Saturday, February 16, 2013

Keep SINGING Toni! Memoirs of Toni Braxton's Cousin

I wanted the stage, my parents wanted the pulpit. We all wanted an audience, they just call it a, "congregation." It's what people have in common, not their differences. P.K. That's what I was. I never asked to join the club but I was a born member. My mother, was the breadwinner, working as a Pastor but also a dedicated school teacher in the hard knock city of Baltimore, Maryland. Dinner table conversations involved my mother's school teacher horror stories. She'd tell us of bloody fights and kids crying on her shoulder because their parents couldn't afford to get them shoes for school or school supplies. My mother always came home tired, but she never came home without a smile. She was an amazing, loving, nurturing mother to my sister and I, but she was also of the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. This is why she chose to become a school teacher, she knew that many kids were not able to go to private schools like my sister and I. She understood that many kids didn't have a mother who wouldn't allow their kids to be absent of the words, "I love you," so she cared for her students as if they were her own. She policed them, mentored them, nurtured them, taught them and fed them.

My father was a jokester, I guess that's where I get my humor from. But he would never fail to intimidate anyone who met him for the first time. He had this no-nonsense vibe to him and had strong convictions. He was a get-the-congregation-shouting type of preacher. He commanded the pulpit and commanded his household. We were made to contribute to the house with hard chores and we were expected to make good grades. If we acted out, we better had been prepared for a belt or whatever he could find to hit us with. For me that was rather often since I had a Tamar Braxton mouth! It was all in love, because he was always there for us, emotionally and physically. He was there for my Cub Scouts badge awards and there for my auditions. He would encourage our dreams and always told me everyday when dropping me off at school, "Believe in Yourself."

My elementary level years
As a young boy, I always knew I was gay. I knew it in first grade. The way I felt when Shawn would look at me with that big gap in his mouth, shit I just had to sit next to him in class. I got Tuesday Tibbs to hand deliver a letter from me. (I was born a writer) I told him that I liked him and wanted to be friends. It worked. I didn't know it then, but that was the beginning of my pimpin'. I have always gone after what I wanted, whether it be men or my career goals, Thus my crazy spontaneous idea of auditioning for American Idol at nineteen. I wanted so bad what my distant cousin Toni Braxton had. I wanted to perform. I didn't care that there were those who said I couldn't sing well enough, or that feminen boys could never become superstars. Afterall, I grew up looking at Prince videos and that dude wore high heels!

A Toni Braxton stan? That's an understatement. When I was seven years old, I sang "BREATHE AGAIN" to an audience of stuffed animals in my bedroom. My mother overheard me and basically lost her breath as she opened my door. She instantly encouraged me to do plays and persue music and entertainment. I guess mothers always see in their kids what they can't see in themselves. Toni Braxton seemed to be everything that I was...including a woman. I have to admit that there is a woman inside of me! Not just a woman honey, a DIVA!

So I grew up with the last name Braxton from my father, Rev. Braxton. I later decided to go with the last name Parker so that when I got famous, I'd be my own person. But I always felt like one of those famous Braxtons because afterall, me and those women had so much in common.

Toni's father is Rev. Braxton as well. Toni was a preachers kid; so was I. Toni studied to become a Teacher, my mother is a teacher. Toni is from Maryland; I am from Maryland. Toni had a reletively strict upbringing; so did I. Toni wanted to perform growing up and no one really believed she could do it, well, that is my story as well. Toni had so much in common with me that I became obsessed. I forced my mother to take me to see the broadway productions she was in; BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and AIDA. That was the highlight of my childhood!

  Me with the Gay Beauty & The Beast

My dad always told us that we were related to her, however my dads father was never in his life. My dad didn't know any of his extended family. The only side his family I knew was his sister and my first cousin. So we didn't get to see Toni at family reunions and there were no photos taken with her. But I was proud to be related to someone I idolized. Of course no one ever believed me when I said I was her cousin. People expect a "cousin" to have photos and the person on speed dial.

The only encounter I had with Toni wasn't an encounter at all. My mother knew how much I looked up to Ms. Braxton. My mother was the kind of woman who could talk her way into anywhere. It was no surprise because she started out as a reporter. (She was close friends with Oprah Winfrey when she worked as a newspaper reporter and Oprah worked for a Baltimore news station)

Toni was breath-taking in AIDA. My mother is a strong woman, like Toni's mother. She stood with me at the stage door and talked to anyone who went in that door and came out of it. She handed her card to some stressed out looking woman and told her who we were. "We are Toni's cousins from Baltimore. It's cold out here and we would like to say hi to her," said my mother. She simply wasn't having anyone ignore her. My mother never believed in celebrity status, she simply believed in PEOPLE. And that's what Toni Braxton was to her, A PERSON who needed to see her shivering son!

