The Voice

Linda with Fan Jessica Zeller

November 22, 2013 will be a day I will always remember. I had been counting down the days from 100 on Facebook with a different picture of Linda each day. My friends caught on quickly and were getting just as excited as I was! They would ask me almost every day, “How many days left?” and I knew what they were referring to… Linda’s concert in Morristown, New Jersey, the mini Jekyll & Hyde reunion with special guests, Robert Cuccioli and Christiane Noll. To say that I am obsessed with Jekyll & Hyde is a major understatement, so I was ecstatic, to say the least. I was only three years old when it premiered on Broadway so this was my first glimpse of the real deal, the original cast performing together again. I have seen the musical many times, both live and on various forms of video with different casts, but there is something special about the original cast. It’s the absolute best!
The day I had been waiting for had finally arrived. I walked into the lobby of the Mayo Performing Arts Center and was immediately greeted by the two sweetest ladies ever, Amanda and Ellen. We had a nice chat about Linda’s Christmas CD, Christmas Where You Are, while the CDs themselves were disappearing fast, and for good reason, too! It is an enchanting CD that I have been listening to non-stop since I got it.

Afterwards, I headed into the theatre and found my seat. I was initially supposed to sit in the balcony with my mom, but she graciously upgraded me to the floor. I could not believe I was in the fourth row! The crowd went silent as Linda was announced, but they roared with applause once more when she walked out onto the stage. I was in awe. Linda looked gorgeous as usual. Linda explained that this show was a combination of Jekyll & Hyde songs and her own “walk down memory lane,” songs that she grew up singing, or songs that marked specific milestones in her career. The first, she said, was a symbol of her time on Star Search in 1988. The show was, as Linda put it, the kinder and gentler equivalent of American Idol. Any and all die-hard Linda Eder fans associate one particular song with Linda’s 12-week journey on Star Search, and that is the Ice Castles theme, “Through the Eyes of Love.”  It was just as beautiful as it was all those years ago. You can tell how and why she won Star Search because the song is a showstopper, and Linda performs it with the utmost beauty and power. I can attest to that having watched every single one of Linda’s Star Search performances on YouTube. Thank you, internet!

Then, Linda transitioned into “Lucy” mode and sang the gentle “Sympathy, Tenderness.” Again, Linda delivered a stunning performance. Apparently it was not too early for me to cry because as we all know, Linda’s signature song and Lucy’s highlight of the musical, “Someone Like You” comes next. It is my favorite song of all time, and Linda knows that, so I was certain she was going to have me in tears by the end… but I didn’t want to ruin my make-up! I love Linda’s voice and that song more and more with each note. It does not matter how many times I listen to Linda sing it or sing it myself, I can never get tired of it. She followed that up with some favorites like “Mad Hatter” from Wonderland, which lasted about five minutes on Broadway. Linda prefaced the next song by telling us she knows we’re looking forward to seeing some other people too, so she opened up the stage and introduced her equally talented co-stars, Bob and Christiane, who sang my favorite duet in the musical, and perhaps one of the most romantic Broadway songs ever, “Take Me As I Am.” They melted my heart with the first note and I was a puddle by the end. Does anybody have a mop?

Linda came back on stage and sighed as she said, “Yes, I got to watch them fall in love every night.” The ultimate “Aww” moment. Other songs she sang included “Charade,” and “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita, the very first musical she ever saw live. It was an Off-Broadway production starring the understudy of the understudy. It was absolutely heartbreaking, as was Linda’s rendition of Jessi Colter’s famous torch song, “I’m Not Lisa.”  The song marked Linda’s first experience performing for an audience while she was working as a dishwasher during her teen years in a small diner-type setting. She’d take off her apron and join the band that was performing and needless to say, mesmerized everyone with her already stunning voice.

She also performed the classic “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, which marked Linda’s acting debut as Mother Abbess in her high school’s production of the musical during her senior year. This was the perfect opportunity for Christiane to remind everyone about her role as Sister Margaretta or playfully, “Sister Margarita” in the upcoming live NBC broadcast with Carrie Underwood. Linda and Bob even sang “Dangerous Game,” which Linda introduced with a story of a costume snafu during a few performances on Broadway. Her pin curl Lucy wig got caught on Bob’s buttons on his Hyde costume, after which hilarious arguments ensued between them. Instead of replacing the buttons or the vest entirely, everyone agreed that Linda’s wig was the culprit, much to her dismay.

