A funny thing happened to Sarah Horn when she attended a late-summer pops concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Star Kristin Chenoweth asked for a volunteer from the audience to duet in a ballad from her hit Broadway show, Wicked. Up came Sarah, seeming properly awed to be standing on stage in front of thousands. Yes, she earned her living as a voice teacher, but her gigs up to that point had been modest, including a teaching stint at California Baptist University. Chenoweth sang the introduction, and then it was Sarah’s turn. Out came a powerful voice and a strong stage presence. At one point, Chenoweth was moved to marvel, “Holy crap! Harmony!” Friends captured the moment with cellphone videos, and suddenly there were two million views on YouTube. The Hollywood Bowl asked Sarah back, and other offers starting rolling in. Yes, a star was born.
It was reminiscent of Susan Boyle bowling over Simon Cowell in 2009 with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent. A big difference, though: Boyle was a contestant on a televised talent show. And part of what helped her career take off was the obvious disconnect between her frumpy appearance and her soaring voice. I suspect the show’s savvy producers saw this, and found ways to take advantage of it. Horn isn’t a glamour girl either. And she looked rather bulky when standing next to the very petite Chenoweth. But the point is that she came to the Bowl simply to be a spectator . . . and then lightning struck.
Honestly, isn’t that what most of us have been waiting for in our own lives? From the time I was young, growing up in Southern California, I always half-expected to be told that I was some casting director’s dream. When relatives with connections wangled a “behind the scenes” tour of the Twentieth Century-Fox back lot, I chose my outfit with care, hoping that some studio exec would exclaim, “You’re exactly what we’ve been looking for.” I suspect I’m not unique in fantasizing myself becoming an overnight sensation.
Which perhaps is one reason why A Star is Born keeps being remade. The classic film stars James Mason as a fading star and Judy Garland as the spunky young kid who comes out of nowhere, takes advantage of a few lucky breaks, then marries and quickly eclipses him. That musical version, directed by George Cukor, was released in 1954, and earned six Oscar nominations (though Garland, who won an Academy Award in the film, had to settle for runner-up status on the actual Oscar night). The very first Star is Born dates back to 1937, with Frederick March and Janet Gaynor in the leading roles. In 1976, an iteration starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand was set in the world of rock music. It was less admired than its predecessors, but did introduce the Oscar-winning song, “Evergreen.” Recently, Clint Eastwood was slated to direct a brand-new adaptation of the (yes!) evergreen story, based on a script in which the leading man is a Kurt Cobain type, but the loss of female lead Beyoncé has jeopardized the project.
If most of us want to be catapulted into fame and fortune, we also want the same for others whom we deem deserving. That’s why Sarah Horn’s story has struck such a chord. I wonder what the future holds for her. Will she become the award-winning Vicki Lester, or the sadder-but-wiser Mrs. Norman Maine? Or, perhaps, in this age of instant Internet stardom, will she be forgotten by this time next week?