The Musical Evolution of Robert: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Contemporary Music

In the beginning, there was the oldies station, and life was good. I would pick up the harmonies of Doo-Wop, Disco, and Girl Groups like there was no tomorrow. I was also strangely drawn to the really, really sexual songs, not even realizing that, say "Ring My Bell" was a euphemism.

Then, my parents, so sick and tired of how quickly I shifted from popular kid to social pariah between kindergarten and first grade, decided to do the right thing and stage parent my ass to an audition of The Wizard of Oz. Their powers of persuasion were so weak again my uncontrollable desire to not be beat up every day for being different that they had to use my grandmother's superpower of guilt to get me to go. The theater group loved me, and for 12 glorious productions never gave me a lead but forced me into every scene in every musical whether it made sense or not. Thus, I became obsessed with classic showtunes, and quickly ruined countless cassettes (my family, we not so rich, ok? we didn't have a working home computer until 1998) of Oliver! and Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady until the economically sound decision was to buy me a boombox.

Ironically, my parents were so paranoid about becoming stage parents, they routinely pulled me out of shows, refused to let me go to callbacks, turned down offers of vocal lessons at significantly discounted rates, and refused to let me take a single dance class no matter how many choreographers begged them to. It's why they still don't know about all the auditions I went to during my three years of service at NYU, the stageshows I actually did get cast in, the concerts I played in, and the short films I performed in. My brother does, but my parents do not.

In fourth grade, my music teacher misunderstood my statement that I loved the oldies and gave me a CD of Mozart. It was love at first sight. I delved into a gluttonous string of composers and sheet music that gave me an very strong advantage at select choral and instrumental auditions; it's not really sight reading if you've played that song for years.

Obviously, I faced humiliation at school over this. What the fuck is Green Day and why do you care they have a Basket Case?

That all changed because of Natalie Imbruglia. Her song Smoke played right after midnight on New Years Day 1998 and I became hooked. I rushed through a chaotic sprint of Pop, Rock, R&B, Hip-Hop, and Country that could make your head spin. I learned the producers and songwriters. I dissected subtle (and not so subtle) Grammy campaigns for profit, betting idiots on whether or not I could accurately predict the line-up of "x" category; I had a nice five year run on Best New Artist.

All of which led me to NYU and the music business program.

And that's a lie. Here's the truth: I wanted to get a degree in music. My band teacher told me to stick to singing; my choir teacher told me to stick to acting; my theater teacher told me to stick to woodwinds and piano. So, convinced I had zero talent in any performance capacity, I decided to go for behind the scenes work. It's apparent to me now that I should have just gone for a degree in musical theater and said "fuck'em," but my crippling depression, anxiety, and total lack of self confidence did not make that an option at 17/18 years old.

At NYU, I was accepted by a group proto-hipsters that let me play in their bands, sing in their bands, act in their shows, write for their groups, and everything else creative that I was told not to do. I discovered great Dance-Rock, Alternative, Folk, and Experimental music that drove me wild. I constantly rushed Broadway and Off-Broadway shows (and Off-Off Broadway, and even Off-Off-Off Broadway shows played in tiny rooms with folding chairs) and learned more about theater than I ever thought possible.

By the time I returned to Jersey and started to receive music direction and pit gigs in theater, I would be just as likely to listen to some Cole Porter as I was to listen to The Streets.

And that's where I am now. I listen to everything but death metal and Disney-pop. I enjoy tearing the songs apart to figure out how they work. And I'm not afraid to pursue theater and music anymore.

My Reality TV Hero: Toni Basil

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July