Two sisters audition together. They are black. They’re built with thick hips and strong hands. They dance together, the only couple on the show. They incorporate African dance into their routine. They are easy with each other, best friends, they say they push each other to excel. One is a slightly larger version of the other. They dance with fierce, intense grace.
As soon as the music stops, the old crusty judge fakes a compliment. He addresses the heavier girl, says he admires her. Oh, you dance with such precision. Despite the fact that you don’t have a “classic dancer’s physique.” Unlike your sister.
They send them on to “choreography,” the second test for those who don’t dazzle in the initial audition. The girls nod and smile and learn the choreography. Back on the stage, at the microphone, they look up into the darkened audience, waiting for judgment a second time. “We want to talk about splitting you up,” the judges say. They beckon the slim sister with a plane ticket to Vegas. Just one.
How old are they? Nineteen, maybe? Twenty? The heavier sister sucks air in, bites down, blinks. They look at each other. She forces out the tiniest, briefest smile. She nods. You go, it says. Maybe they talked about this, what they would do if only one of them was called. Her sister looks into her eyes for permission. And her eyes say, It’s OK. I love you. Good luck. The slimmer sister lifts her hand, just a little.
She stands there in the stagelights alone as her sister tucks her chin and runs up to the judges.
And then the old judge makes a sly, offhand comment about how they are both going to enjoy Vegas. The girl on stage looks up. For one last second, she has the look of a wolf that does not trust the hand offering food. Both? Yes, both. They are waving a plane ticket at her. It was a joke. She gets to go. Her face dissolves and she runs off stage.
But the seal is now broken. I would have left you. I would have let you go.
Where is their mother, I want to know? But of course, these kids are all way past the age when their mothers have any say. They are sometimes there, the mothers, waiting in the lobby. The dancers burst out of the doors and tackle them, the mothers shot only as a pair of waiting arms trying to backstop all that raging emotion.
One of the girls who got a ticket to Vegas is eighteen and looks about twelve. She still has baby fat at the top of the tiny hotpants she wears. She dances to Beyoncé, all arabesques and hip-grinding and when the crusty old judge leers I am so disgusted. Who is he that she should trust him with all her liquid glowing talent? He claps and leers and she laps it up and all her mom can do is stand outside those doors and wait. Does she know ahead of time which girl is going to come bursting through, an ecstatic one or one in tears or both?
What do I do now that I am unfit to watch TV?