Fabiola Mays stood under the hot lights as she grasped the sweaty hands of two of the finalists in the talent show. She and her family had traveled a long way—from Richmond to New York City—and winning this competition could make all their dreams come true.
Wearing a curve-hugging silk tiger-print dress with a high side split and low back that fit her to perfection, compliments of her sister, Adora, Fabiola surveyed the crowd for her support team. There they were: Adora and her mother, Viola, were sitting in the middle row. Mom gave Fabiola the nod, and a smile. Adora just kept screaming, “You gave it to ’em, sis! You did yo thang guurrl!”
Hot Soundz, the fastest up-and-coming record label in the industry, had sponsored the contest, and first prize was $50,000, plus a recording contract worth another $150,000. Hot Soundz was slowly taking over the hip-hop and R & B industries, flooding the radio and the music charts with number-one hits and giving The Wizard, a legendary label that dominated the Billboard charts and was run by one of the biggest music moguls, Johnny Wiz, a run for its money.
“And now . . . the moment you’ve been waiting for.” The commentator’s voice echoed from the speakers, causing the final five contestants to hold their breath. The host pretended to have a hard time opening the envelope that held the name of the winner. The anticipation was killing Fabiola, and just when she thought she couldn’t wait another second, the MC then removed a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped some invisible perspiration from his brow. The crowd and the contestants were in total silence.
Finally he opened the envelope. “And the winner is . . . hailing from Richmond, V-A . . . Fabiiiiioooolllla Maaayys.”
Fabiola screamed and leaped into the air, completely forgetting that she was wearing four-inch stilettos and almost breaking an ankle. She hugged and thanked all the other finalists, then, after regaining her composure, she flashed a radiant smile to the stunned crowd. Had the winner hailed from the Big Apple, the New York crowd would have gone crazy with applause, but that wasn’t the case.
It didn’t matter, though. Viola and Adora more than made up for the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm and were screaming and carrying on as if they had just won the competition themselves. As if they had just sung “Fallen” by Alicia Keys in a version all their own. And in a way, they had. They had both sacrificed to make sure that Fabiola achieved this goal. This wasn’t her win alone.
Slowly but surely, the tough New York crowd started to come around. One at a time they began to come to their feet, clap, and cheer. The girl from down South with the songbird voice had won top prize fair and square. And boy, after hearing her sing, they couldn’t deny that whatsoever.
Fabiola always knew in her heart that she was destined to be a star. Now, thanks to the prize money and contract, all her family’s worries were about to be over. No more robbing Peter to pay Paul, no more shuffling and scraping to get by, no more waiting and anticipating when opportunity would come a-knocking; this time Ms. Opportunity had kicked the damn door down.
As Fabiola walked up to the host she imagined she was at the Grammys. The host placed a platinum chain with a diamond-encrusted Hot Soundz pendant around her neck, and handed her a bottle of Dom Pérignon and a giant check for fifty thousand dollars. She smiled as she stepped up to the microphone. “I just want to thank Hot Soundz for this opportunity and New York for showing a small-town girl some big-city love!” The crowd continued to applaud as flashbulbs popped in her face. She felt that the smile on her face would never go away.
Viola and Adora joined her backstage as Fabiola changed her clothes for the after-party. Her mother hugged her. “We did it, chile!” She turned to her other daughter and said, “Flag down one of those cute attendants with the champagne; we’re celebrating tonight!”
The party was all that and a slice of cheesecake: Well-known music artists, actors, and actresses were in attendance. The old-school players mingled with the new school, and the filthy rich touched elbows with the not-quite-so-filthy rich. Everybody that was anybody was there. An endless supply of champagne flowed as the latest music bounced off the walls and both male and female groupies were in full chase.
When Fabiola entered the room, she was called over to DeMond Walker, the president of Hot Soundz Records, who was surrounded by some of the upper management of his label. “Fabiola”—DeMond placed his hand on her shoulder—“I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but Hot Soundz is the fastest-growing label in the industry, and we want you to grow right along with us. The prize money and the recording deal is only the beginning. My people were very pleased with the way you performed.”
Fabiola couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “I’ll do anything you need me to do, Mr. Walker. I’ll move my bedroom suite into the studio if I have to, so that the last thing I do before I go to bed, and the first thing I do when I wake up, is record.”
“That’s not going to be necessary,” DeMond assured her, “but it’s damn good to hear. So many young artists these days think it’s all about the parties and the money; they forget what it took to get here. Speaking of money, you can pick up the real check for the fifty grand from our Manhattan office first thing Monday morning.”
Fabiola fingered the platinum pendant they had given her. “I’ll never forget what it took, Mr. Walker.”
“Oh, and there’s one other thing,” DeMond said.
“Call me DeMond.” Then the president of Hot Soundz walked away.
“Okay, Mr. Walker.” She smiled and covered her mouth. “I mean, DeMond.”
After learning that she could pick up her $50,000 check on Monday, Fabiola, Viola, and Adora traded in their tiny hotel room for a three- bedroom suite at the luxurious Peninsula Hotel. They shopped during the day, and at night they ate at some of the finest restaurants and even managed to attend a couple of the hottest Broadway shows. They splurged and spent all the money they’d scraped and struggled to save up for the trip, and maxed out a couple of credit cards they had no business with in the first place, because they figured the fifty thousand they were to receive on Monday was only the appetizer— something to keep them satisfied until the main course, when Fabiola inked a deal and big money would come flooding in.