Linda surprised the audience with a rousing rendition of ABBA’s “Fernando,” accompanied by top-notch vocals from her guitarist, Peter Calo. Job well done on both accounts! And, of course, with the recent release of Linda’s second Christmas CDand with Christmas just around the corner, Linda couldn’t go without presenting at least one song from the album, and it was “Silence of Snow.” Jekyll & Hyde composer Frank Wildhorn is responsible for the melody, but it’s Linda’s lyrics that really make the song what it is. It wasn’t snowing in New Jersey, but it was in fact snowing back home in Texas! The performance was an exquisite preview of the album, which, of course, I pre-ordered and already listened to over and over. If you haven’t gotten a copy yet, do it now! Everything Linda does is a true masterpiece, and this album is no exception. And this particular album is extra special since the fans contributed to the selection of half of the songs. Linda has stated that she felt as if she always made albums for her fans, but she made this one with us. It was incredibly fun voting on the songs and keeping tabs on what songs were most popular.
Bob and Christiane each got their time in the spotlight, singing their own highlights from Jekyll & Hyde. Bob performed Hyde’s frightening first number,”Alive” and Christiane serenaded us with Emma’s sweet proclamation of everlasting devotion to Jekyll,”Once Upon a Dream.”  Linda prepared us for another solo from Bob by saying that this song tied the whole show together, the song that made the musical the massive hit it was…”This Is the Moment.” Many singers and actors have sung this song, but it will always belong to the one and only Bob Cuccioli. He hasn’t lost any of the magic in his voice.

Of course, one of the best moments of the evening as far as the reunion went, was Linda and Christiane’s performance of the best ever Broadway duet written for female voices, “In His Eyes.” Bob was such a lucky guy to have two gorgeous and talented ladies singing about him. I’m a little jealous! How could Linda and Christiane top that? An exhilarating duet of “Bring on the Men!” It had the audience booming with laughter and applause. And, of course, no Linda Eder concert would be complete without one of her other signature songs, which is special to both her and the fans, and that is “Vienna.” It’s one of those songs that just says “Linda Eder” because it showcases the things that make Linda’s voice the distinct and beautiful voice that it is. The tears were swelling up, but I did not totally lose myself until Linda said, “I can’t leave out the song that this show is titled.” “A New Life” was a gorgeous conclusion to an incredible concert… but it wasn’t over just yet! The audience demanded an encore, and Linda never disappoints and she gave us “Man of La Mancha!” No one sings that song like this woman! She gave it her all and it blew me away!

Christiane, Bob and Linda

The best part of the evening was getting to meet Linda, Christiane, and Bob after the show. As I walked up the stairs where the signing was happening, Linda waved to me and greeted me with her familiar warm smile as she talked with other fans. I spoke briefly with Bob, telling him that I am a huge fan, that I saw the production of Jekyll & Hyde that he directed in 2011 at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and kept every playbill left behind in the theatre as souvenirs. He was quite impressed! I met Christiane shortly afterward. She was so sweet, complimenting me on my glittery red sweater that her mother would live for. I wasn’t surprised, knowing that her mom was a fellow prima donna like me. We divas love the glitter! I began to feel completely star struck because I was actually meeting the Original Broadway Cast of my favorite musical, three people whom I had idolized for so many years. Both Bob and Christiane took pictures with me and signed their CDs to me, which I will always treasure. Linda even offered a testimony to Christiane about my voice--that I sing beautifully. What a compliment! I was blushing big time (pun unintended) from the flattery from two women whom I grew up emulating; they were gushing over my voice!

Linda welcomed me with a quick hug, and took two pictures with my mom and me, and signed two of her CDs, the Christmas album, and Now, which I had been waiting to get signed since I saw Linda in concert for the first time in December of 2011. She signed one of them “To Jessica… finally!” Finally. She has NO idea. I have waited such a long time for this moment. I stepped aside to allow other fans to meet Linda and waited until they had their time with her to give her some special things that I had made for her. The moment she opened them will stay with me forever. The pure joy on her face made me feel so good inside. I’m a graphic designer and take inspiration for my art from music. I created four pieces of artwork for Linda, inspired by her songs, “Vienna,” “Someone Like You,” “Through the Eyes of Love,” and “I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye.” After we admired them for a good while, she told me I had a lot of talent not limited to singing and hugged me tightly. The tears came pouring again. I was overcome with an indescribable feeling. I have never been so happy in my entire life. Everyone around us seemed to be impressed by my art as well, and Ellen took some pictures of the two of us holding the frames I had put them in.

While Linda was chatting with another group, I overheard her mention my name so I joined them and got to talking about voice lessons and how successful they have been. She introduced me as one of her students. I had been working with her for several months, but just to hear aloud for the first time that I am actually one her students was an honor! Learning from my idol is a surreal dream come true. There have been so many instances throughout the year when I have spontaneously burst into tears of joy at the mere thought of how blessed I am that our paths crossed. I have looked up to Linda ever since I was twelve years old, and throughout my entire career as a singer, she was the benchmark. I always sang to make her proud, even though she wasn’t even aware of my existence.

The story of how Linda’s music came into my life is very similar to Linda’s story of how Judy Garland’s music changed her. I recall sitting in my living room with my mom, singing along to the Jekyll & Hyde karaoke CD that my mom just bought me and replaying “Someone Like You” over and over. As soon as I heard Linda’s voice, I knew I wanted to be a singer. The first time I sang the song, however, struck a chord in me when my mom said to me, “That’s beautiful. Just wait till Linda Eder hears you sing it.” A feeling of doubt and disappointment consumed my reply, “She’ll never hear me sing it.” I had no idea that seven years later, I would get the opportunity to do just that. The song has become my “signature song,” and many friends and family members associate it with me just as much as they do with Linda. I’ve sung it at numerous choir concerts, auditions, and recitals, which has aided me in achieving my ultimate dream of portraying Lucy in a production of Jekyll & Hyde one day.

