clean several large, steaming dollops of fresh horse poop.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who decided to leave it all out there.

The adrenalin seeps away, but the humor of the situation prevents a new attack of the nerves. My kindred spirit is a horse! The removal of the large deposit is easy fodder for the restless audience. The noise grows to large, incoming waves of intense negativity, but I refocus with one deep breath.

I’ve lost one promising career due to a dumb mistake. Now, I’m about to take the biggest leap of faith in my forty-five-year existence, but I won’t be alone. If Daniel can walk into the den of lions, I can walk out onto this stage. One final time, I bow my head. The crowd noise washes over me like waves on an uncovered rock.

Lord, please grant me the strength to get through this performance, and if it’s your will, allow my voice to touch and inspire others. At the very least, Lord, I pray that I’ll be good enough to make my three girls and their Mom proud. Amen.

An excited-looking stagehand responding to a squawk offers me a thumbs up and guides me toward the one and only Jerry Springer.

“How are you feeling?” asks Springer, who shakes my hand while I fight an insane urge to shout his name three times.

“Hey Jerry, I’m ready, and no matter what happens, I’m so blessed to have this opportunity.”

“Good luck. I’ll see you afterward.”

I nod my thanks and slow jog onto the stage, a smile fixed on my face. I’m in the zone. The sound of the crowd dims to that of a busy restaurant— and I’ve worked enough of those to know. My hands run down the front of my Italian suit as I stand by a big red “X.”  Looking over at the judges, I’m ready to face the music—literally.

Here we go…


Tomorrow: "X" is for "The big Red X."

Saturday, April 25, 2015 7 comments

"V" is for "Vegas Dreams"

Welcome to the 22st letter of the A-Z Challenge!

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.

Yesterday, Donald mentally prepared himself to sing in front of the judges and the live audience at America's Got Talent...

"V" is for "Vegas Recall"


…Several contestants clasp their accessories and broken dreams as they retreat from the musical battleground ahead of us. I glance at our motley crew. We’re the new recruits, replacements shuffling toward the front lines, the antithesis of Easy Company from Band of Brothers. The reality of what could happen to any of us—what would happen to most of us—throttles further conversations, except for the nagging voice in my head. Yes, you are insane.

Corralled in a green room with fading blue walls and dirty mirrors, the smell of ancient coffee and fresh fear reminds me of a dingy, West Texas truck stop.

“The things you do to win a million bucks, right?” said a magician, who wipes his palms off the front of his trouser legs as if he needs a spark for some tinder.

My witty come-backer (something to do with only here to meet the host, Jerry Springer,) dies in my mouth as an acrobatic duo passes the open door. The young woman is inconsolable, her head buried in the muscular shoulder of her partner. Those guys, too? Wow, they were great.

Any sense of nervous humor flees from me and the oft-heard buzzers, which sound an immediate and early end to the latest act, sound harsh as the judges cull the stage of dreams. Acts disappear, and the only respite for the next-in-line is the setup time. Sometimes, the voracious crowd roars its disapproval when contestants are announced.

There’s no satisfying these guys, and I wonder if they’ve been here since 7:30 a.m., too? I glance at my wrist. Almost 5 p.m. That’s crazy…

A tap on the shoulder. I whirl around.

“Donald Braswell?” said a young, busy-looking crew member with short dark hair, accessorized with the much-squawking headset.

I nod.

“I’m Pete.”

“Hi. What’s up? Howya’ doin’?”

We share a quick handshake.

“You’ll be on soon. This way please.”

I follow, but having a guide is weird. Pre-accident, I’d owned backstage. It was my office, my sanctuary.

But, it’s been years, c’mon now…

Pete apparently receives a flash message.


Like a traffic cop at a busy intersection, his hand shoots out, the white palm stark against his dark shirt. The walkie-talkie squawks, Pete mutters back, and then lowers his hand, slow, like an old drawbridge.

“Hang on. One more act ahead of you now. The cowboy roper and his quarter horse.”

The horse. My audition for a horse! How’d I forgotten those guys? Easy I suppose, especially when you’re stashed away in a trailer. Out of sight, out of mind. I feel sorry for the crewmembers who maneuver the huge beast through that cramped backstage. A rumbling clip clop and several muted curses arrive before the equestrian version of Andre the Giant lumbers past. Its heaving nostrils and dark eyes betray only a mere touch of panic, which amazes me. I step into a recess and send positive thoughts to the almost-horizontal cowboy and his effort to avoid pulleys, wires and whatever else overhead that worked to unseat him. We lock eyes and nod hello like it’s an everyday occurrence. A few more feet further and a big, hairy rear end clears the curtains.

