I don't have the actual statistics but I'm pretty sure a large portion of people at some point wanted to be rich and famous stars. The luxury, the love and the lifestyle that came with doing something you love is a dream everyone had at some point, myself included.
I grew up in Naples, a small city in Florida. Mostly a retirement community. Doesn't sound like the best city to become rich and famous, does it? All I had growing up was my mom. My dad passed when I was 4 years old after losing a long battle to cancer. Leukemia. I don't really remember him, all I have are some induced memories from watching old videos and pictures. That's all.
It is not an exaggeration when I say I had the best mom ever. She was kind, loving and always supportive of me and my dreams. She paid for dance, acting and singing lessons so I could become the star I had always wanted to be. For most of my teenage years, I was completely obsessed with the idea of being a Hollywood star and my mom always told me she was sure I would be. I did some commercials and small presentations in my town, but that was it.
After graduating high school, my mom decided I needed to move to Los Angeles if I wanted to make it. After a lot of debating and working out the logistics, I agreed to go on my own under the promise that she would join me next year.
Hollywood here I went! Land some jobs, get recognized and then I'd be what I always wanted to be, right? But just like that, five years passed. I was 23 and struggling. Every day, I lied to my mom about auditions and gigs when I was actually working as a waitress in a chain restaurant. It was extremely hard. I kept sending my demo to labels, but heard nothing back. My salary barely covered the bills, and my credit cards were still maxed out from recording my demo.
I remember that night. January 22nd, 2018. I was eating dinner with my roommate, Anna, when I received a call from the producer who helped out with my demo, who had also been giving it out to record labels.
"Charlie!" Robbie greeted me cheerfully on the other line.
"Hi JR," I answered nervously. "Please have some good news."
What he said made my eyes shoot open and almost throw up my dinner.
"I heard back from Gina, Don Grant's assistant," he fell silent. I waited. "From Universal Music Group!" he clarified.
I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but nothing came out of me. I stared at Anna in utter shock.
"Charlotte! You there?"
"Y-yeah.." I managed to mumble.
"Anyway, she said Don loved your work, and wants to meet you on Thursday at 10 AM. But it has to be just you. Clear your damn schedule."
"Okay, thank you so much." I said shakily before hanging up.
I don't know how much time passed before Anna started to shake me back into consciousness.
"Charlie! What the hell?" She scanned my face worried. "What happened?!"
"I got an interview with Don Grant from Universal Music Group." I said softly before repeating it again. "I got an interview with Don Grant from Universal Music Group!" I yelled loudly. Anna and I both squealed simultaneously.
"My friend is going to be famous!" Anna said excitedly as our wine glasses clinked.
This was truly a reason for celebration.
I honestly have no idea how I managed to make it until Thursday, because I barely had any sleep at all. This was it. This was my shot and it was right in my hands. I spent every day fantasizing about the meeting and how great it would go.
Thursday came and I had been sitting in front of the building since 9AM.
"So, are we clear?" JR asked on the other line. We went over every possible question they could ask and the acceptable answer at least a million times.
I nodded. "God, my hands are sweating." I said nervously as I wiped them on my pants.
"You'll be fine, just remember to be clear with what you want," he stated. "Go get 'em!" And with that, I stepped out of the car.
I made it to the fifth floor, my heels clicking with every step.
"Excuse me," I stopped a lady in a business outfit.
"At the end of the hall." She answered without looking up or stopping.
Awkwardly, I followed her instructions and walked into a glass door. There was a pretty young woman sitting behind a desk. She seemed to be pretty occupied with whatever was on her screen.
"Hi," I said softly to avoid startling her. "Are you Gina?"
"Yes, I am," she looked up, her bright green eyes staring at mine behind her glasses. "How can I be of assistance?"
"My name is Charlotte. I'm here to see Don Grant." I said nervously.
"Oh," she nodded knowingly. "Welcome." She said in a warm tone.
Gina went into the office with his name on a gold plate and came back a few seconds after. "Have a seat, he'll be right with you."
I complied, and waited for what seemed like forever. I was lost in thought while nervously playing with my hands when Gina's voice snapped me back into reality.
"He's waiting for you now."
My legs felt like jelly when I stood up. I carefully walked into the office, taking small breaths to calm myself down.
Don was a relatively young man. White man probably in his 40s. He was wearing a suit that looked like it cost more than everything I owned.
