But when Shell Shocked Records looks past Holly’s plus-size and less-than-graceful-personality to offer her a recording contract, Holly cannot believe her good fortune. On closer inspection, however, the record execs want Holly to do all the singing, and a thinner and more beautiful girl, Lacey, would lip-sync and get all the credit. Holly goes for it because after all, she wanted to sing.
Contractually bound to secrecy, Holly is more than happy to sit backstage while Lacey shimmies in the limelight and basks in the fame. Before she knows it, Holly is friends with Serena, the pop-star daughter of a music-mogul, flirting with an intern, and developing a strange half-friendship with Lacey.
When Grayson Frost, the biggest country star in America, and coincidentally, a former school bully begins dating Lacey, Holly hopes that he won’t recognize or torment her.
Through a series of embarrassing and weird events, Holly gets to know Grayson and learns that he is much nicer and more mature than he was four years ago. Holly is horrified when she starts falling for him. When Grayson admits he fell for Lacey’s voice, what is a girl to do when she can’t legally tell the truth at the moment when the truth matters the most?
EXCERPT from near the beginning of the story, as Holly first gets to Hollywood and visits the record label’s offices:
Later, 9:45pm—Pink Palm Motel
I’m in Los Angeles, I’m tired, and I’m in the tackiest motel on the West Coast. I’m also already dreading the trip back home since I’ve decided I hate planes. The motel we’re staying at is painted this weird shade of salmon pink. As far as I can tell, LA is pretty sweet. It’s so different than Cedar Junction. It’s so crowded, and the air is thick with smog, which is something I’ve only read about. I can’t even see the horizon in Los Angeles. There are buildings everywhere I look. I’m also very disappointed to learn that the palm trees here don’t grow coconuts.
Mom has already hung up her favorite dream catchers all throughout the motel room. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she’s already filled this place with the smell of incense and dried lavender. It smells like home; it’s wonderful.
I don’t know what to wear tomorrow. What does one wear to a meeting with recording studio executives? I suppose my Sketchers won’t really cut it. But I know it won’t make a difference what I wear. I doubt some fancy name-brand clothing will distract people from my gargantuan girth. Ugh, I’ve got to be body positive! Amanda’s always telling me to embrace myself, but that’s easier said than done.
I’m bullied every single day at school in Cedar Junction; why would Los Angeles be any different?
February 3rd, 9:00am—On the way to the Studio
When they said they’d send a car to pick us up, I thought maybe it’d be a nice Volkswagen or a minivan, not a limo. This thing is so flashy—there’s even a little fridge in here with cherry Coke and Snickers! Plus, there’s a ton of room in here, so I can be comfortable without Mom’s hair beads and feathers in my face. Everyone keeps looking at us as we drive by, as if we’re celebrities. I’ve already seen about thirty tourists take pictures of the limo as we cruised past them. I may be an imposter, but it’s kind of fun!
I feel like I’ve been dropped into some alternate universe. I thought places that looked like this only existed in pictures; I’d forgotten that the places in the picture are real. Most of Iowa is pretty hilly, but the little piece of land Cedar Junction is on is so flat and plain. I know I complain about my town a lot, but Iowa really isn’t that bad. Every once in a while, Amanda’s mom drives Meredith, Amanda, and me forty-five minutes into Ankeny so we can see a movie, since Cedar Junction doesn’t have its own theater, and it’s super fun. Cedar Junction is so boring. I’m sure teenagers in other towns probably go to barn dances and party like those kids in Footloose. There are only seventy-five kids at Cedar Junction High, and none of them want to go dancing.
I often feel like my town is a parody of Iowa living. Anywhere else I go in Iowa people seem totally normal. I’d love to live in any other city. During the last presidential election, a teacher had a bumper sticker for the Democratic candidate, and the PTA actually rallied outside that teacher’s house to scare him away.
Meredith and Amanda seem to be the only normal people around. I’m sure many would argue against that theory—after all, they are the only lesbian couple in town, and they rescue stray cats. Oh well. The local animal shelter loves them, and the Baptist church next door doesn’t. You can’t please everyone.