Monday morning bright and early, Viola had the gospel music playing as everyone primped and groomed before heading uptown to Hot Soundz to pick up the check.
“God is good,” Viola said as she glided around the room. “See, he’s got favor on us that is something way beyond our control. Who would’ve thought that we would be blessed like this? See what God can do, if you believe? You will achieve,” Viola shouted as Adora counted out loose change and put together the few dollars they had left.
“A-men,” Fabiola agreed.
“I’ll second and third that there,” Adora chimed in.
It didn’t bother them one bit that they had to scrape together money for the cab fare. Not only were they broke, they were in debt to everybody and their grandkids, but it didn’t dampen their spirits, because they could see the pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow.
“We got enough to make it over there,” Adora informed her mother.
“I told you God had our backs, didn’t I?” Viola began singing Kirk Franklin’s song “Our God is an Awesome God.” She sung that song from the depths of her belly.
“Mommy, we gone get you a deal next.”
“Chile, my day is over.”
“At least a duet, mother and daughter—picture that.” Adora cheered them on, and Fabiola joined her mother in singing the song.
In the highest of spirits as they left the hotel room, Viola continued to sing God’s praises in the hotel halls, the lobby, the streets, and all the way over to Hot Soundz. People couldn’t help but smile at her, because Viola could carry a hell of a tune and in New York City it was not unusual at all to hear a songbird on the streets. At a street corner while they waited to cross the street a couple people even gave them a dollar or two because they thought she was singing for money.
Once they arrived at the record company, they noticed that most of the building was surrounded by double-parked vans. They hopped out of the taxi with Viola leading the pack. As they approached the building, a huge man whose name tag read “Jake” stopped them at the entrance. “Hello, ladies. Where are you headed to this morning?”
“We’re going to the offices of Hot Soundz Records.” Viola flashed a smile.
“Ma’am, there’s been a problem upstairs at Hot Soundz Records,” Jake informed them.
“Well, what type of problem, young man?” Viola asked. “My daughter here”—she glowed as she looked at Fabiola—“just won first prize in their national singing contest, and right now we’re here just to pick up the check as well as sign our contract.”
“Well, ma’am,” Jake started, “first of all, I would like to congratulate your daughter on winning the contest. I heard her sing and I think it would have been an injustice if anyone besides her would have taken the prize.”
“Of course.” Viola smiled at him in agreement. “You got that right, young man.”
“But . . .” He paused for a moment. “I’m afraid you can’t collect your winnings right now.”
“Why?” Fabiola asked.
“There is no money to pick up.”
“What?” Adora screeched. “No money? What you mean, ‘no money’?”
“I got this, Adora,” Viola said.
“Young man, if you have something to tell us, you need to just go ahead and spit it out. We have a plane to catch in a few hours,” Viola demanded.
“Well, the IRS has shut down the company and frozen all of its assets,” he blurted out. “My uncle DeMond owns the company, and I may not even get my paycheck.”
“Get your supervisor down here right away,” Viola ordered as she placed her hand on her hip, “because we damn sure ain’t going to take the word of some fucking doorman. Man, you gonna make me lose my damn religion up in here.”
“Ma’am, we don’t want you to lose your religion, but he can’t come down here, because he might be going to jail his daggone self,” Jake said.
“You get someone right here, right now, or else. I’ma tell you, you people do not want to fuck with me. You really don’t.”
“Ma’am, please calm down.”
“Not when it comes to my fucking kids, I won’t. Don’t fuck with me, okay?”
“It’s really not a good idea,” Adora advised Jake.
“I don’t want to have to call the police to have you removed, but I will,” he added. “I do understand your frustrations, but there’s no need to take it out on me.”
“That’s why I asked you to get someone else down here to shed some light on the bogus-ass situation,” Viola demanded through clenched teeth.
Jake picked up the phone and called upstairs, only to be told that someone would call him back with more information.
Two hours later they were still waiting, and Viola was pacing the floor and raising hell while Adora tried to comfort her sister and calm down her mother, failing at both. Someone finally came downstairs and told them the same thing that Jake had.
“No, I am not just taking that!” Viola said. “The IRS needs to make good on any deals that were made before they brought their asses in on this here shit. They’re saying they had an investigation going on for a while now. Then why in the hell did they let the showcase go on then? Tell the IRS to get down here and face us. Tell them to explain to my daughter”—Viola pointed to Fabiola, who was sitting in a chair in tears—“who has worked her ass off since she was three years old to get to this point that she’s not going to be a star because of them. Have them come down here and face me.”
Jake and the supervisor still weren’t able to offer any new information, and after several minutes of Viola cussing out anyone within earshot, Adora reminded her mother that they couldn’t afford to stay any longer. Their nonrefundable discount airplane tickets couldn’t be switched to a later flight, and they had to leave in time for the subway ride to the airport. So, with broken hearts and broken dreams, Fabiola, Viola, and Adora exited the building and headed to the airport in silence.
Excerpted from Ghetto Superstar by A Nikki Turner Original. Copyright © 2009 by Nikki Turner. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.