The woman said she would talk to Toni and would be right back. She said Toni may be able to see us inside, but that Toni was tired. The woman returned a few cold minutes later to say that Toni wasn't feeling well but sends her love. She gave us signed headshots and a personal note from her to us. I was appreciative of the note, but I wanted to see Cousin Toni in the flesh! My mother looked at me as if to say, "Oh no she didn't!" But I told my mother, "it's ok, Toni is tired, I am sure I can see her again another day."

Having Toni Braxton write, "Stay Cute!" on my headshot was satisfactory to me. You see, I was trying to become a child star and so I carried around headshots like a true diva!

Years later, I had a health scare at age eighteen. My liver wasn't functioning correctly, I was pale and in the hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. The word Cancer was something I never expected to hear being a freshman in college. What made it worse was the doctors weren't really sure what the hell was going on with me. After I was released I went into a deep, dark depression. It was nothing new, I had suffered depression throughout childhood. I had a therapist and suicide attempts by age sixteen!

I was nineteen and in college. I was visiting my parents in Washington, D.C. I was with a friend  riding by the Washington Convention Center and saw crowds of people. There were TV cameras and of course, I just had to hop out of the persons car I was in and investigate. I'm the type of person where if I see a camera, I am plotting and scheming to get in front of it. I started asking people in the crowds what was going on and they said, "American Idol auditions!" I just knew I had to get in on that action! I didn't expect to be on TV, Hell I didn't expect to have to spend the night on a cold hard ass floor next to thousands of strangers either! But I did it! I went through three auditions. The first was in front of some grumpy old man who made me and several others take turns singing in a line. It was like a firing squad. He dismissed all of them except for me. I sang, "How Could an Angel Break my Heart" by Toni. "I like your delivery," He told me. I felt special. The next audition was with the producers of American Idol. Being me, I couldn't just get up there and sing, I had to make comments about my voice being a little rough but I am still fabulous. I didn't know they would all crack up laughing before I started singing. I got my ticket and the executive producer actually said I can sing. He liked one of my songs, "Chesnuts roasting on an open fire" Now you couldn't tell me I wasn't Brian McKnight honey. Well, little did I know, they do that on purpose. Blow your head up so that when you are in front of Paula and them, you are so cocky that you make a fool out of yourself. And that's just what happened. Drunk ass Paula Abdul laughed at me and said I sound like an alien. Randy Jackson called me "Dawg" and just shook his head. Simon was the nicest but he wasn't feeling it. He actually seemed like he liked me as a person. Needless to say, I am glad Paula Abdul ended up being the unemployed one.

Paula when I met her....

So I told producers I was Toni Braxton's cousin. That got me an interview with Ryan Seacrest, which got me a full 15 or so minutes of exposure on American Idol. Complete with exit interviews and editing which centered the other rejects around me. It filmed in August but the show wouldn't air until January. I honestly didn't think I would even be on television. I figured if I was, it would just be a small clip of them laughing at my ass and me being on my merry way. I wasn't expecting a feature in People magazine, a gig on MTV's SPRING BREAK and a performance on Donnie Deutch, The Big Idea. It was an embarassing 15 minutes of fame because my singing was less than extraordinary, but it was a fun ride. I got free trips and got to mix and mingle with industry people. The person I didn't get to mix and mingle with was Toni Braxton, however. I felt like she was somewhere laughing at me too. Like, who'se this crazy untalented guy who thinks he's my cousin? That's what I've always imagined her thinking of me. I know she saw the audition because a radio show asked her about it. "Is he your cousin?" They asked. "He might be." She said, But she refused to comment any further on my "talent" level. She could have read me to the Gods.

6 Time Grammy Award winner, why stop?
Toni Braxton will never read this but I was up late after seeing her in an a Wendy Williams interview. Hearing her talking about once studying to be a teacher erupted all of these thoughts in my head, namely the things we have in common. I love her to death. I have supported everything she has done. Now that Toni Braxton is quitting music, I feel depressed. I feel like I've been through so much war and she really needs to at least finish her music career on a high note. I sang her song on national television and got laughed at and JUMPED on my college campus because of that audition. NO, TONI YOU NEED TO MAKE ANOTHER ALBUM!

Even if only one person buys your music, you have at least changed one life. Toni Braxton saved my life, more than once. Her sultry contralto sang me out of suicide more than once. The hope of becoming an entertainer of some sort, just like her, kept me going. The way she wasn't afraid to be vulnerable in her music helped me to come out of my shell. She helped the shy, insecure, self-hating boy who just wanted to be "normal" and kiss the girls. She helped him to breathe again.

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