As students filed into the Towson High School auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 23, for the school's annual "Senior Night Live" talent show, Liz Shin, 17, stood out among her nervous peers backstage.
Elegant in a lavender dress she wore at a previous recital — a decision she believed would help her feel more comfortable — Shin kept to herself as showtime approached.
Even as the bulk of the night's 23 participants were crammed into a tight hallway, Shin stood apart from the group, clutching her sheet music before the gathering eventually dispersed. The show was approaching.
Each performer prepared differently.
Her guitar slung over her shoulder, Lizzie Nance rehearsed her song facing a wall. Claire Thompson, who would perform a Hula Hoop routine second-to-last, fiddled with the hoop incessantly.
But Shin, her vocal exercises already completed, leaned against a wall and read the sheet music for "An Chloe," a German opera piece she was moments away from performing.
With little fanfare backstage, the show started. While their classmates were on-stage, the queue of waiting performers spilled from the tiny hallway onto stage right.
A few stragglers, including Shin, remained offstage. Listening from afar, she tried to gauge the other performers to see how she would compare.
The annual talent show is a popular rite of passage for the senior class at Towson High, and no doubt a point of courage for many of those who sign up to participate.
Though the auditorium was filled with classmates — only one of whom had ever seen her sing opera before — Shin said she'd performed in front of bigger crowds. She recalled one recital at a church that was packed to the brim.
But no matter the crowd, Shin had to wait her turn. After a poetry reading, two musical acts and a demonstration of "parkour" — high-flying floor acrobatics — the show had its first and only glitch.
Yet even then, the spirit of the night shined through.
Lizzie Nance, the night's fifth performer, ran into problems during her acoustic performance of songs by Lil' Wayneand Taylor Swift. But with every pause, the crowd cheered louder. As they chanted Nance's name, the next performer, Tim Jaronski, joined on stage to help her finish.
"Good thing I love Taylor Swift," he quipped behind the curtain as he went onstage for his own performance.
Jenna Franz followed with an acoustic number of her own, and as Shin's moment onstage crept closer, so to did she to the stage itself.
While Franz performed, Shin sat stage right.
Her toes tapped. Her hands wrung. When she began to get the butterflies — and she knew she'd get the butterflies — she took three deep breaths. Her time was coming soon.
And just before Shin's performance, four young men showed that talent comes in many forms. Dressed as the cast of the film, "Anchorman," Jesse Hanlon, Peter Hoblitzell, Johnny Lehman, and Eric Laughlin riled up the audience with a harmonic rendition of "Afternoon Delight." They earned pies to the face from the hosts for their trouble.
But those moments leading up to Shin's song made her performance striking.