I just happened upon the lessons, really. But it was fate. I was at the hair salon in February, about to say farewell to my blonde hair and say hello to brunette locks when I saw the offer for voice lessons with Linda on Facebook. My 2013 New Year’s resolution was to take risks, life-changing decisions, which included reaching out for these lessons. So many friends and family members had to convince me to send the initial e-mail to Maureen Smith, but I knew I had to do it otherwise I would regret it. I told her about my singing and theatrical experience, as well as what I wanted to learn and what having the lessons would mean to me. I hoped and prayed with all my might that Linda would pick me, and I was absolutely thrilled when she did. I was at choir rehearsal, and my choir, the Women’s Chorus of Dallas was singing Martina McBride’s song, “Anyway” the very moment I received the personal letter from Linda. The line in the song that really got me, to where I could not hold back the tears any longer was, “You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach, and you know it might not ever come your way. Dream it anyway.” The concert for which we were preparing was a tribute to inspirational women in history and in our own lives, so this moment was beyond perfect since Linda is my greatest inspiration. The song captured the exact sentiment I was experiencing at the time. Things were finally falling into place, and I was going to get to sing my favorite song for my favorite singer. My first lesson was on my birthday on March 11, and I was speechless when I answered Linda’s call on Skype and saw her there with a huge smile on her face. I was in shock! I had a blast with her, and she even sang me Happy Birthday! Not many people can say their favorite singer has done that for them, but I can! That was undoubtedly, the best birthday ever.

I struggle to find the right words to describe how influential Linda has been to me, both musically and personally. Sometimes I cannot even fathom it because it’s something so much greater than myself. Linda is my Judy Garland. It was her voice that told me that singing is my purpose in life, and that music would be my solace and refuge from all the adversity I had been through. One of those challenges is Cerebral Palsy, so it is no secret that I have gained an immense amount of more respect for Linda for participating in the Tilles Center benefit for Cerebral Palsy with the Nassau Symphony. It is just another testament of Linda’s generosity and character. This is one of the reasons I enjoy working with her in voice lessons, because her spirit is contagious and she makes me feel so comfortable and confident whenever we are together. She is kind beyond words. Not only that, but she is definitely the most encouraging teacher I’ve ever had. She genuinely believes in my talent, which is an honor since without her, I never would have discovered my singing voice. When I am doubting myself, Linda does not hesitate to offer her wisdom, and reminds me of the special gifts that I have been given as a singer. According to her, that is one of the most important aspects of the well-being of a singer, knowing that every singer has his or her own unique voice, and that is what people want, an honest performer. She has told me that there are things that I can do as a singer that she will never be able to do because they are unique to me. My mind is blown because I think she has the best voice of all time. It may seem trivial to say that I have learned more than I could ever imagine from her, but that is the truth. She challenges me vocally, while at the same time, she is so patient and very constructive in her criticism. Her techniques are unconventional, but are nevertheless extremely helpful. They allow me to experiment with my voice and keep me motivated to improve before, during, and after each and every lesson. I am constantly striving to achieve a singing voice of Linda’s caliber.

2013 was the best year of my life primarily because of Linda. Her music gave me the strength to endure the tribulations of my life up until that point, and her presence in my life afterwards instilled in me the belief in the old adage, “Disappointments are God’s way of saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got something better.’” This is my something better. And, things happen for a reason, and now I know that if music were not my calling, I would not have been granted the opportunity to learn from my idol. This is the greatest blessing I have ever received and I will be eternally grateful.

Shout out to Peter, Dave, Billy, and Jerry on a fantastic performance. A million thank you’s to Maureen for facilitating the lessons, the first stepping stone in reaching my dream, and to Ellen, Amanda, Bob, and Christiane for a phenomenal evening. Thank you, Linda, for your guidance and support, not just during lessons, but over the entire eight years of my singing career. I wouldn’t have succeeded without your inspiration. And thank you to my mother for making my dream a reality. Thank you for giving your time and money to me for this incredible trip. I am so lucky to have you as a mother, for without you, I wouldn’t even know who Linda is. The day of November 22, which is, fittingly, St. Cecilia Day, a day devoted to musicians and the patron saint of music, was a special one for sure. Linda fans will know exactly what I mean when I say that “it was the best time of my life.” But no other lyric is more appropriate than this one to describe how I feel about this whole experience: “It’s a memory I know time will never erase,” and I’m 100% certain that this is true in every sense of the word.

 



CLICK HERE to check out Jessica's 100-day countdown to the show!

Jessica's all-time favorite photo of Linda -- and the one she used as part of the countdown on THE day of the show!


 

 

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