T-Pain — yes, the guy who sings I’m In Love With A Stripper — that’s my guy. He wasn't just my role model, he was actually my boss! I used to be a professional backup dancer for T-Pain back in my prime dancing days. I toured with him for a couple years after landing a spot at an open call audition. He is still someone I pull inspiration from to this day.
Some people talk about the word manifestation. While I do believe in manifestation, I don't think what I’m about to share has to do anything with it. Part of my success may have been sheer dumb luck. Other parts may have been because of the few weird incidents that helped me become a professional dancer.
Before I jump into the first of these incidents, I want to give some context to what I was like in high school. I was not dancing then but I had always wanted to try it. I got bullied often which made me too afraid to learn something new. Soon, I fell victim to the box that others put me in. That being said, I somehow mustered up the confidence senior year to perform at the talent show. My friend, Ian, and I made our own version of Buy U A Drank by changing the lyrics to Imma Graduate. We went on to perform that song for the whole high school.
Was it random? For that time, sure! I had no idea that I wanted to dance back then, let alone be a backup dancer for T-Pain!
The second weird thing that happened to me happened when I was in college; I was a freshman at the time. I had learned that T-Pain was going to be in Madison, Wisconsin which was a quick drive from the University of Dubuque where I went to school. I went to the concert and noticed how cool it would be to be a dancer for T-Pain. This is where my interest first started.
My sophomore year, I started going to YouTube to learn how to dance. I gave up drinking and partying so I could really focus on doing my best and ensure myself a rewarding future. My dad came to the US from Mexico when he was just 13. My mom, who is also from Mexico, grew up in poverty. The two of them made it their life mission to make sure that both my sister and I could graduate from college debt free. Now, my sister ended up getting a full D1 scholarship. I, on the other hand, was just the average Joe in high school. My parents had to use those savings to help me pay for my tuition. That is something I’ll always be grateful for and I wanted to show them that gratitude by being honest and responsible. Learning to dance helped keep me on the right path.
My very first dance battle also happened in Madison. That was when I really got embraced by the whole hip-hop culture. I started to take dance so seriously that my starting position on the soccer team began to slip from my reach. My passion for soccer was being replaced by dance.
Lastly, here's the third weird instance that ties everything together: T-Pain hosted an open call audition (which is unheard of for the professional industry) on the internet in a competition-style fashion. This opportunity was perfect for me. I wasn't in LA and I didn't have the means to go out and live there. All I had to do was make a video and send it in! Thousands upon thousands of dancers from all across the country participated in this event. Professionals and amateurs — or living room dancers, in my case — all had the same shot at getting the gig. 30 of us were selected to fly out to Tallahassee, Florida for a second round of competition.
At this point, I already felt like my life was changed just to have made it there. I was starstruck; I had already won the competition in my books. When I got to Tallahassee, I was greeted by 9 other dancers who had nothing to their name. One of these dancers was Willdabeast Adams. If you've never heard of Willdabeast, he’s a pretty cool dude. He has since gained a massive following for his choreography and hip-hop skills. It’s humbling to keep in touch with him simply because of how much we’ve both grown.
The audition was three days long and at the end of each day, dancers were cut. On the last day, 10 dancers stood. Among those ten were Willdabeast, Anisha Gibbs (another notable name in the industry, and myself. T-Pain was supposed to pick one person. He asked me to step forward. Then, he asked Willdabeast to step forward. Then, Anisha followed by the rest of the dancers who had also made it to the last round. He proceeded to tell us that we all had made it and would be touring with him. In tears of joy, I called my mom, dad, and girlfriend who is now my wife, Ashley, and my best friend, Tim. Although they were excited for me, my parents questioned how I was going to manage college while on tour. Long story short, I stayed in school by taking classes online so that I could still stay on track with my studies.
T-Pain was an amazing guy. He knew all of us dancers by name and even invited us over to his house! Our first trip was to Atlanta to train and rehearse before the big tour. On this trip, I really began to notice how successful T-Pain was and still is. If you've ever been around someone like him, you know that people who have made it that far have a sort of aura about them and everything seems to come naturally for them. It’s not like T-Pain ever took me side-by-side next to him and explained how he got himself there. Simply watching and being around him inspired me to never put a cap on my accomplishments.
There are a few moments that I can recall that I don't think I’ll ever forget. In fact, there is one in particular that seriously made me want to become an internet serial entrepreneur. We were in Chicago at the B96 SummerBash. T-Pain gathered us all together and told us that he wanted to perform a song that was not out yet. We quickly scraped together some choreography and performed it! After the performance, T-Pain launched the song and in 10 minutes, it had over a million downloads. I watched him do this again, and again, and again. His ability to create a roaring audience of fans who were willing to buy whatever he had to offer amazed me.
Another story that I’ll never forget took place at T-Pain's pimped up mansion of a house. I remember his basement having about 30 TVs on the wall and two stripper poles (I promise that no strippers ever arrived). In the back was this super cool arcade room filled with pinball machines and other games. The night of this particular party, I was studying for my finals that were the next day. I brought my textbooks into the party and after about an hour, I snuck into the arcade room and got away with 30 minutes of studying. All of the sudden T-Pain walked into the room and asked what I was doing. I told him that I had finals the next day. He responded by saying that he didn't go to college and implied that I really didn't need to either. T-Pain turned out fine without a degree so I could too, right? He asked me to come back to the party and to have a beer. Not the most inspirational advice, but it’s true. I ended up having a great time!
I think this story is so funny because here I was at T-Pain’s mansion where everybody is partying and I'm hiding in a back room studying for finals! It was a great reminder to never take things too seriously. I ended up with a good grade in the class and I still got to have the time of my life that night.
Since the tour ended, I have only gotten to connect with T-Pain once which was on the AskGaryVee Show. We are still connected online but honestly, I am just one person out of the literal millions of others who he has made a positive impact on.
Do you have a mentor that is a little unorthodox? I’d love to know who they are! Comment your weirdest role model below.
As for now, peace.
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