The visual brings on a snicker and I kick my right ankle to stop a bad case of the giggles. Audiences once waited with excitement and anticipation for me, the new, young lead tenor ready to make his grand entrance. Here I am, thirteen years later and about to follow a huge horse’s ass. Lord, you surely know how to keep a man humble.

Tomorrow: "W" is for "Wife"
Friday, April 24, 2015 7 comments

"U" is for the "Unknown"

Hey U, welcome back to the A-Z Challenge!

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.

Yesterday, Donald was invited to perform for the live audience/television taping at the America's Got Talent auditions. Two days later, Donald arrives early for his audition -- and the chance to sing on a professional stage for the first time in thirteen years...

"U" is for the "Unknown"


…Taking a deep breath, I pull open a random door along the hotel corridor, step inside the vast conference room and find myself in the midst of a chaotic circus. There’s nothing like showbiz: Get there early because you’re gonna have to wait a while.

I grab a chair and join a group of about twenty entertainers standing and sitting in a loose circle. Introductions are made and general questions answered. Rumors run amok, including tales of an uncooperative horse and an angry, upset audience awaiting any of us who get that far. I remove my suit jacket, get comfortable inasmuch as you can in a conference-room-style chair, and enjoy the banter. Happy and blessed to be a part of this eclectic group of singers, jugglers and magicians, I’m fine waiting a few extra hours.

Several of my fellow competitors trade off various dance moves in the center of an impromptu circle. Only in America, land of the free, home of the reality show, I think, with a wry smile as I catch parts of the conversation between an eighty-one-year-old tap dancing grandma and an Ozzy Osbourne impersonator.

By mid-afternoon, there are so many chairs strewn and abandoned that the cavernous room looks like a ballroom on the Titanic—after the iceberg—and we’re the band. The main door opens and a staffer bolsters our moods. It’s our turn, we’re moving across the road to the Palace Theater.

Several hands slap, and someone from a remaining group throws out an encouraging break a leg as we enter via a non-descript backstage door. Narrow corridors, dark and crowded, elicit the occasional careful where you walk and mind your step. I step over or around cables thicker than a mouse-filled python and pass dozens of “AGT”-stamped road boxes full of sound and other electrical equipment.

Feeding off the energy of the hustle and bustle, I smile at the familiar smells of musty canvas and dusty, forgotten props and a childhood spent in the hidden recesses of several San Antonio theaters. In the days when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin still gazed at the face of the moon, my parents would rehearse their latest show, and left to my own devices, I’d explore the nooks and crannies of the local theaters that doubled as babysitter and playground.

Old memories are displaced by new fears when a loud hum became recognizable as a boisterous crowd, and for the first time, some serious self-doubts organize and hold a mental protest.

I’m a Cadillac salesman...

...in my mid-forties.

This is a youngster’s gig…

Am I insane?


Tomorrow: "V" is for "Vegas Dreams"

Thursday, April 23, 2015 8 comments

"T" is for "Talent"

Welcome to my continuation of the A-Z Challenge!

My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.

Yesterday, Donald auditioned for Jason, a producer with America's Got Talent. Unfortunately, Donald was told he hadn't made the cut to join others for the televised auditions...

"T" is for "Talent"

…As Jason looks toward one of the assistants to escort me out, I recover from a stunned silence.

“Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. I hope you guys have a great season.”
I walk toward the door and notice the female panelist leans over to talk with Jason. She’s showing him something, probably on her computer screen, but in my foggy, new universe, all I know is that I’ve just crash-landed on Planet Disbelief.

The AGT number, stuck to my coat seemingly weeks before, is removed like an old Band-Aid, and after some final paperwork, I join a steady stream of exiled entertainers.
Thoughts bounce around my head like the steel balls in an old pinball machine. I’m disappointed, a little devastated, but now that it’s sinking in, I’m also strangely hopeful. Amid thousands and thousands of talented people, I’d made it this far.
Bit by bit, the realization hits me, I’ve achieved something monumental. For the first time since my accident, I’d held the attention, brief as it was, of several major industry professionals.

Walking to the parking garage, I stop for a moment and take a deep breath. No matter the result, I’m happy. Though I wanted to go further, I thank the Lord that I have my health and my family.
It’s a bittersweet feeling that sits in the pit of my stomach, but I’m not feeling too bad because I have closure. I tried, and failed, but at least I tried.
Entering the parking garage, I head up the grimy stairs and toward the trusty SUV that will carry me home from this one, last musical voyage.
Then I stop. I have no clue where I parked. Holding my hand up in the air, I press the LOCK button so many times it looks like I’m attempting remote key CPR.
I do the lost car walk of shame until the SUV honks from behind and below me. I’ve only unlocked the door when my cell buzzes. Not recognizing the number, I flip the phone open and answer with a cautious hello, sprinkled with a little frustration now that I’m anxious to get home.
“Donald Braswell?”