He smiled excitedly as soon as I walked in, which made me feel more at ease at the moment.
"Charlie!" He exclaimed as he stood up and extended his hand to me. "I hope you didn't wait too long out there!"
"Good morning, Mr. Grant," I greeted him. "No, not at all." I assured him as we both sat down.
"Look Charlie, I know this must be very nervewracking for you, and I'm a very busy man" He reclined back in his chair. "So, why don't we just get straight to business?"
I nodded in agreement, unable to say anything else before he continued.
He pulled a few sheets of paper from his drawer and slapped one into the desk. It was a picture and I recognized who it was right away.
"Taylor Swift," he clarified before slapping another one.
"Rihanna," and another one.
"Lana Del Rey."
He looked at me. "You've probably heard of these fantastic women," I nodded again before he continued. "All of their success started right here." He said as he tapped his desk. "I want to do the same for you." Now he was pointing at me. I swallowed. "I love your work! You're phenomenal." He exclaimed before continuing. "But nothing good in life comes easy, does it?"
"Thank you, sir." I smiled. "I completely agree. I am willing to put in the work and do whatever it takes."
"Great!" He laughed almost maniacally. "Now, let's continue playing, shall we?"
He slapped three other pictures onto the desk. "Joe, Nick, and Kevin" he pointed at their faces individually. "The Jonas Brothers." He announced with satisfaction. "I made them too, you know," he smirked proudly.
"The three little musketeers are everything to the label right now," he sighed dramatically. "When they decided to come back, we didn't think they would be successful. I mean, would young adults care about their dumb 13-year-old crushes?" He raised an eyebrow at me, now rocking in his chair.
"Except they were," he continued. "Turns out those adults are as dumb now as they were when they were 13." He huffed in disbelief. "You must be thinking that's great for the label. Well, yeah! The only problem is that out of our assumption, we negotiated a deal that is no longer... viable, you know?" He explained.
I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. I was having trouble understanding what that had to do with me. I opened my mouth to speak, but he beat me to it.
"I know you're new to this business and your beautiful heart is filled with pure intentions," he said with a baffling tone. "But if you want to make it, you have to get your hands dirty." He was serious now. "Like you said, do whatever it takes."
I was starting to get anxious now. My heart was pounding in my chest.
"We need a deal that works for us, but they're in control now because we need them. The only way that'll change is if they're hit by the bad press storm. Scandal after scandal, all their secrets out in the open like Pandora's box." He explained. "And you, my dear, are the key element to my plan." The smile on his face was absolutely evil.
He must've saw the look of horror in my face, because he quickly continued.
"I just need one pretty lady to infiltrate herself into their lives. Spend time with them, make them trust you, get the details about their personal life, participate in one or two scandals, report back to me and voila!" He clapped his hands once, startling me. "You'll be as famous as you'll always wanted to be, and I'll get my precious deal!" He stood up, buttoning his suit. "And the best part is, I'll pay you to do all this. $5,000 a month. Plus a $10,000 hiring bonus. Just imagine getting paid that amount of money to be living every girl's dream." And with that he fell silently, looking at me expectantly.
I didn't rehearse this with JR. It all seemed straight out of a movie! "Sir, with all due respect, I don't think I'm the person for this."
He laughed. "Yes, yes you are dear," he nodded. "I've been looking into you, y'know..." he circled the desk as he spoke. "Small-town girl, beautiful beyond belief, moved to LA to be a star but ended up as a waitress at Outback while you lie to your mom, what was it, Carla?" He rubbed his chin, sitting down in the chair next to mine.
"You lie to her about getting gigs and all that fuzz, but in reality, you're struggling. And Charlie," he lowered his voice in a pitiful tone. "She's struggling too. Turns out you're not the only one who's been lying. Your mom has been unemployed for a year living off government checks. Just imagine what she has been going through." He clutched his chest for emphasis. "But now you have the opportunity to change it all, for her and for you. Your only worry from now on will be using your charm to get those boys to trust you, and I will take care of the rest."
By now, my legs were shaking. Don was back on his chair, looking at me with knowing eyes. Man, he did think this through.
"I.." I breathed out. "I can't." I shook my head, shocked from everything I had just heard.
"Think about it, Charlie. Sold out arenas filled with people chanting your name, world tours, interviews, platinum albums... worry-free mom. It could all be yours." He raised his eyebrows, playing with his pen. "Only if you're willing to do whatever it takes."