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.
Still full of energy, the crowd cheered wildly as she took center stage. She stood, without a microphone, and pictured her mother out in the audience. Otherwise, she imagined the auditorium as empty.
Truth be told, it wasn't. The cheers flushed her nerves away, but eventually faded.
The stage was hers, and she delivered. Her voice soared across the auditorium, spurring the whispers of her surprised classmates.
Shin said she went flat on a few notes and sped up, but no one noticed.
She glowed after her performance. As she walked offstage through her a gathering crowd of her peers, each heaped praise on her. One told her the performance brought him to tears.
Though each of the evening's 13 acts had talent — including the dance routine, Hula Hoop display and a glow-in-the-dark juggling routine — Shin's commanded attention and respect.
And though Shin, admittedly a shy girl at school, wouldn't rank it as her favorite performance, the audience certainly made it special.
"It kind of feels different," she said. "It's the school. My friends are here."
Had her music teacher been present, the pressure would have been much worse, she said. Instead, she enjoyed a moment she never imagined possible.
"I never pictured myself signing, being onstage," she said. "It never crossed my mind until my music teacher said I had potential, but only if I worked at it."
After the juggling act, the performers returned to the stage to bow and dance to "I'm A Believer," each receiving a louder ovation than the next.
When Shin's time came, the shy girl who wore a purple gown so she would feel more comfortable had already changed back into shorts, a T-shirt and her winter coat.
But as she danced carefree onstage with her peers, the smile and confidence that beamed off of her since she stepped off stage still remained.