“It’s Jason from America’s Got Talent.”

“Jason? Jason? Hey. How are you doing?” I said as my thoughts scramble into action like a WWII fighter crew.
“Good, thanks. Hey, Donald, I’ve changed my mind. Would you come back and redo the paperwork? We’d like to give you the chance to audition on the television show.”

What? Are you serious?”
“There’s no guarantee, but you have a remarkable talent and an inspirational story, with all that has happened. So if you’re cool with…”

I’m cool, I’m cool.
“…for you to fill out the paperwork. We’ll fly you here in two days for the filming of the television segment.”

“Thank you, Jason, thanks so much for this amazing and unexpected opportunity,” I said, my keys, important only moments ago, forgotten on the leather seat in front of me. “And, thanks also for the offer of the flight, but it’s easier for me to drive.”
I thank Jason one more time and end the call. I stare at the phone like it’s a genie’s bottle, and I’ve been granted the first wish. I shake my head, offer up a prayer of thanks and leaning against the headrest, door still open, I let out a long sigh of relief.

Tomorrow: "U" is for "Unexpected"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 12 comments

"S" is for "Singer

Here we are, one day closer to May, (and me not worrying about posting the wrong letter with the right post:)

Welcome then to the 4,325th letter in the A-Z Challenge!

 My theme revolves around the soon-to-be published memoir, REVIVAL, which I wrote for former professional opera singer, Donald Braswell.

"S" is for "Singer"

Along with thousands of others, Donald has arrived at the Dallas auditions for America’s Got Talent, (Season 3) Nervous and excited, he considers a television appearance/audition to be the first pinnacle on the show's steep musical mountain…
…Sometime later, they call another batch of numbers, and it’s like winning the AGT lotto: I’m in this group! Like-performing acts are escorted into smaller holding areas. I’m soon channeled and standing in front of a judging panel.
After some quick introductions, someone asks the obvious: “What are you going to sing?”
“Opera is one of my strengths. I’d like to sing the classical Nessun Dorma.”
“Go ahead.”
I sing for the allotted time. Within a minute, another judge looks over at me.
“You’re phenomenal, you gotta go through.”
“Wow. Thanks. Thank you so much.”
I’m genuinely surprised, and it’s exciting to think I’m about to face the television judges.
Instead, I go through several more auditions, before I find myself in front of another large panel, with, I believe, at least one of the main show producers.
One of the panelists looked up from some notes, says hello, and asks if I’d lost my voice from an accident?
“Yes, sir.”
A female panelist asks the traditional question and I respond with the now-traditional answer:Nessun Dorma.”
“No, no, no, I don’t want to hear Nessun Dorma, what else do you have?” asked the first panelist.
I’m taken aback, so my mouth works faster than my head.
“May I ask what’s wrong with Nessun Dorma?”
“We’ve heard a lot of opera singers, and someone will represent that side of the industry, so I need something else. Do you have anything that’s not opera?”
Visions of my original Juilliard audition pop into my head, and I think of Clorinda for the first time in years.
“Well, I had—have—a few other classical pieces, but prepped some other songs in case you wanted something different. How about Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up.”
“I love that song,” said a female panelist. “How’d you choose that one?”
“It’s a song that inspires me to keep moving forward, no matter the odds.”
“A perfect song for your story,” she said, looking up from her desk. “The stage is yours.”
Singing, I sense the judges staying with me, listening to every word. I finish with my normal flourish.
Standing on the audition spot, I’m projecting a façade of outward calm, but an internal flame burns inside me. My pulse pounds in my wrists and neck and adrenalin flows through my veins. I hand the microphone off, and stand patiently, ready to receive their questions or decision.
The panel convenes in low voices for what seems an eternity. Then, one of the judges introduces himself as Jason. Sat in the middle, he seems to be in charge. He looks me in the eye and pulls his glasses down a little.
“Donald! First, let me say you are extremely talented. One of the best we’ve heard. And your story is compelling to say the least,” said Jason. “My dilemma is that this is one of the last cities we’ve come to.”
I nod, waiting for the but…
AGT is a variety show, but most of the acts we seen around the nation are singers. We’ve heard thousands and thousands, and picked many, many more than we should have.
“I think you’ll have a singing career, but right now, I don’t have room for you, so it will have to be a no for the show—unless you’ve some other talent?”
I had nothing.
“I’m sorry. We do, however, appreciate you coming and wish you the very best. You can always audition again next year. Thank you.”
And that was that...
Tomorrow: "T" is for "Talent"
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