Oh God, we’re here.
Later, 12:30pm—Pink Palm Motel
Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t believe that just happened. This kind of thing only happens in movies, unless I’m in a movie and don’t know it, like that one movie with Jim Carrey where it turns out his life is actually a reality show, and he didn’t know it.
First, I made a huge mistake by wearing my Old Navy jeans and baby-pink shirt. I’ve never been more underdressed in my life, even more so than when I forgot to wear my cowboy boots to the 12th Annual Cedar Junction Hoedown.
Shell Shocked is a super cool place; everything is covered in stainless steel, even the ceiling! Everyone we saw looked like they’d walked right out of the pages of a magazine, and it made me really uncomfortable. And paranoid. I was certain that as soon as I stepped foot into the lobby, I’d run into him, even though he doesn’t live anywhere near here.
When my mom told the lady at the front desk we were there for our meeting with Mr. Salazar, she gave us a snooty look of the first order. I don’t really blame her; Mom was wearing her favorite pair of Birkenstocks and an orange peasant skirt with little bells. I’m sure the city-bus-sized pimple on my chin didn’t help anything either.
Snooty Secretary led us to this giant conference room that was, you guessed it, covered in stainless steel. I think this was the point where my heart went into overdrive, and my palms began to sweat. There were three men in the room. Two of them looked like twins, with navy blue suits and brown hair.
The man at the head of the table had deep brown skin, was wearing a crisp, expensive-looking suit, and was completely bald. Seriously, his head was even shiner than the stainless steel. He didn’t even have stubble, but his eyebrows made up for that. They were very voluminous.
“Mr. Salazar, Daisy and Holly Hart are here to see you,” the secretary said.
The man at the head of the table stood up and buttoned his suit jacket. “Ms. Hart, I’m glad to meet you. I’m Manuel Salazar, I’m the studio president,” he said. His voice was very gravelly, like Louis Armstrong’s.
Of course, the moment I needed to be cool and actually say the right thing for once, my words got tangled in my throat. I’m usually full of stupid things to say, but this time I couldn’t say anything at all. I was so mortified to be standing there in such a fancy building in a pair of stretched-out jeans and tennis shoes. Why didn’t I change into the polka-dot dress I got from Target last year? It’s my favorite. Luckily, Mom leapt to the rescue.
“Thank you for having us, Mr. Salazar,” she said. Mom shook his bear-paw of a hand.
Mr. Salazar gestured for us to sit down, which was a stressful decision of its own. There were at least eight empty chairs. I didn’t want to settle down right next to Mr. Salazar like we were best friends, but I didn’t want to sit on the far end like he carried the plague or something. I finally just sat down and fought the urge to spin around in circles until I was sick from dizziness. Mr. Salazar placed the tips of his fingers together in an arch, and my stomach churned.
“What song do you have prepared for us?” he asked.
Suddenly my stomach felt like it had turned inside out. “Song?” I repeated, my mouth dry.
Mr. Salazar’s caterpillar eyebrows knitted together. “Yes, you have to sing for us, of course. We need to make sure you’re who we’re looking for before we talk about your future at Shell Shocked.”
I thought I was going to vomit, and that’s not an exaggeration. I’d be more comfortable in a bikini than I would singing in front of strangers. Which of course made me seriously consider what I was doing there in the first place. If I couldn’t sing for those three men, how could I expect to have CDs and concerts?
“Go on, Holly,” Mom said gently. “It’ll be okay.”
I don’t know what came over me, but I must’ve gotten a sudden rush of adrenaline. Next thing I knew, I was standing up and singing “Jesus Take the Wheel” for the entire world to hear. And you know what? It felt great. I mean, I love to sing, I really do! I was so nervous to sing for these people, but once I started singing, I couldn’t stop. I felt unstoppable. I felt like I could take on the rest of high school, my first year of college, and maybe dismantle the patriarchy while I’m at it.
