Stage Fright & 'American Idol' Sonika Vaid

Stage Fright & 'American Idol' Sonika Vaid

One of the standout performers in the final season of “American Idol,” Sonika Vaid, is no stranger to stage fright.

Now that she’s made it into the final stages of the competition, the Martha’s Vineyard native is starting to receive quite a bit of media attention. It includes a profile interview found on the NBC news website. In the piece, the 20-year-old pre-med student talks about her family’s musical heritage and how her mother served as both her vocal and stage coach.

A mother’s love

As NBC tells the story, “her mother would encourage her to pursue opportunities that would forcefully place her in the spotlight, a place Vaid was hesitant to step into.”

Picking up the story, Vaid recounts “In sixth grade, she actually took the initiative to talk to the music program and asked if there were any singing opportunities or a chance to perform onstage and signed me up.”

The remarkable part of Vaid’s story is what happened next.

Fight, flight, or freeze response

For a month, her mother helped the sixth-grade Vaid prepare for her debut at The Meadowbrook School of Weston. The day of the performance, though, performance anxiety struck. The younger Vaid felt sick to her stomach, one the classic symptoms of stage fright.

When our minds sense an imminent danger, it triggers a physiological reaction known as the fight, flight, or freeze response. Adrenalin is released into the bloodstream to prepare the body to take necessary action and blood is shifted away from functions non-vital at the moment. Digestion is one the functions that shuts down, leading to feelings of queasiness or butterflies in the stomach.

Facing stage fright together

Vaid’s mother helped her face her fear on that fateful day by joining her onstage for her debut performance.

Vaid remembers, “That was definitely a turning point of my career, and ever since then I’ve signed myself up and sang and played the piano at the same time, and I just got more comfortable on stage. I’m just so grateful because you know your mom will always have your best interest at heart.”

The ‘American Idol’ star still shows touches of stage fright, even in the series. For example, Annie Barrett of Refinery29 writes about “watching Sonika’s stage fright transmute into tentative power” during a duet with Season 13 winner Caleb Johnson.


Stage fright transmuting into tentative power is a fascinating idea.

Transmute means to change in form, nature, or substance. So what Barrett seems to be saying is that she could sense Vaid experiencing stage fright at the beginning of her duet with Johnson that the contestant transformed into performance power.

Vaid speaks to this herself in a behind-the-scenes interview aired with the duet. “When I found out I was doing a duet with Caleb, I was a little nervous. . . . I struggle a lot with putting myself out there on stage because I’m a little, I’m scared.”

In her head a lot

Johnson, for his part in the interview, gets at the essence with stage fright in a direct way. “She’s got an incredible voice, she’s got a pure voice, but I can tell she’s in her head a lot.”

We get caught up with the negative thoughts in her minds when performance anxiety strikes, especially when we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Johnson teases this out of Valid when he asks her if she’s “played out much,” and his duet partner confesses that she’s only performed at relative’s weddings and at her school.

Stage fright triggers

Going from the weddings of relatives and school performances to the”American Idol” stage fright is certainly stepping out of a performer’s comfort zone. Valid’s fear is perfectly understandable, particularly when we keep in mind the two factors that trigger performance anxiety. You do something in front of others and are judged on it or at least, feel you’re being judged.

Forget the last part of that statement. On “Amercian Idol” you don’t feel you’re being judged. That whole idea of the program is that you are judged.

Watch Valid’a duet with Johnson to see for yourself.



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