They actually clapped for me when I finished! I wasn’t sure what to do; no one had ever applauded me before. Well, at least applauded nicely. The cafeteria applauds every time I fall or spill something at lunch.
“That was wonderful,” Navy Suit #1 said.
“Amazing rendition,” Navy Suit #2 added.
“We were very lucky to find your videos on YouTube, Holly,” Mr. Salazar said sincerely.
“I’ll say; I think you might’ve been the only one to see my videos.” I wanted to kick myself as the words left my mouth. I sat back down in my chair and cringed when I heard it creak beneath me.
“I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that Country Pop music is on the rise.” He didn’t wait for my response and continued. “Well, unfortunately we aren’t a Nashville studio, and we don’t have a single country artist signed. We here at Shell Shocked really want a piece of the pie, but country artists aren’t exactly knocking down our door.”
“So, you want to give Holly a contract?” Mom suddenly butted in.
Mr. Salazar raised an eyebrow and continued. “Not exactly. In order to be a competitor, we need someone incredible on every level. With your amazing voice, we believe we can create the perfect country-pop artist.”
“Wait,” I said, my throat dry. “You want just my voice?”
Mr. Salazar dropped his hands on the table and leaned back in his chair. “There’s a very particular look we’re aiming for in the artist we sign, and your look isn’t exactly it. Your voice, however, is above and beyond what we’re looking for. We’ve found a girl signed with a local modeling agency, and she’s the perfect person to embody your voice.”
I wasn’t sure if I should be excited or offended. I mean, yeah, he complimented my voice, but in the same breath, he made every other part of me feel horrible.
“I think Holly and I are going to have to talk this over at home, Mr. Salazar,” my mom said, coming to my rescue again. “Is there a contract we can look over?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Check in with my secretary, and she’ll see that you get the right paperwork.”
There was the usual exchanging of nice to meet you and hope to hear from you soon, but I hightailed it out of there as quickly as I could. By the time we climbed back into the limo, I was shaking. I couldn’t even open a can of cherry Coke.
“Holly, are you okay?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know,” I blurted, tears welling in my eyes. I didn’t even know why I was crying; I couldn’t control it.
“Look, if you want to go home, that’s okay.” Mom leaned in close to me, overwhelming me with the smell of hemp, and gently scratched my back. That only made me cry more and not dainty, lady-like tears—these were ugly, heaving sobs.
“I wish Dad were here,” I said through a river of mucus. “He’d know what to do.”
“I wish he were here too. Honey, forget everything he said that hurt your feelings and remember the good things. He gave you a huge compliment; he wants your voice! Doesn’t that make you feel good?”
I wiped my nose. “Kind of. But what’s the point if I don’t get the credit?”
Mom sighed. The beads in her hair clinked with the motion. “But would you really want to put yourself in the public eye like that? If you didn’t like what Mr. Salazar had to say about you, can you imagine what the magazines would be like?”
“That’s true,” I agreed. “Mom, you kind of sound like you like the idea.”
“I do, a little bit.”
“But why? I’d be working for a big corporation and giving some girl all of the credit for something I did. We’d probably have to move out here, and you hate big cities. You’d have to leave the university and work out here.”
Mom slowed the scratching on my back. “Holly, you’ll be surprised to know that I don’t have the right answer to everything. If this is something you want to do, then we’ll do it. It’s a great opportunity for you.”
Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I started to freak out so much. It’s not like I’m some vocal protégée who has been preparing her whole life to step into the spotlight and become a star. I’m not using my voice for anything. Why not let this girl have it?
Mom gave me a tight hug. After she leaned away, she handed me a tissue. “Just think about it. Let’s go home, look through the contract, and talk, okay?”
Then Mom made the limo driver turn on the reggae station, and she lip-synched to every song. Sometimes I really love my mom.
I’m the author of the upcoming YA series Holly Hearts Hollywood, coming September 2014 by Swoon Romance. I’m a twenty-something cat lady who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. When I’m not working my office day job or writing books, you can find me either singing and dancing or binge-watching TV shows on Netflix.